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                      Five Gimmicks Buyers Fall For When Choosing An Airplane

1) "Fresh Annual!"

"Fresh annual" is the biggest lie in aviation. Don't fall for it. Just because an aircraft has been signed off as airworthy doesn't mean there aren't expensive fixes or AD's looming in the near future. These are bills that will come due when you own the airplane, not now.

It's common for an owner to decide to sell their plane and advise their mechanic "Defer as much as possible to get this thing legal. I don't want to do a penny more than necessary." In my experience the annual performed prior to a sale is the least thorough and includes the most deferred items. 

This can be true even if the annual was performed by a reputable shop! There is a difference between "airworthy" and "needs to be fixed" (more on that below).

Unfortunately there is also a disappointing number of A&P/IA's that will sign any logbook for a cool $400 without even looking at the plane. This practice is more common than anyone cares to admit.

If you think purchasing a plane with a "fresh annual" will push off your maintenance costs for another 12 months I have some bad news for you. It's more likely you're setting yourself up for some big bills and expensive repairs that are getting passed on to you. 

The words "Fresh Annual" in an ad should be viewed as a sales tactic as opposed to the actual physical/regulatory condition of the aircraft.

2) "The only way to be safe is to get an Annual Inspection, not a Pre-Buy."
This is some of the worst possible advice a person looking to purchase an airplane could follow. Sadly, I see some otherwise credible people with impressive titles at owner clubs saying this exact thing, and even more commonly on the message boards.
The reality is an annual inspection involves whether or not an aircraft is "airworthy," a very specific term with defined criteria. 
This does not mean an aircraft does not have potential maintenance issues that are coming due that can cut the value of your new plane in half, if not make it a complete loss.

Frankly I sign off annuals all the time with issues that need to be addressed but still are considered "airworthy."

The conversation with my client is typically "Look, this is gonna be a problem, but you're still barely within limits. We can defer this one more year but you need to save up for this repair at next annual."
Legal, safe, and also a big, unexpected expense if you don't know about it.

A scary example of this is the ECI cylinder AD for Continental engines. This AD called for replacement of specific cylinder assemblies. The AD allowed the owner to fly the aircraft for up to an additional 320 hours before requiring compliance. 

What this means is a reputable mechanic can legally and safely sign off this aircraft as airworthy with 319 hours against it, and you'd fly your new purchase home with a "fresh annual" and you'd have a $20,000 repair due before you landed.

That's just one example of why a pre-buy is different than an annual. I will find issues that are coming due, not ones that are just barely passing.

3) "Complete logs since new!"


I see this one a lot. It's true that complete logs impact value significantly. Logbooks are immeasurably important in determining the value and condition of an aircraft. Missing logbooks is a big red flag.

Having said that the words "complete logs" don't exactly give me warm fuzzies. 

Paperwork is a mystery to the vast majority of my peers. Just because the logbooks are available for the entire history of the aircraft doesn't mean they've been filled out properly, or even completely. 

I've found tens of thousands of dollars of necessary repairs on airplanes just by reviewing the logbooks. Within the last four months of this writing I've found a propeller that had no documentation of being installed, a propeller that was signed off that wasn't actually on the airplane, and a propeller that was not legally authorized to be installed on the aircraft. 

And that's just propellers!

Two weeks ago I found an engine "overhaul" that wasn't really an overhaul, and it changed the SMOH from 45 hours to over 2000 hours.

I found these issues by reviewing the logbooks. 

Logbooks are critical in determining the condition of the aircraft. What matters is their content and quality, not their existence

4) "No damage history!"
This is a common sales tactic that carries more weight than it deserves. 

Some of the best planes I've ever inspected had a ton of damage history.

The plane was damaged. It happens. Who cares?

What matters here is if the aircraft was repaired properly and competently. Were the repairs performed according to the FAA's and manufacturer's requirements? Were they performed by a reputable shop? If yes, good! Forget about it.

Damage history isn't nearly as important as repair history.

Simply having a history of damage isn't a disqualifying event to purchase a plane. On the contrary it may provide the buyer negotiating leverage.

The flip side to this is damage history that is not documented in the logbooks. 

I see this more often than not. A plane had a small ding or dent and it was "repaired" without being noted in the logbooks or was performed by unapproved methods.

The words "no damage history" do not inform the buyer about the actual condition of the aircraft. 

That's something that can only be determined by someone that a) knows what they're looking for and b) physically inspecting the plane.

5) "Low Time SMOH!" or "Low time TBO!"

(TBO-Time Between Overhauls and SMOH-time Since Major Overhaul)

This is the granddaddy of all aviation sales misunderstandings. Everyone screws this one up. It sounds good to buyers, sellers think they've got a a low-time engine, and A&P's buy off on it. 

They're all wrong.

Overhauls are one of the most misunderstood terms in aviation.

The reality is engine overhauls have a very specific definition. Both Lycoming and Continental have Service Letters explaining what parts must be replaced, checked, and tested in order to be considered an Overhaul.

If those standards aren't met, it's not an overhaul according to the manufacturer. The FAA has more liberal standards, so sometimes an overhaul can be an overhaul even if it's not an overhaul. Confused yet? That's why you need a competent mechanic to tell you exactly what you're getting.

The biggest mistake is focusing on TIS (Time in Service) hours. Engine TBO's also have a calendar time. If you're looking at an engine with 100 hours SMOH...on an overhaul done in 1994, bad news: That engine is WAY past TBO and probably filled with corrosion that is hard to inspect.

In fact engines with fewer hours but more years are actually worse from a reliability (and value) standpoint.  

Sitting is the worst thing you can do to an engine. I'd take an engine with 2000 hours and an OH done 6 years ago over an engine with 100 hours on an OH done 20 years ago all day long. In fact Continental actually extends TBO times if you go over hours in less calendar time. 

Flying is good for engines! 

Compounding the issue is common terms like "top-end/bottom-end" overhauls or IRAN (inspect and repair as necessary) overhauls. 

Neither Lycoming or Continental recognize the term "Major Overhaul."  In their view an overhaul is either an overhaul or it isn't. 

"I thought/Mike Busch said since I'm Part 91 I don't need to comply with TBO (Time Between Overhaul) intervals!

That's true! 

There is no legal requirement for most general aviation folks to comply with engine manufacturer TBO times.

That doesn't negate the reality that an engine is beyond TBO limits.

Yes, it's legal to fly, and it's also not recommended by the manufacturer. 

Disclosure: I fly in a 1962 Cessna 185A with the original TCM I0-470 all the time that has never been overhauled and I feel perfectly safe.

The point here is TBO and SMOH have definitions that need to be addressed during an inspection, and also every engine TIS is unique. 

Sitting is bad. Flying is good.

The reality of how an engine has been used and maintained is far more important than the specific dates and hours since its last overhaul.

"Low time since SMOH" does not tell you what's going on with the engine.




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