Piston Single Aircraft Buyers Guide 2020-2021

Welcome to our piston single aircraft buyers guide for 2020-2021. Purchasing any aircraft is a big investment. You want to ensure that you buy the right plane that will meet your requirements. At the time of writing, we are experiencing a worldwide pandemic which has resulted in a global recession. So you need to be even more diligent than usual with your money.


Determine a Budget for your Piston Single Aircraft

Even piston single aircraft are expensive to buy and operate, so the first thing that you need to do is check that you have the budget required for this. It sounds great owning your own plane, but if it is going to send you to the poor house then it is not a good idea.

You need to work out what you are willing to spend on a piston single aircraft and keep within this amount. There is the initial cost of purchasing the plane – do you want to buy a new one or will you be looking at the second hand market?

There is nothing wrong with looking to buy a second hand piston single aircraft as you will see some good examples around. But when you buy a used plane you need to take into account any upgrades that you will want to make depending on the age of the plane.

Older piston single planes do not have state-of-the-art avionics. It is likely that you will need to make some additional purchases here such as a good GPS system, modern radio equipment and more. Good avionics are essential for safety so you don’t want to “penny pinch” here.

A good second hand plane is also likely to need an engine overhaul or some degree of maintenance. Unless you know what you are doing you will need to pay an experienced mechanic to do this for you. There may be new parts required for the engine for example which will inflate the costs.

You will need to identify two sets of costs for your budget – fixed and variable. Your fixed cost will not change. If you have arranged a loan to purchase your aircraft then you will need to make monthly repayments for example. Here are some examples of fixed costs:

  • Monthly loan repayments
  • Storage
  • Insurance
  • Annual service and inspection

Variable costs are harder to predict as they will be dependent on how much you fly your new plane. Here are some variable cost examples:

  • Fuel
  • Oil
  • Engine parts
  • Reserve fund

Having a reserve fund is always a good idea. When you own a plane you just never know what you may have to pay out for next. Despite these being variable costs, it should be relatively straight forward for you to estimate them for each month and the year.

How much are you going to pay for your piston single aircraft? If you want to buy a new plane then you are looking at spending over $300,000. Some top of the range piston singles will cost a lot more than that. If you want to spend less then you will need to look at the second hand market.

Planes depreciate in value just like most other vehicles do. In the used market you can find good examples of popular piston single aircraft priced between $10,000 and $100,000. We have a great selection here.

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Decide what you need the Aircraft for

There are plenty of good piston single aircraft available today. As it is likely that you will be spending a lot of money on your plane, it is essential that you purchase the right aircraft that will meet your requirements.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Will I use the plane for business, pleasure or both?
  • Will I mainly make short trips or do I want to make trips across the country?
  • Will I use visual flight rules (VFR) or instrument flight rules (IFR)?
  • Will I fly the plane several days each week or just on the weekend?

When you have answered these questions honestly you will be able to identify the type of piston single aircraft that you need. You do not want to purchase a two seater plane if you intend to carry passengers for example. Nor do you want to buy an aircraft with a limited range if you want to travel longer distances.

Piston single aircraft come with different specifications. Some have turbocharged engines but do you really need this? If your requirements are for local flying then it is hard to justify the additional expenditure of a turbocharged engine.

You can make a list of the things that are definitely required e.g. 4 seats, and those that would be nice to have e.g. a turbocharged engine. The things that you definitely require will help you to narrow down your choice to specific makes and models. With your purchase price in mind you may be able to find a plane that has some of the nice to have extras too.

Piston Single Aircraft Buyers Guide 2020-2021


Buying a Second Hand Piston Single Aircraft

There are certainly some bargains in the second hand market. You need to know about the valuation process for aircraft before you venture into the market. When you have a good idea of the correct valuation for a plane then you will be able to find a good deal.

The number of engine hours that an aircraft has is usually the biggest factor in determining the value of a plane. All aircraft have a TBO (time between overhaul). The closer that the plane’s engine is to the TBO, the lower its value.

Another important factor pertaining to the engine is a consistent service record. An aircraft that has been regularly maintained will be worth more. A good maintenance program ensures that all engine components are in the best possible condition.

The level of equipment that a plane has will also determine the value. We are talking about avionics, interior equipment, air conditioning and other things here. It will usually cost more to maintain older avionics on a plane so bear this in mind.

You need to take a look at the airworthiness directive (AD) history of the aircraft. The FAA issues AD’s to aircraft owners which obligate them to comply within a certain time period. Check the log book of the plane to ensure that there is full compliance with any issued AD’s. Aircraft with a shaky history with AD’s will have a lower value.

Checking for any damage history is also important. If an aircraft has suffered major damage then this will lower its value no matter how good the repair job. The problem here is that it can be tough to track details of damages down. If there is a damage history then you must check the repairs were in accordance with FAA regulations.

When aircraft owners want to sell their planes they may give it a new paint job. After all a gleaming exterior is a good selling point. This is fine as long as the point job is a good one. Inspect any new paint jobs carefully looking for possible signs of corrosion beneath the new paint. A professional paint job will increase the value of an aircraft.

Unless you are an expert, we recommend that you pay for a qualified mechanic to perform a thorough inspection of a second hand plane before you make a purchase. Ask them to provide you with a full report. If a plane owner refuses this then find another plane to buy.

Before you finally decide to purchase a second hand piston single aircraft it goes without saying that you need to fly the plane. You want to ensure that you are comfortable with the aircraft and that everything is working properly.

Take a look at our fine selection of second hand aircraft here.


Reducing the Costs of owning a Piston Single Aircraft

You can do a few different things to reduce your cost of ownership. If you want a new piston single aircraft then you can look at leasing it rather than purchasing it outright. Your ability to lease a plane will depend on several factors. Do you want to lease as an individual or through a company for example?

You normally have two choices with aircraft leasing. There is a capital lease and an operating lease. Operating leases are the most common. With an operating lease you will be able to fly the aircraft for a fixed period of time such as 5 to 10 years. After the time elapses you return the aircraft to the lessor.

With a capital lease you effectively own the aircraft. There is a purchase option with these leases at a lower price and you will usually lease the plane for around 75% of its economic lifespan.

Another way that you can save on the cost of ownership of a piston single aircraft is to co-own it with others. You will need to find other people that will be happy to share the costs with you and then work out a schedule of who has access to the plane on certain days or weeks etc.

There are always pilots that are looking to rent planes so you could bring in additional income by renting your plane out to them. Bear in mind that if you do this regularly then your servicing costs will increase. You can cover this in the rental charges.

If you are qualified, you can use your piston single aircraft to train others how to fly. Of course you need to be a flight instructor to do this. There is usually high demand for flying lessons so this can be a good way for you to bring in additional income to reduce the cost of plane ownership.

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What Piston Single Aircraft should you buy?

The piston single aircraft market is vast. Leaders in the field are Cessna, Cirrus, Beechcraft and Piper. There are other brands worthy of consideration too such as:

  • American Champion
  • Aviat
  • CubCrafters
  • Diamond
  • Mahindra
  • Maule Air
  • Mooney
  • Seeker
  • Tecnam
  • Waco

If you want to purchase a used plane then you will probably be better off looking for a company that has a good reputation and track record. Cessna planes have been around for a long time and there are many good used examples available on the second hand market for example. See our selection here.

Piston Single Aircraft Buyers Guide 2020-2021

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