Cessna 172

How to Buy the Right Airplane

Choosing the Right Airplane for Your Needs.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the process of how to buy the right airplane. We’ll discuss the factors to consider, how to make the best decision based on your requirements, and provide a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the buying process.

Assessing Your Priorities

You’ve already determined the ideal airplane for your mission, as we discussed in our previous post on How to Choose the Perfect Airplane for Your Ultimate Adventure. Now, it’s time to find a suitable example of that make and model to buy the right airplane. Remember, no airplane is perfect, but you can find one that’s perfect for your mission. The key is to strike a balance between your desires and practical considerations.

Key Factors to Consider to Buy the Right Airplane

When evaluating potential airplanes, there are several important factors to take into account to make an informed decision.

Engine Time

Contrary to popular belief, a high-time engine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could actually be a benefit. A high-time engine often results in a lower purchase price, allowing you to choose between overhauling or replacing the engine and selecting the best options for your needs. A recently overhauled engine by a previous owner may not have received the care and attention you would have provided. Additionally, the engine(s) might be in excellent shape and operable for several hundred more flight hours with only standard maintenance required.

Airframe Time

The total time on the airframe should be proportional to the airplane’s lifespan. Avoid aircraft with exceptionally low or high time on the airframe relative to their lifespan. A low-time airframe could indicate infrequent use and/or an hangar queen with insufficient maintenance, while a high-time airframe might suggest excessive wear and tear. Strive for a balance that reflects regular operation and proper care.

Operation and Storage

The conditions under which the aircraft was operated and stored, as well as how often it was flown, can have a significant impact on the condition of both the engine and the airframe. For example, an aircraft operated in a humid climate or stored outdoors may be more susceptible to corrosion. Moreover, irregular flight patterns can lead to mechanical issues. During the evaluation of an aircraft’s overall condition, strive to identify its operational history and storage conditions.

Cosmetic and Mechanical Condition

While it’s easy to be swayed by a sleek exterior or pristine interior, remember that cosmetic issues are often far less important than the mechanical condition of the airplane. Focus on finding a mechanically sound and corrosion-free airplane, and consider any cosmetic concerns as opportunities for customisation.

Outdated Avionics

Seek out an airplane equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, as it’s often more cost-effective than upgrading later. However, you might find it beneficial to update the avionics yourself, allowing you to select the equipment, layout, and features that best suit your needs. Furthermore, you can choose the maintenance shop and ensure the work is completed to your exact specifications.

Mechanical Discrepancies

Make evidence-based decisions when determining if a discrepancy is a deal-breaker. For example, dismissing an otherwise sound airplane due to an easily fixable issue could prove unwise.

Due Diligence: A Step-by-Step Guide

Performing thorough due diligence is crucial in ensuring you get a good deal. Follow these steps to ensure a seamless process to buy the right airplane:

Research Potential Airplanes

Use resources such as Controller, Trade-A-Plane, AvBuyer, or PlaneCheck to find potential airplanes that meet your criteria. Check offline and online sources to learn more about potential and known issues.

Hire Professionals

Engage a professional company, a maintenance shop, or an aircraft mechanic to perform a pre-buy examination. This can provide valuable insights into the aircraft’s condition and help you make an informed decision. Ensure that the shop or mechanic:

    • Has extensive expertise with the specific make and model
    • Has no personal or professional connection to the seller
    • Is hired and paid by you – the buyer
    • Is within a reasonable distance to the seller’s home base – ideally within one flight hour
Review Aircraft Documentation

Examine the aircraft’s maintenance records, logbook entries, and airworthiness directives to gain a deeper understanding of its history and overall condition. Look for operational history and signs of prolonged periods of inactivity.

Inspect the Aircraft

Whether you’re conducting the examination yourself or hiring a professional, ensure a thorough examination of the engine, airframe, and avionics. Pay particular attention to signs of corrosion, wear and tear, and any discrepancies that could impact the aircraft’s performance or safety. Start the examination with the firewall forward section of the aircraft and proceed with the rest if everything meets your expectations. Try to identify major and expensive discrepancies that are easily detectable before diving deeper into the examination. Use a borescope to inspect the cylinders, pistons, and valves. A corrosion-pitted cylinder might indicate a pitted camshaft, for example.

Evaluate Damage History

Damage history refers to substantial damage whose repair is detectable through inspection, without referring to the aircraft’s maintenance records. Note any damage during the inspection. Keep in mind that not all damage is cause for concern. Some instances, such as a prop strike, could present an opportunity to acquire an airplane with newer parts.

Negotiate the Purchase

With the knowledge gained through your due diligence process, you can confidently negotiate the purchase price with the seller. Some minor issues can be addressed after the sale, so don’t let small discrepancies deter you from acquiring an otherwise sound airplane.

Single vs Twin: A Future Discussion

While we won’t delve into the debate between single and twin-engine airplanes in this post, it’s worth noting that Mike Bush addresses this topic in his book “Mike Bush on Airplane Ownership Volume 1.” We’ll explore this subject in a future blog post to provide you with more guidance on selecting the best aircraft for your needs.


Finding and buying the right airplane for your mission requires careful consideration, due diligence, and a willingness to compromise. By focusing on the key factors discussed in this blog post and conducting a thorough evaluation of potential aircraft, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision that best suits your needs and preferences. Remember, the perfect airplane may not be flawless, but it will be the ideal fit for your mission and personal requirements.

About Quest Aeronautics

Quest Aeronautics is a state-certified engineering office for aviation, dedicated to shaping the future of general aviation by providing innovative and cost-effective solutions to enhance aircraft performance and operations. With a focus on CS/FAR-23 and experimental/amateur-built (E/A-B) aircraft, Quest Aeronautics provides a range of services including flight testing, aircraft operations and maintenance consulting, high-quality aviation products, and tailored support for E/A-B projects. Collaborating with industry-leading partners, Quest Aeronautics is committed to delivering unparalleled support and expertise to individuals and organisations in the general aviation market.

About Author

Sebastian, the founder of Quest Aeronautics, is a driven and enthusiastic individual with a passion for aviation. Before delving into aviation, he gained valuable experience as a chemical process engineer and laboratory technician. Sebastian holds a Master of Science in Engineering and a commercial pilot licence, with several fixed-wing aircraft ratings under his belt. He has also completed an introduction course for fixed-wing performance and flying qualities flight testing at the National Test Pilot School in Mojave, CA and is compliance verification engineer for flight.