Purchasing an Aircraft for the First Time

NAFA member, Adam Meredith, President of AOPA Aviation Finance Company, answers your aircraft purchasing questions.

Question:  I am a healthy 60 year old, retired student pilot with aspirations to purchase a used Cessna 182 for recreational travel after successfully passing my private pilot check ride. My intention at this point is to pay cash /not finance, but that decision is not based on considerations other than a personal aversion to debt. My expected budget for the purchase is $100-$175K, including any ancillary expenses associated with the purchase (inspections, taxes, fees, etc.) I am ignorant of the various considerations involved in choosing / buying an airplane and am curious about any services AOPA may offer to assist new pilots in purchasing their first airplane.

Are there benefits to financing? Is there a “playbook” on buying an airplane that AOPA provides for its members? Is there a financial advantage to waiting, i.e., is the current market in used GA aircraft likely to soften into a “buyers market?” Is it typically more cost effective to acquire a low tech platform and update avionics or look for a plane with glass panel already installed? Other considerations not mentioned?

Answer: The biggest benefit to financing is for folks with cash flow that want to preserve liquidity. Right now, especially, we are seeing people preserve capital either for investing in the market or for a safety margin if things start to get tight, cash flow-wise, down the road. In terms of a “play book”, we have a great resource page on our website for members trying to navigate the purchasing and financing process: https://finance.aopa.org/aviation-finance/first-time-buyers

At this point, it seems unlikely for the used GA aircraft market to soften. Inventory levels of good 182s was limited prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. What we’ve seen since the COVID-19 outbreak is very few new listings of aircraft for sale, making it just as hard to find deals. Could it change down the road?  Possibly, but at the rate things are going it won’t likely be for a while longer. In terms of acquiring a low tech platform and updating the avionics vs. looking for an airplane with glass panel already installed, you are almost always better off (economically) buying an airplane someone else has done upgrades on. They put the money in but won’t get it back out. We always recommend that members get pre-approved so that when you find the airplane you like you’re not going to lose out to a cash buyer. Please reach out to us by calling 800.627.5263 so we can answer any other questions you may have.

This article was originally published by AOPA Finance on May 29, 2020.