Real Answers from Real Pilots

Buying an Airplane? Cheaper or a Trap?

So, going back to my first post, I mentioned that I was going to go to community college for free and obtain my private, IFR, and commercial hopefully, at the same time while I’m there, then transfer to a university, and obtain my degree, and then finish off the rest of my ratings afterwards. Like I said, I’m trying to save enough money as possible. I was wondering if buying an actual airplane (Cessna 172, or Piper Cherokee) is cheaper than the rental fees from a flight school, or other business. I’ve heard a lot of people say that it is cheaper, and that airplanes don’t depreciate as much, so we could turn around and resell it when I’m done with it. But my family is planning on keeping for personal trips, etc. At the moment, I’m planning on going half and half on an airplane with a current airline pilot for his daughter, who apparently wants to start flight training soon as well. But we don’t want to spend too much money. Is a $23,000 1963 Cessna 172 with 1,742 hours SMOH worth it? I know maintenance is super expensive, and especially the overhauls. Just wanted thoughts on this topic as I am eyeing it very closely. Thanks guys!

Nick,

This question comes up and while it might seem like a great idea there’s a reason few people choose it. As you say maintenance is expensive and at 1700+ hrs your 56 year old airplane is going to need an overhaul soon. You also don’t mention the avionics but if it’s not IFR certified you can’t use it for Instrument training (and even if it is if isn’t GPS and ADS-B equipped you’ll be doing some expensive upgrades). You also have to find an instructor who’s willing to teach you in your airplane. As the instructor they’re Pilot in Command which means they’re responsible if something goes wrong which could give them pause. Lastly what happens when the plane is down for maintenance or if there’s a serious problem that develops? As I said training needs to be consistent.

Again there’s a reason people train in rental aircraft.

Adam

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Adam,

Oh wow, I didn’t think about installing GPS systems, and and all of that. That sounds very difficult to maintain. Maybe when I get my PPL, I’ll look into purchasing on some more. But the ones that I am looking at are IFR certified, but they aren’t GPS equipped and I know how expensive that can get. I definitely cannot waste any time especially waiting if the plane is grounded for maintenance. Thanks!

If you’re not ready to drop $30k on a rebuilt engine and labor, don’t do it. 1700 hours SMOH isn’t necessarily bad if the engine was constantly operated. Flight schools typically run their engines to around 2400 hours even though TBO is 2000. However if the overhaul was a decade or two ago… there’s a reason that plane is cheap.

Nick,

I am not a fan of buying airplanes for flight training. Maybe you save a few dollars, probably not. There are significant maintenance costs to be had with owning an airplane and they can be a huge headache. I think it is best to let the flight schools handle aircraft maintenance and let students focus on learning to fly.

Chris

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Nick,

Cessna’s engine time (assuming it is a Lycoming) has about 2,000-2,400 span on the SMOH before overhaul could be required. Also if its not flown as much or well-kept, it could be needing an overhaul rather soon. Also a plane that I fly regularly is currently in shop getting avionics upgrade, IFR rated and becoming ADS-B compliant at around $25,000…granted I’m not paying that full price, this was ultimately the primary owner and he wanted to get the plane to currency for IFR rated. There is a lot in ownership, insurance, storage, preventive maint., and cleaning. I somehow bargained a deal that I would do the detail work on the current plane for a cheaper “shareholder” price to be able to fly the plane - but I love to clean and this keeps me close with the plane. If you’re looking for some airplane ownership ideas or thoughts, if you have Facebook, there is a great page for ‘Cessna Pilots,’ it’s called exactly that.

Brady

I owned a ‘77 Archer prior to starting at ATP. I bought the plane for $57k, sold it 4 years later for $55k. So yes, it held its value for the most part. However, I bought it with a 150 hour engine and good avionics and condition. I put 200 hours on that plane in 4 years, JUST breaking even on renting. As to the engine, you CAN run the engine past TBO with careful monitoring, but selling a plane near or after TBO will be selling it on airframe condition only.

As to initial training, you’d be much better off renting or joining a flying club at least for a while. Nothing hurts training more than having to pause while you wait on repairs or annual.

All that said, I have a much better understanding of the hows and whys of operations having owned and operated my own aircraft. But I don’t think that offsets the cost, especially for the plane you describe — unless it’s got a modern moving map GPS, it’s not likely a good deal.

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Hi Nick,

If you find some pilot friends of yours willing to share a plane then it’s worth it. Otherwise I wouldn’t.

Ryan,

I have my annual recurrent training (CQ) coming up. This is my sim partner’s first CQ. He is NERVOUS. When I asked him what his background was he said, “I bought my own airplane for my training and then I did pipeline patrol to build time.” He boasted about the ROI he got back after selling the plane. But did I mention he was really nervous about CQ? Wonder why?

I’ve always preached quality over quantity when it comes to flight training. To say that buying a plane with friends is worth it is a stretch. It is and it isn’t. It depends on what you do with it, how you use it, who your instructor is. Until it breaks, which it will. Is it worth it then? You’re stuck on the ground waiting for your plane to get out of the shop while student X is doing laps in the pattern in his school’s 1 of many planes.

Flight training is expensive period. A plane is only as good as the one using it. I’ll take a school with good track record’s plane over my own any day.

Tory

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