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ISSUE 170 - May 2011
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Before You Buy A Sport Plane

By Scott "Sky" Smith

The new category opens the door for new and old pilots alike. New pilots can take to the sky as a pilot in fewer hours and at a lower cost. In fact, when my kids were getting their drivers licenses, they were required to log 20 hours behind the wheel of a car, take a written test and a driving test. That is basically the same requirements for the Sport Pilot requirements. If you are already a pilot, you can operate under the sport category as long as the plane meets the category. You don’t have to give anything up, except the doctor’s appointment for your medical.

Another nice thing about the sport category is that you can fly a brand new aircraft that operates at a lower cost than most of the 30 year old aircraft that are out there on the flight line. Who doesn’t like flying a new aircraft!

Is it a real aircraft? The first assumption was the sport category was nothing more than ultra lights. That’s the furthest from the truth. Sure there may be a few converted ultra lights, but the majority of the sport industry aircraft are brand new aircraft that provide quality and performance at a very attractive price.

Additionally, whatever any one tries to tell you, Cessna selling the Sky Catcher has given the sport category creditability. Not that the other models were not “real” to begin with, but Cessna gave the market a reality boost.

Which one do I buy? There are a lot of different opinions about buying a sport plane. Before you buy do the research. It might not seem like it, but buying a sport plane is different than buying a Cessna, Beech or Piper. The big names have an established history and track record. It doesn’t matter how many times the manufacturer has been sold or went bankrupt, it still has market recognition. The sport plane industry has not gotten to that same level yet, except for Cessna or maybe the new Cirrus LSA. Most manufacturers are over seas and most importers are passionate about their product. But “passion” does not guarantee support for the plane. Do the research, ask questions and read reviews. The extra due diligence will save you money and maybe your life.

Shop around on for what’s available. It doesn’t matter which brand of sport plane you are considering buying, if you follow a few basic guidelines you can enjoy the plane for many years.

There are hundreds of models available so the final decision will come down to your personal preferences based on looks, comfort, flying and cost. Remember a few basic things, don’t buy the first one you see and don’t buy without flying. It also important to not assume cheaper is the better deal. Makes sure you compare an “apples’ to apples” aircraft. Most sport planes are costing anywhere from $75,000 to $125,000. At those prices a few thousand dollars will not make a big difference in your monthly payment or you’re loss of interest income if you pay cash. Low sales prices might indicate a small market share and lack of factory support. That is definitely not what you want.

Basic questions before buying a Sport Plane

1. Is there a strong dealer and service center network. One thing you would hate to do is to spend your hard earned money for a plane that becomes an orphan on the flight line.

2. Will your local mechanic and flight instructor be able to train you and maintain the aircraft? Sure, it may be the cheapest plane to buy, but if you can’t get the parts or the maintenance is too difficult, it doesn’t matter how much money you saved.

3. Can you buy insurance? Most sport plans are insurable by at least one or two different insurance underwriters. But, if the plane is new in the country without parts support or training, you might not get insurance. If it is an amphibian or float plane, get your quote first, IF you can even get coverage. Insurance is not required in all the states, so it is not always an issue, but if you have to borrow money, you’ll need insurance.

4. Are there more than two aircraft flying? Don’t rely just on the factory demo planes. Look for a company that has a number of planes in the flying public’s hands.

5. Check the accident records at the FAA. If the prototypes and demo panes have all been damaged, maybe there is something wrong with the design.

6. Talk to owners if possible. The best way to find out about a plane is from and owner. You want real world advice.

7. And last, FLY THE PLANE! Make sure you fit and it feels right. It always amazes me how many people buy a plane and do not make the test flights. They do not all fly the same, even if they are the same model. Each aircraft has its own little quirks and as a buyer you need to know that.

By Contributing Editor Scott "Sky" Smith.
Sky Smith Insurance Agency.

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