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Go Airborne, Part 1: Own a Plane for Your New Luxury Hobby

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January 22, 2016
Get in the cockpit: considerations for buying your own plane and enjoying this luxury hobby

Owning and flying your own plane may represent the ultimate in luxury hobbies, yet it’s not as far-fetched as you might assume. But before you go airborne, log some miles thinking through your small-plane investment.

“If you buy a small plane—say, a single-engine Cessna 172—that’s only half the issue,” says Bill Allen, associate professor of aerospace at Middle Tennessee State University.

Wannabe flying aces need to take into consideration financing (if necessary), insurance, storage, and a host of other details.

Getting a pilot’s license is the start.

“You can train for a pilot’s license at any small airport that has a flight instructor employed there,” Allen says.

Think Gently Used

Several online sites sell planes, such as trade-a-plane.com or aerotrader.com, and prices vary, says David C. Baker, a certified airplane and helicopter pilot based in Nashville. While some old planes can go for as low as $50,000, the cost for a four-passenger plane may be around $150,000.

Expect to buy a used plane, Baker stresses.

“Because it’s such a regulated marketplace, [used planes] are taken care of very, very well. Nobody hesitates to buy a 20-, 30-year-old plane. And there’s a long history associated with every piece of equipment,” Baker adds.

The Federal Aviation Administration has a database on all planes where buyers can find the “run history.” That includes any accidents, who reported them, who repaired them, etc.

Both Baker and Allen encourage you to have a mechanic check out any candidate before you buy.

And maintenance doesn’t stop there. Each year, planes need to be inspected by an FAA-certified mechanic to make sure everything is shipshape, so to speak. The mechanic will also look at any FAA directives that need attention. Directives are typically similar to recalls on a car, but require fixing before the plane can be deemed airworthy. Annual inspections can run between $5,000 and $8,000, Baker says.

Insurance and Other Costs

Unless the plane is owned outright, pilots need insurance, and the cost depends on the type of plane. For the four-passenger plane example, insurance is about $10,000 a year, Baker says.

Insurance regulations are much stricter for planes than cars, these experts emphasize.

Not only do pilots need basic training to get their license, but insurance requires that pilots have a certain amount of experience flying the particular type of plane purchased, which is called experience in “time and type,” Baker explains.

Aside from operating costs, like fuel, other costs that need to be considered include hangar fees. Allen’s Middle Tennessee State, for instance, sets hangar rental fees for a small plane at about $180 a month. Baker says prices will go higher in other areas and could run from $300 to $800 monthly for a basic, unheated hangar to protect the plane from the elements.

Think Co-Pilot?

Because small-plane ownership typically requires a few more hoops to go through versus car ownership, it’s not uncommon for people to partner up, experts say.

“If you partner with someone else, you can share the costs of ownership, which makes it more affordable,” Allen says.

Whether you partner up or fly solo on the finances, it can be important to work out the money kinks early on in this adventure. Flying time deserves your total focus and enjoyment.

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