10 Tips For Buying Aircraft at an Aircraft Auction
One of the best places to purchase a nearly new, quality aircraft at a price far below retail value is an auction. Often, brand-name and top-quality aircraft (Cessna, Beechcraft, Piper etc) become state or bank
property when their owners are unable to pay debts, and have to be sold fast to avoid substantial storage and maintenance costs. Because of this it is sometimes possible to obtain quality, nearly new aircraft as much as 80-90% off retail price.
Purchasing an airplane is a major investition and should be done with appropriate care. This is especially true if you are an inexperienced and/or first-time buyer. The sums involved are close to what one pays
for a house, so, just as for real estate, getting an expert appraisal is the safest way to go. However, that is rather costly and not everyone feels they want to make that investition, especially when just buying a used light aircraft.
In order to help first-time buyers, I have put together the top 10 things to look out for when purchasing an aircraft at an auction. A lot of them are similar to the recommendations for purchasing a used car, and in fact experienced pilots basically approach aircraft purchases in a similar way. Still, there are a few aircraft-specific points to pay attention to.
10) Get a copy of the FAA Type Certificate for the airplane that interests you. On the Internet you can get one at http://www.faa.gov/aircraft. Here, you will find all the specifications about aircraft–applicable
engines, propellers, gross weight, empty weight, speeds, etc. Also, inform yourself at the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association). They have a lot of detailed information, forums, and guides on purchasing used aircraft, all accessible for an annual membership fee of $39.
9) Take a good look at the maintenance history. Regular mechanical checkups should have been made. Pay particular attention to engine hours, equipment, airworthiness directives (ADs), damage history, paint,
and interior. Be sure to ask for the number of prior owners. Several prior owners are likely to indicate prior problems with the aircraft.
8) Ask owners of the aircraft model you’re eyeing about frequent prior defects and things to pay attention to at the preview. This is best done at one of the large net aviation forums like http://www.totalpilot.com or http://www.airplanes.com.
7) If you find a good candidate, it’s time for a thorough visual inspection. Be sure to check struts (are they equally extended?), wings (corrosion, loose rivets), flaps (rust?), ailerons (any abnormal play if you push slightly?), doors and windows (should seal well), propeller (track, cracks?), engine (mounted solidly, any leaks, exhaust system ok?).
6) If possible, have the engine started and check how well it’s running. Any irregularities in the sound? Blue smoke from the exhaust pipe (oil, can mean that the engine is worn)? Excessive white smoke (may mean that coolant is leaking)?
5) When purchasing aircraft at auctions, start by observing. Attend the preview (usually held a while before the auction, and open to the general public). Stay cool during the auction, and decide what you want to bid
beforehand. Never get into a bidding war, it’s a surefire way to buyer’s remorse.
4) Beware of any too-good-to-be-true claims. At an auction, odds are they are just that – not true. Liability for a seller at a public auction is relatively low, and two powerful words – “AS IS” – basically free the seller of any responsibility. It is up to you to pinpoint them on essential statements and be wary of any outrageous promises.
3) Should you win the bid, insist on a written contract, and ask that all important figures and claims are mentioned (e.g. about prior owners or repairs, engine hours, or the timespan until you get the plane). Don’t forget that the price you will pay is usually higher than the winning bid. Most auctions include a 5-10% buyer’s premium.
2) consider purchasing title insurance along with accident and liability coverage. We have just touched the main points of buying a good aircraft, and there are still numerous issues that may remain undiscovered until after the purchase.
1) Do not be too hasty. Looking at some auctioned aircraft, you may get the feeling of a once-in-a-lifetime bargain, but in fact the market is pretty large and great opportunities are around all the time. It is best to observe a few auctions first to get a feel of the process, and only actively start bidding once you have a good idea of the market.
There are several databases of auctioned aircraft online. One of the largest is http://www.seizedaircraft.com, with unlimited access for a one-time annual fee of $19.95.