Tuesday, February 16, 2016


I receive an update email from Stanford each morning. The banner states breaking news from the Farm since 1892. My friends kid me that I taught Wilbur and Orville how to fly. This column has nothing to do with how old I am, but rather owning a new airplane versus an older airplane and what is involved.

It is estimated that the piston fleet averages 45 years of age. These older airplanes are politely referred to as legacy aircraft. A good friend of mine defines legacy aircraft as any aircraft that does not have modern avionics. For the purpose of this column legacy aircraft will be considered older airframes.

There are two factors when considering purchasing a new aircraft versus a legacy aircraft. The first is very obvious being purchase price, and the second not so obvious being upkeep costs.

New fast piston aircraft run $750,000 to $1.5 million to purchase. This is a figure that is a little more than my house in Scottsdale is worth to double the price. There are two kinds of folks that can afford buy a new airplane. One is the business owner that is making money and can afford to write off the purchase and upkeep of the airplane. The other is someone who has done very well in life and can afford to buy a new plane. These planes now mostly come with a two year warranty and parts should be readily available. One would hope that at annul inspections very little work (squaks) will be need to be performed. The annual, without any squaks, cost more than a legacy airplane having to review all the new avionics and in some cases pressurization. Where the basic annual inspection can run $1,200 for a legacy airplane, the cost for a new airplane could be $4,000 to $11,000. Remember this is just the inspection cost and does not include any repairs. Insurance will cost more for a new plane as the hull value is much greater than for a legacy airplane. Figures of $7,000 to $11,000 are pretty close for insurance for a high time pilot. If you have fewer hours expect to pay more. Legacy aircraft insurance can run about $750 to $1200 a year.

You have decided that you cannot purchase a new go fast airplane. It is time to look for a legacy aircraft. There are many options and you can get a pretty good airplane in todays market for $50,000 to $100,000. One suggestion if you are purchasing a legacy aircraft is to try and buy one where the manufacture is still in business. Chances of parts availability go way up if this is the case, and if not you will be relegated to buying parts from salvaged aircraft. These part houses are mostly reputable, but the problem in buying a used part is you do not know it's condition and how long it will last. In some cases the salvage yards will give a 30 day guaranty on the part. They do not know if it will work or not, so you will have to have the part installed, and if it does not work pulled off and returned. This is why I recommend buying a used Piper, Cessna or Beechcraft airplane.

One negative of owing a legacy airplane is that maintenance is going to be more expensive than a new aircraft. There is always something wearing out on a legacy airplane that needs repairing or replacing. At annual, the cost as a percentage value of my airplane is high, but usually no higher than an annual inspection on a new airplane. Once you get used to that fact, you can own a very nice airplane that can fly at 115 to 175 knots.

One final thought is that when purchasing a legacy aircraft, have a mechanic that knows that airplane perform a pre-buy annual inspection. I do not care that the annual was completed yesterday....do your own annual. Also do not use a shop or mechanic on that field. Find your own A&P/IA and have the plane delivered to him. Have a separate contract with the seller that states seller to pay for anything found unairworthy, and if seller not willing to do that the seller pays for annual inspection performed to date.

Whichever airplane you are considering to purchase I wish you good enjoyment. It is hard to compare the joy one gets from owning their own airplane.