By Howard Deevers
Not every pilot owns an airplane. Not every person with a driver’s license owns a car for that matter. You don't have to own a car to have a driver’s license, and you don't have to own an airplane to have a pilot’s license. Probably in both cases, it is likely that the license holder would like to own an airplane or a car.
There are other ways to fly if you have a pilot’s license: you can rent a plane or you can belong to a flying club and have access to their planes. I know that you can rent a car as well, but I don't know of any car clubs that allow multiple members to have use of a car. Maybe I have just never run across that.
I belonged to a flying club even before I got my pilot’s license. I was working toward getting my license and found the club a great resource to learn about aviation. I think that I was the only member that did not have a license at that time. After I passed my Private Pilot checkride, I had to take a checkride with the club instructor in the club owned Cessna 150, even though it was identical to the one I had been training in at another airport with my instructor. Club rules. My instructor encouraged me to buy my own airplane. I told him that I was not ready for that, and the club had 4 airplanes (a Cessna 150, a Cherokee 140, a Cessna 172, and a Cherokee 180). Getting experience in each of those airplanes would keep me busy for a while.
After about two years in the club, the members decided it was time to sell the Cherokee 180 and move into a newer Piper Archer. A search committee was formed, and I volunteered to be on that committee. The other members had been through selling an airplane and buying a replacement before, so I benefited from their experiences. One of the first things I learned from the members was how to read the advertisements for used airplanes. We had subscriptions to all of the ad sources for planes.
First, I was surprised at how quickly the Cherokee 180 was sold, and it sold at the asking price. With that money, and the money in the reserve fund, the club had the cash to purchase a newer airplane outright with no need for a loan. The club wanted an IFR capable Archer with about 1,000 hours total time, including the engine, and good radios, and an autopilot. Color didn't matter. Now was the time to learn to read the ads. Planes would be advertised with 2,000 hours on the plane including the engine. That would mean that the club would be involved with an engine overhaul very soon if we bought that plane. Other planes would have good avionics, but no autopilot.
The next thing I learned is that there is very little negotiation on prices, unlike buying a used car. When buying a used car from a dealer, there is usually a trade-in value, and then you negotiate the final price. It is unusual to have an airplane to trade in with a dealer, and individual owners selling a plane are not interested in that at all.
Many of the ads you will read will have a statement that the plane has a “fresh annual,” or “annual one month ago.” Even with that, it is a good idea for the purchaser to pay for a pre-buy inspection. That may cost you a few hundred dollars, but a good AI may uncover items in the logbooks or other mechanical issues, that would cost you many thousands of dollars later.
Another advantage of being on the club search committee was that I got to test fly some of the prospective aircraft that the club was looking for. There was an Archer in York, Pennsylvania, that seemed to be what the club was looking for, and since I was on a business trip close to York, the club search committee asked me to check it out. I flew with the broker that was selling the plane. Although I was still pretty “green” at airplane purchasing, I was able to write a report on the plane. Ultimately, they elected another Archer that was located out of state with just a few more features that the club wanted. The Archer quickly became my favorite plane to fly in the club. The Archer and the Cessna 172 were IFR equipped and I flew them IFR after passing my checkride.
A few years later I decided to search for my own airplane. I made up a list of things I wanted in an airplane and decided on a budget. Not so strange that my budget was totally insufficient for the list of wants that I had made up. My experience on the search committee sure did come in handy as I read many airplane ads from every possible source. I had made friends with several mechanics that did work for the clubs, and they knew that I was looking for an airplane. After about a year of searching, a mechanic friend in Beaver, Pennsylvania, called to let me know about a Piper Cherokee that was on the field, and he had been doing the annuals on it for several years. The owners were moving into a larger airplane. It fit my budget and had all of the things I wanted in the panel and for an engine. I bought it. The ownership adventure had begun!
There are books written about how to buy just about anything. If you have the money to buy a new airplane, you still need to do your research to get the plane you want at a price you are willing to pay. As we all know, new aircraft sales dropped after the 70's, and many makers have gone out of business, but their used models are still around. The used airplane market is still strong, and since new models are outside of the budget of most of us, used airplanes have gone up in value. Years ago we were more interested in the engine in front of the plane. Now we are just as interested in the electronics in the panel, and that may constitute a large part of the value of the plane.
If airplane ownership is in your dreams, then do your best and get into the ownership club. An airplane will take you to places that you may not have ever traveled to before, and you will meet people that you would likely never know without an airplane. I wish you well, and I’ll be looking for you at the airport!
Don't forget that the ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION has many fly-in events, and you will enjoy meeting other pilots. No matter if you own, rent, belong to a club, or partnership, or just fly with a friend, APA would love you have you enjoy the events. It doesn't matter what you are flying, just get out there and do it.