New Or Used?

As a semi-long-term senior editor of this magazine, I’m often asked about the benefits of buying a new aircraft over purchasing a used machine and versa vici. I’m well aware that a majority of readers might automatically vote for the less-costly option. After all, most intelligent buyers know that even if you can afford a new aircraft, you lose a major percentage of the purchase price the minute you taxi away from the dealership.

P&P editor-in-chief Robert Goyer recently purchased a well-maintained and nicely renovated 1964 Cessna Skylane for personal and business use. That’s a wise choice if you want to keep other pilots guessing as to the airplane’s age without suffering any significant performance loss. Esthetically, a fully reconditioned ’64 Skylane can be hard to tell from a new model. It was one of the first to employ the signature swept tail and Cessna rear window. In fact, the Skylane’s basic configuration hasn’t changed much since those esthetic improvements in the early ’60s. There have been probably several hundred significant improvements made to systems, interiors, avionics, et al., but if you upgrade a post-1962 Skylane’s paint and interior to reasonable levels, many people won’t be able to tell the difference between the old and the newer Skylanes.

Used aircraft

Plane & Pilot owned a totally rebuilt 1963 Skylane as a reader project airplane in the 1990s, and I flew that Cessna on dozens of editorial missions around the West Coast and Midwest. The Skylane was fitted with new paint, interior, avionics, wheel pants and instrument panel, and I often heard questions such as, “How do you like your new Skylane?”

As some regular readers may know, my personal airplane has been a 1969 Mooney Executive for several years, and there’s every reason to believe the Mooney will outlive me. Though folks who know Mooneys, and even many who don’t, wouldn’t have much trouble identifying my airplane as an older iteration of brand M, I’ve also done everything possible to upgrade the Executive’s paint, interior and panel. I’ve probably invested enough into my half-century-old bird that I could have purchased something newer, faster and more adept at navigating today’s airspace. My Executive is rarely misidentified as new, but it does have a passing family resemblance to the current crop of Mooney Supras.

Fortunately, family ties mean very little. I long ago stopped trying to impress myself or anyone else with the fact that I own an airplane, old or new. I’ve flown my Mooney to Oshkosh and Sun ‘n Fun a few times, utterly ignoring the complete financial idiocy of such a trip. The Mooney is one of the most efficient single-engine airplanes in the sky, but I figure the trip would still cost about three times the price of an airline ticket and require probably two additional days of travel. An airline flight would get me there and back in about nine hours.

I’ve had some folks ask why I’m not flying a late-model Piper Mirage or some other more modern super bird. The primary reason is the obvious one—money. As much as I’d love to have a late-model PA-46 gracing my hangar (though it wouldn’t fit into a typical T), I’m nowhere near that financial bracket. Apparently, I’m not alone in my decision to stick with a well-used but reconditioned airplane.

If I remember my GAMA statistics correctly, the average general aviation aircraft in the U.S. is 30 years old. That makes it a 1988 model. Most folks wouldn’t consider holding on to an auto that old unless it was to be used as a second car. Two cars is financially possible, but most sane, middle-class Americans would agree that two airplanes is one too many.

The current Mooney is my sixth flying machine, and all but one of the six-pack have been used. The one exception was a 1979 Mooney 231, basically a turbocharged 201, that I purchased, strangely enough, in 1979. After all the boxes were checked on the sales contract, I remember the price came out to $103,000. (Remember, this was 1979.) For that much money, I felt the airplane should have come with a circular driveway and a four-car garage.

Used aircraft

The 231 was leased to an avionics company for the first three years, and that helped deaden the pain—slightly. I never even saw the airplane until the end of the lease. It did help me solve a tax problem, however, and when I finally took possession of N231EC in the fourth year, I was happy with the family balance sheet.

Like all new aircraft, my 231 was warrantied. A strong warranty is another benefit of purchasing a new aircraft, though it’s less significant than when buying a new car. Some automobile manufacturers offer bumper-to-bumper warranties that extend for five to 10 years, especially on luxury brands. If you buy a used plane from a dealer, you may be granted a short warranty, typically 60 to 90 days, but that’s usually the limit of parts and maintenance surety. Buy a used machine from a private party, and you’ll usually be on your own after the handshake and handover of the cashier’s check.

One of the most obvious advantages of purchasing new, regardless of the tax benefits, is that you’ll be able to control how the airplane is operated from near-zero hours until you decide to sell. That means you’ll be the only one to break-in the new engine and all other systems.

Unfortunately, the state of the art and the limitations (and cost) of FAA certification often don’t allow for major performance improvements on newer aircraft. The extra cost of a modern model can buy options and standard features that improve navigation, cabin comfort, convenience and safety, but many of these may not be available at any price on a used aircraft. For some pilots, that’s a major consideration, especially for those who place safety above all other concerns.

An unquestionable feature of new aircraft over used is the availability of standard or optional systems that would be difficult or impossible to retrofit to a used bird. Though some minor, bolt-on improvements might be viable on a used airplane, there are a number of more complex additions that aren’t approved by the FAA and wouldn’t be economically feasible for retrofit if they were.

An anti or deice system would be prohibitively expensive to mount on a used aircraft in the aftermarket, assuming you could even secure FAA approval for the modification. I have a friend and former client in New England who got rich in the stock market and decided to install a TKS system on his beloved Mooney 201. Reed could have traded for a new aircraft with the deice system installed. Instead, I think the final cost for TKS retrofit was just over $40,000, about half what his airplane was worth.

Air conditioning would also be very costly to mount in the aftermarket, assuming it’s even available. As anyone knows who’s flown with an AC system providing cool air to the cockpit, a cool cabin can be more than a comfort assist, especially if you operate in the desert Southwest or Deep South in summer. A comfortable pilot makes fewer mistakes, and their passengers never have to wonder why their Kia offers AC as standard, while most general aviation aircraft don’t even list it as an option.

Many manufacturers also are embracing autopilots with exotic safety features that make it more difficult for pilots to fly into trouble. For the last few decades, one of the bright spots in the retrofit avionics market has been the STEC line of affordable rate-based autopilots. As far as attitude-based systems, the cost was too dear except for the most sophisticated (and expensive) used planes. The advent of the Garmin GFC700 brought intelligent, semi-robotic flight control to the not-so-little guy, and recently there have a been a number of autopilot introductions, from Garmin, TruTrak and others, that dramatically cut the cost of retrofit autopilots Some of these automatic flight control systems can limit roll and pitch, command wings level, and even serve as an emergency control system in the event the pilot becomes incapacitated. The ability of pilots to retrofit these sophisticated autopilots has fundamentally changed the used airplane market.

Used aircraft

Another safety system that helps protect pilots and passengers is the full airframe parachute. These have resulted in nearly 200 “saves” in the past 20 years. One of the most recent was a new SR-22T being ferried to Hawaii in 2015. One of the ferry tanks refused to feed, and the pilot was forced to ditch the airplane several hundred miles northeast of Maui.

Since the pilot knew he’d be landing in the Pacific, he flew as far as he could, then deployed the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (cleverly acronymed CAPS) and floated down to the water at a leisurely 18 fps, about 12 mph vertically. This gave him time to advise search and rescue and plan his escape from the Cirrus with Honolulu-based SAR aircraft in position to assist. He was picked up by a cruise ship that was alerted and vectored to him. (A rescue helicopter shot video of the chute deployment and splash-down—see “Aircraft makes emergency parachute landing in Pacific Ocean” on You Tube).

Yes, the full airframe parachute is available for retrofit to a few older, used aircraft, including Robert’s 182. But the cost, again, is dear. About $20,000 installed that would go in an airplane, in Robert’s case, worth about $65,000.

Regardless of what’s included in the equipment list, many used airplanes simply stop depreciating after a certain age and may even begin to gain value. Many models listed in Aviation Week’s Aircraft Bluebook, predominately older aircraft built before 1985, are worth more today than they cost new (though not in today’s dollars.)

New vs. used is a tradeoff. You may be automatically excluding yourself and your passengers from the safety and comfort benefits of new technology if you elect to buy used, but price is very often the ultimate deciding factor.

Used airplanes can provide a way to enter the market without breaking the family or corporate budget. Those pilots willing to settle for two seats, a cruise speed under 120 knots and limited avionics capability can easily enter the ranks of aircraft owners for under $50,000. Just remember that Mother Time and Father Nature exact an inexorable toll on any used aircraft, so comprehensive prebuy inspections should always be the rule.

Conversely, if you’re determined to buy new, you’ve either gotten lucky in life, done well in business or had your lotto prayers answered.


As of January 1, 2016, Senior Editor Bill Cox has logged 15,100 flight hours in 321 types of aircraft. He also holds 28 world city-to-city speed records, has made 211 international delivery flights, and owns and flies a LoPresti Mooney. You can email Bill at flybillcox@aol.com.


Check out more Cross-Country Log flying stories from ferry pilot and Senior Editor Bill Cox.

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News and Updates – FAA Releases Aerospace Forecast

WASHINGTON All indicators show that air travel in the United States is strong and according to the FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years (FY) 2018-2038, the trend will continue.This is occurring while American air travelers are experiencing the highest levels of safety in modern aviation history.

The FAA forecasts U.S. airline enplanements (passengers) will increase from 840.8 million in 2017 to 1.28 billion in 2038, an increase of more than 400 million passengers. Domestic enplanements are set to increase 4.7 percent in 2018 and then grow at an average rate of 1.7 percent per year during the remaining 20-year forecast period. International enplanements are forecast to increase 5.0 percent in 2018 and then grow an average of 3.3 percent per year for the rest of the forecast period.

Revenue Passenger Miles (RPMs) are the industry standard for measuring air travel demand. An RPM represents one revenue passenger traveling one mile. The FAA forecasts U.S. airline system RPMs to grow at an average rate of 2.5 percent per year between 2017 through 2038, with international RPMs projected too have average annual increases of 3.2 percent per year during the forecast period.

A key to meeting this growth in air travel, while maintaining high levels of safety and efficiency, is to ensure we have the necessary infrastructure to meet demand. Underscoring this point, the FAA forecasts total operations (landings and take-offs) at FAA and contract towers to reach 51.0 million in 2018 and grow to 60.5 million in 2038.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA are planning for this growth in air travel with robust infrastructure investments through the Airport Improvement Program. Air traffic modernization is rapidly moving towards satellite navigation technologies and procedures which will continue to allow enhanced navigation for more aircraft.

The forecast also highlights the phenomenal growth in the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), often referred to as drones. The FAA projects the small model hobbyist UAS fleet to more than double from an estimated 1.1 million vehicles in 2017 to 2.4 million units by 2022. The commercial, small non-model UAS fleet is set to grow from 110,604 in 2017 to 451,800 in 2022. The number of remote pilots is set to increase from 73,673 in 2017 to 301,000 in 2022.

In addition to UAS, another rapidly growing aerospace field is the FAAs licensing, oversight and regulation of commercial space transportation activities. The FAA projects that commercial space launch and re-entry operations may triple from 22 in 2017 to as high as 61 operations in 2020.

The FAA aerospace forecast is the industry-wide standard of measurement of U.S. aviation-related activities. This stems from the enormous variety of data, trends and other factors the agency uses to develop it, such as generally accepted economic projections, surveys and information sent by the airlines to the DOT. Additionally, the scope of the report looks at all facets of aviation including commercial air travel, air cargo, and private general aviation.

Read more in a fact sheet on the forecast on our website.

Going Direct: Time Flies

As a pilot, I’ve always been a pretty pragmatic type, and I’ve always tried to find the most efficient way to get something done without sacrificing safety and without spending too much. “Pragmatic” and “cheap” aren’t synonyms, but let’s face it: they’re closely related.

Aside from money, the most important thing to a pilot is time, right? Well, if I can take the liberty of disagreeing with the idea I just floated, this is both true and not so true. I mean, if we didn’t care about how long something took to do, like to go from Connecticut to South Carolina, we’d probably drive. We fly because it saves a ton of time. At least that’s part of the attraction. The fact that flying is a blast, well, that’s another big piece of the puzzle. And since times flies when we’re having fun—a saying I never realized is so perfect for what we do—then the time we spend flying seems like a lot less time than it really is.

Time Flies: airplane at sunset

But it’s not that easy. We pilots invest a lot of time in what we do, and not just the flying, but the hangar flying, the airplane porn, the diving into the Wikipedia rabbit holes, the flight planning for trips we’re only dreaming of taking. And then there are the people who build their own airplanes, mostly from kits these days, but if you’ve ever built a kit plane, well, you know it’s not mean feat. And the hours spent add up to the point that they quickly become weeks and then years. The quoted number of hours kit makers claim that it will take to build their plane tend to be optimistic, to say the least. To be fair, many kitplane makers acknowledge this by adding caveats about how aptitude and experience matter in the build-time estimate. Regardless, when a builder gets halfway into a project (how to determine percentage completed of any given project being a humorous topic in itself), they’re in it for the duration.

The same isn’t always true for flying, however. AOPA’s Rusty Pilot program is one of the most successful initiatives the organization has ever run, and that’s not because rusty pilots are a rarity. Other things just get in the way. Mostly, it’s life, jobs, kids, financial challenges and relationship complications. After letting flying slip for awhile, it’s all too easy to let it fade completely away.

Well, almost completely. One truth the program has uncovered is that it takes very little, often only a single flight, to reignite that passion. And if there’s more time, more freedom and more support for the flying, then flying will happen.

Which is good, because we have a limited time on this earth. It makes sense to me, and to lots of you, too, to spend of it gazing down on the world from above and watching the earth turn and the days turn into sunsets and logbook remembrances. And all of that adds up without exception to time well spent.

Thanks, Kate

A quick note on a change at Plane & Pilot. Today is the last day here for associate editor, Kate O’Connor. A talented pilot and writer, Kate has, in the short time she’s been at Plane & Pilot, played a vital role in helping make our brand the success it has become, helping us grow in every direction. So I’d like to take this moment from all of us here to wish Kate all the best in her new opportunity, which we’re happy to say, will continue to be in aviation journalism.


If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.

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FAA Formalizes Doors-off and Open-door Flight Prohibitions

March 22Today the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published an emergency order regarding doors off and “open-door” operations.This order formalizes the FAAs prior communications on these operations.

This order is issued to all operators and pilots of flights for compensation or hire with the doors open or removed in the United States or using aircraft registered in the United States for doors off flights.

It prohibits the use of supplemental passenger restraint systems that cannot be released quickly in an emergency in doors off flight operations. This order also prohibits passenger-carrying doors off flight operations unless the passengers are at all times properly secured using FAA approved restraints.

The order is effective March 22, 2018 and available for inspection on the Federal Register.

FAA to Hold Meetings on CLT Environmental Study

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will host public scoping meetings next month for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Charlotte Douglas International Airports (CLT) proposed fourth parallel runway and other projects. The meetings will help residents learn about the Airports proposed projects, and help define the purpose and scope of the study. Charlottes Airport Capacity Enhancement Plan (ACEP) recommended that the airport complete a 12,000-foot-long runway by 2023, along with other airfield and terminal improvements to accommodate future aviation demand

The public scoping meetings will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, at Embassy Suites, 4800 S. Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28217; and at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 26, 2018, at the West Mecklenburg High School Cafeteria, 7400 Tuckaseegee Rd, Charlotte, NC 28214.

The meetings will include an open house where residents can view displays covering environmental topics that the study will cover and a presentation on the Airports proposed projects.Attendees also may make private comments to a stenographer, complete and submit a comment card, or enter a comment on a computer terminal during the meetings. Residents also may mail a comment card or submit an email to CLTEIS@faa.gov or via Regulations.gov. The comment period is open until May 7, 2018. However, we will continue to accept comments throughout the EIS process and we will respond to all comments in the Draft EIS.

The FAA is conducting the EIS, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and scoping is a required part of the process. The CLT EIS will evaluate the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts that may result from the Airports proposed projects. The projects include a 12,000-foot-long fourth parallel Runway 1/19 between existing Runway 18/36 Center and Runway 18 Right/36 Left, associated taxiways including a partial north End Around Taxiway, full south End Around Taxiway, parallel, high-speed exit and connector taxiways. Construction of the new runway along with terminal and ramp expansion projects would require the decommissioning of Runway 5/23 and relocation of West Boulevard.

The EIS will consider a range of reasonable alternatives that could potentially meet the purpose and need for the proposed projects and it will evaluate a No Action Alternative. The FAA expects to complete the EIS in 2020.

The FAAs most recent Terminal Area Forecast (TAF) projects that the number of flights at CLT will grow at an average rate of 1.85 percent annually from more than 545,000 operations in 2016 to 745,000 operations in 2033. In 2016, the Airport served more than 21.7 million passengers, which the FAA expects to grow to more than 31.5 million by 2033.