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5 Reasons to Buy a Used Airplane

A used Cessna Skylane 182 offers an affordable path to airplane ownership.

April 9, 2020

If you're in the market for a new-to-you aircraft, you may be trying to decide between buying a new or a used airplane. The right answer will depend on your expected use case and budget, i.e are you a private pilot looking to switch from renting to owning? Or, are you a Part 135 charter operator looking to expand your fleet?

First, take a look at the options available to you. In 2018 for example, 2,443 general aviation aircraft of all kinds were manufactured, from single-engine trainers to business jets, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. However, there are already more than 200,000 general aviation aircraft based in the U.S., so there are plenty of used aircraft to choose from.

According to GAMA, the average age of general aviation aircraft is 46.2 years. This long-term stable fleet in the market helps keep prices down for pre-owned aircraft. The average price for a used aircraft can vary significantly depending on which class of plane you're looking at and the useful life you'd like to purchase.


1. Lower Cost

Depending on your requirements, you can purchase a used aircraft that may have similar performance characteristics at a fraction of the price of a new one. In most cases, a new aircraft doesn't have a significantly faster cruising speed or a higher useful load. The differences may be in the avionics suite, which in many cases can be upgraded to current standards without breaking your budget.

For example, the single-piston-engine Cirrus SR series has sold more than 7,000 units since 1999. The MSRP for a base model starts at $629,000 new, and you can add an extra $150,000 or so for known icing capabilities and other upgrades. However, you can find used models on the market for an average cost of around $300,000.

An alternative to the Cirrus would be something like the venerable Cessna Skylane 182. There are options from the 1960s with low hours on the market for around $50,000. While it doesn't have a parachute like the Cirrus, it offers an affordable path to airplane ownership.

The twin-turbine Beechcraft King Air has been a business aviation staple with more than 7,000 in the market today. While it's difficult to find an MSRP, estimate that a new King Air 350 will run about $8 million. A 10-year-old used model will be nearly half that. And, a 20-year-old version will cost about half that again, or in the $2 million range.

While you can buy a used aircraft for a fraction of the price, the costs of maintenance, operation and financing could play a role in the decision. But a used aircraft makes a lot of sense for many situations.


2. More Flexibility

Owning your aircraft means you can fly at any time. You're not limited to commercial schedules or the availability of charter or rented planes. You have ultimate flexibility. A used aircraft can open up the conveniences of ownership.


3. More Control

You can ensure your aircraft is maintained according to the manufacturer's schedule and the annual inspection timetable. If a problem arises and your aircraft requires service, you can schedule it at your convenience. You won't be grounded if your favorite rental is in the shop. You can make decisions about upgrades to customize the aircraft for your preference, which you can't do if you lease an aircraft.


4. Quick Travel Timetable

With your own aircraft, you can be on the move in a short amount of time, with the preflight inspection and fueling taken care of at your pace. You don't have to wait for the FBO to pull the rental plane out of the hangar and fuel it. You can move at your own speed and get to where you want to go. You're in control.


5. Customization

Considering the lower purchase cost for a used aircraft, there may be room in the budget to upgrade and customize. You can transform to a glass cockpit, or just add a few electronic instruments to the panel.

Upgrade to meet the latest regulations like ADS-B to keep your plane compliant. Take advantage of the latest technology and add some amenities like a Bluetooth entertainment system. Perhaps the upholstery needs to be replaced, or the exterior needs a paint job. You can invest in your used aircraft and still spend much less than it takes to get a new one.


Choose the Right Aircraft for You

Purchasing an aircraft is a significant investment, regardless of the actual dollars involved. Keep your mission, budget and flying needs in mind. Experts recommend buying a plane that fits about 80% of your flying needs and renting when you need additional capabilities. Rather than buying a six-place when you'll be flying alone or with one other person most of the time, save on fuel and maintenance costs on every flight by opting for a modest purchase.

Do your due diligence before you buy. Have the aircraft inspected by a trusted A&P mechanic, ideally one with experience in that make and model. Make sure any modifications made over the years are properly documented.

To find out more about maintaining a used aircraft, explore our solutions for pilots and our resource center. Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics has been a trusted resource for new and overhauled avionics, instruments and power solutions for more than 50 years. We offer a range of maintenance, overhaul, exchange and repair services, as well as newly manufactured instruments, avionics and power solutions. Our products can be found at a dealer near you.