Owning An Airplane – Is It Worth it?

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Owning an airplane

Owning an airplane can be the ultimate dream of a pilot. Having a plane of your own can be the most satisfying feeling
in the world for pilots. It can be compared to the American dream of home ownership. For someone who is renting an apartment or even a house, the ultimate goal is to finally own their own home.

However this dream can turn into a nightmare. Before rushing out to look at those planes for sale, you have to do your
homework right. Whether you buy a new airplane or used aircraft, you need to keep your cool, like a pilot always does. To buy a plane might be a piece of cake, depending on your finances and the type of airplane that you buy. Or you may qualify for easy financing terms. However the real burden may be be in the cost of the upkeep or airplane maintenance and repair. I will cover in general terms what is involved in the maintenance or upkeep of the airplane.owning an airplane

Owning an airplane vs renting

First, like anything else, you must be sure that you are financially capable of owning an airplane. Second, even if you are financially capable, you must determine if owning an airplane is justified by your usage of it. If you only plan on flying once a month or even once a week, a few hours at the most, you may consider renting an airplane. Think really hard about owning an airplane vs renting.

An analogy of this is that I’ve seen people buy an RV or a camper or a boat that they use only occasionaly. They may run the RV or camper once a year, maybe for a week, then come home and park it for the rest of the year. Or someone may buy a boat and use it only at summer time, and then garage it until next summer. Unless you plan on going cross country for a few months at a time in an RV or go boating or fishing regularly regardless of what season it is, renting an RV or a boat for that once in a blue moon use might be more practical.

Of course, if money is no object, then it really doesn’t matter. But if you’re like most of us who have to watch our budgets most of the time, throwing away money is not an option. And the big difference between an RV or a boat and an airplane is that an airplane, whether you use it or not, will incur large expenses on a regular basis. You can park your RV or boat with a trailer in your yard and forget about it until your next use several months later. Except for a few minimal expenses like insurance and registration, there is really nothing much to spend on if these are not being used. You can’t bring your airplane home and park it in the yard. You need to have it hangared or at least get it tied down at the ramp, and this will cost money on a regular basis.

Aircraft maintenance checks

An airplane, whether it is used or not, will need certain aircraft maintenance checks to be done to it as mandated by the Federal Aviation Admistration. Even a piper super cub will require these mandated maintenance checks. These procedures are scheduled and must be done by a mechanic with an FAA A&P license only. Certain aviation instruments also need to b inspected on a regular basis. In short, these aircraft maintenance checks are needed to keep the airplane airworthy prior to use.

a&p-license-mechanicWhen something breaks down in an airplane, this is usually where the “surprise, surprise” comes in. The repair has to be done by a mechanic with an FAA A&P license, and they don’t come cheap. If you break down in an isolated airfield you need to fly in an A&P licensed mechanic to check your airplane. If the airplane is still flyable there are of course exceptions where you may be allowed, minus your passengers, to ferry the airplane to the nearest repair station. This is one reason why some pilots also get an A&P license, but that is another story. Unless the fix needed is one of those specifically listed by the FAA as a “Preventive Maintenance“, it cannot be done by anybody else. Furthermore according to the FAA only the following can do “Preventive Maintenance”:

  • Certificated pilots, excluding student pilots, sport pilots, and recreational pilots, may perform preventive maintenance on any aircraft that is owned or operated by them provided that aircraft is not used in air carrier service or 14 CFR part 121, 129, or 135.
  • A pilot holding a sport pilot certificate may perform preventive maintenance on an aircraft owned or operated by that pilot if that aircraft is issued a special airworthiness certificate in the LSA category. (Sport pilots operating LSA should refer to 14 CFR part 65 for maintenance privileges.) 14 CFR part 43, appendix A, contains a list of the operations that are considered to be preventive maintenance.

Parts of an airplane

As far as parts of an airplane are concerned, you must buy those that meet FAA standards only. These are not cheap. You may get away with substandard parts of an airplane but why take the risk? Your life as well as your passengers, whether family or friends, are at stake here. Also the licensed A&P mechanic may not allow substandard parts of an airplane to be used as his license in on the line if something goes wrong. Unlike RV’s and boats, maintenance record keeping is strictly required by the FAA and these are very detailed and also signed off by the A&P mechanic doing the repair or scheduled maintenance checks.

This post only covers the general requirements of aircraft maintenance. It isn’t written to discourage one from considering owning an airplane but mainly open up ideas to think about when doing research to buy a plane.

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