Buying an Airplane? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions First

3 min read
Jun 6, 2024

For some recreational pilots, buying an airplane is never an option for several reasons, but other private pilots aspire to outright ownership because it suits their aviation and lifestyle ambitions.

If you want to purchase your first light aircraft, researching your options is critical to selecting the right fit. Here are some things to consider before making your decision.

How much flying experience do you have?

Being the pilot in command (PIC) of a rented aircraft comes with all the usual responsibilities familiar to most pilots, but being the PIC of an aircraft you own presents other challenges (hello, preventative maintenance!).

Some can be attractive, like upgrading components to suit your preferences. The autonomy that aircraft ownership provides adds to the sense of freedom that flying offers, but only if you are ready for it.

What kind of flying do you want to do?

Are you planning to fly the aircraft to business meetings or weekend trips with the family?

Business travel is a common reason for individual aircraft ownership. If you are a private pilot who needs to be able to fly to a specific place at a fixed time then not only is ownership an attractive arrangement, but you may also want to invest in a more complex aircraft, with a longer range and more sophisticated navigational aids.

You may also want to add an instrument rating to your certificate so that you are less restricted by weather and range than you would be under VFR in the local flying club's Cessna 152.

Type conversion

It's possible to decide that owning a particular aircraft type is your preferred choice only to change your mind after a discovery flight in that aircraft. Flying several models of varying ages and conditions can help you make a final decision.

Converting to type before purchasing your aircraft will mean you are better equipped to assess the condition and handling of any aircraft you evaluate.

Some modern aircraft manufacturers have brought training and conversion to type to the forefront of their sales and marketing. Cirrus Aircraft, for example, offers to help pilots and would-be pilots learn to fly, convert to any of the Cirrus models, and eventually graduate to its Vision Jet.

This is not only a focused form of training and ultimately good for aviation safety, but it also makes commercial sense and draws the pilot into the Cirrus family where they are likely to remain.

Where do you plan to fly?

  • Do you plan to restrict your flying to a few hundred miles of your home base or explore far-away destinations?
  • Do you see yourself bush-flying or commuting to modern airports?
  • What is the terrain going to be like and how will the local climate affect your aircraft's performance and endurance?

The weather may be a deciding factor for the cabin interior. An aircraft cabin that is too hot or cold will create bad memories that inhibit further flying, not just for you but also for your passengers.

Parking your airplane

General aviation airplane parked in a hangar


Will you store your airplane in a hangar or on the apron or grass, exposed to all the elements? Hangar availability may influence your final decision about which aircraft you buy. You likely will not want to invest in a comparatively vulnerable vintage aircraft if parking on the grass is your only option.

How much can you afford to spend?

Finally, the six-figure question. Your all-important budget should consider the up-front cost and ongoing expenditures, maintenance requirements like engine overhauls, refurbishments of the interior and exterior, and unforeseeable mishaps and minor repairs.

Having the funds available when the need arises will at least reduce the amount of time your aircraft is grounded for repairs or refurbishment. In addition, if you bank the engine fund correctly it can earn some interest until you need it.

Value and depreciation

If you buy a new car, it can reduce in value the moment you drive it away, but a vintage vehicle might be worth more in the years ahead due to its scarcity. Depreciation is also a factor when buying new aircraft.

However, as with automobiles, a new model often comes with warranties, servicing, and care packages. If you purchase a used aircraft, these may have already expired.

Beyond the possible appreciation or deprecation of the aircraft, your budget and the availability of the model you want to purchase are also considerations. If your heart is set on a certain aircraft type, are you prepared to wait for it to be available or will you buy the one that is third on your shortlist because it is available now, albeit used and several years old?

The bottom line

Aircraft ownership has several pros, including around-the-clock availability and the conveniences it offers for business and personal travel. However, there are several cons, including the cost of a hangar, insurance, and preventative and unforeseen maintenance.

Group ownership is another option for private pilots who want to fly more often. Group ownership is exactly what it sounds like, a group of pilots purchasing an aircraft together and sharing the costs and responsibilities of owning and operating it.

Group ownership has several pros, the most obvious being that it is more affordable than individual ownership. However, there are a few potential cons to consider, including less aircraft availability and the varying skills and dedication of the other pilots, which can affect the aircraft's condition over time.