Which Airplane Should I Buy?

Which Airplane Should I Buy?

canstockphoto12905120Recently, several friends asked me this very question. Both were about to celebrate significant financial events. Both could afford their next airplane and wanted it to be a jet. One is currently a single engine turboprop owner, the other owns a light jet. Both had lots of questions about moving up to a larger jet. They asked for my opinion.
Here are a few things we talked about.
Price
For some, this is the ultimate deal point. Not so much for these two guys. Should you buy new for the increased tax benefits? How much “bang for the buck “ do you get with each of the airplanes you are looking at? Is there a current “deal” from the factory on one or the other?
New Or Used
In the past few years, new aircraft models have featured major advancements in avionics, in-flight entertainment, and internet and text communications options. From that perspective, older airplanes have never been older. Newer is easier to finance and more lenders are interested. Your latest airplane may not be your last airplane. When it comes time to sell, older airframes generally command less buyer interest and take considerably longer to sell. If you really plan to keep your bird for a long time, review the market status of various models to see what the trends are.
Mission
Where do you travel now and where do you want to go? If you are moving up to a bigger cabin you will have more friends. Where do they want to go? Do you have grandkids on the way? Will you have new range or speed capabilities that will change your current mission? Are you looking at an airplane that will “almost” make your average trips? Should you be looking at something with longer range capabilities?
Performance
Very few aircraft can legally operate with all the seats and fuel tanks full. Which one is most important? If you have a home in the mountains, what is the hot/high performance of each model? You might be surprised at the answers. Is the aircraft on your wish list capable of landing and departing at your most often-used airports? In all conditions? Not all manufacturers use identical NBAA criteria when reporting performance. For instance, some use long-range cruise speeds to quote max range numbers while others use max-cruise speeds. Make sure your comparisons are “apples to apples.” The best “real world” performance experience may come from owners of the models you are looking at.
Avionics
This is perhaps the most important criterion for choosing a specific aircraft. Availability of NextGen avionics, including ADS-B and European requirements, should be a critically important factor in your decision. Upgrading older avionics may be hugely expensive and perhaps even impossible. Get written quotes for any potential upgrades before you buy a “legacy” airplane.
Fit And Finish
Often, when we take a demo ride in a new airplane, we are like a “kid in a candy store”, just excited to be there. We are absorbed in the moment and not very introspective. Take another pilot along to make notes of your comments and photograph all the things you forgot to look at. Pay special attention to what the paint and interior of the demo airplane look like. This is what your plane will look like after a year of operation.
Baggage Space
In the Falcon 10 I once owned, we had to schlep most bags through the cabin and stuff them into a tiny bin over the aft couch. Not pleasant. Take a real trip in your short list of airplanes, with real people and real baggage, to see exactly how it handles your passengers.
Service After The Sale
How far are you from the nearest Authorized Service Center? Do you have access to a Mobile Service Unit (MSU)? If so, what is the cost? Are warranty programs equivalent between the aircraft on your “wish list”? How about parts availability? If you are buying used, are your engines on a parts or labor program? Some buyers choose to self-insure engine maintenance and overhaul costs. Be prepared for your airplane to take longer to sell without an engine program or to be substantially discounted at sale time.
Safety Record
Single-pilot certified jets have a remarkable safety record, but each model has its own quirks or unique characteristics. If it’s newly certified, what are the first owners saying? What are the knowledgeable aviation writers saying in their pilot reports?
Insurance And Training
Get quotes before you buy the airplane. How much, if any, mentoring will be required? It could be 50 hours or more. Regardless, use an experienced mentor, even if not required. If it’s your first jet, is the model you are looking at too big a leap?
One Pilot Or Two?
Two thirds of my jet time has been logged in jets requiring a crew. And while it is really cool to be the only pilot in command, having a second qualified pilot to handle some of the load can be desirable. A jet full of 8 passengers can become a handful if all of them want to ask you a question as you approach minimums. Some older jets require two pilots and are sometimes overlooked due to perceived additional operating costs. More on this in a later article.
Owner Ego
What image are you trying to convey with your new bird? If it’s “I have arrived,” a big cabin door and high ramp stance may be important. If you are more humble, the fact that it IS a jet may be just fine. By all means, get your spouse or significant other involved in the comparison and demo process. They will see things you don’t.
Social Aspects
Owner pilot groups have “taken off” in the last five years. They offer regional and national meetings in exciting locales where pilot education is combined with great entertainment for both the pilot and spouse. Virtually all of them have their own dedicated websites, full of great operational information about your favorite jet.
Does It Have To Be A Jet?
There is no getting around the fact that a jet is just plain awesome to own and fly. But, do you really need it? If you have stage lengths of 300 miles or less, probably not. If most of your flying is done in the Northeast where it is difficult to obtain higher fuel-efficient altitudes, maybe not. And, after a thorough analysis of all the variables and emotions, you may decide to stay with the ride you have. Regardless, the process of looking is really fun. Fly Safe.

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