We are often asked to assist in evaluating an aircraft for purchase. With a growing used aircraft inventory on the market it’s even more important to look hard at the aircraft and be sure it is the best value. There are several things to consider when you are looking for a good used aircraft. In this article we will discuss the more critical considerations and even touch a little on technique. A pre-purchase evaluation consists of two major elements: 1) physical inspection of the aircraft, and 2) an audit of the maintenance records.
Let’s stand back for a moment and consider the aircraft maintenance cycle in general. Each unique model has a different maintenance cycle timeline derived basically from its maintenance and inspection schedule, published by the aircraft manufacturer. Understanding where on that timeline that aircraft currently lies can be a huge factor in the valuation of the aircraft. Done right, the maintenance records audit can paint a timeline picture clearly. Imagine buying an aircraft that needs a major inspection, engine overhauls, and a landing gear inspection in the next 12 months. Once you own the aircraft you pay for the maintenance. Many focus only on the major maintenance events and ignore the little stuff. Well, lots of little stuff can quickly add up to a major maintenance event by itself.
Inspect the aircraft
In order to properly evaluate the physical condition of the aircraft an all-encompassing and complete inspection should be performed, even if it isn’t due yet. Obviously, the selection of a maintenance provider who will perform the inspection is important. The aircraft buyer is usually the party paying for the pre-purchase and usually selects the maintenance provider. We recommend choosing a maintenance provider with an outstanding reputation for knowledge on the make and model aircraft being purchased. Almost anyone can legally inspect the aircraft; however, a willingness to do the work does not equate to expertise. When making a buy decision on a multimillion dollar asset like an aircraft,you’ve got to find experts to help in the evaluation.
The general belief is that the best maintenance provider choice will be the aircraft OEM (original equipment manufacturer), but there are several non-OEM maintenance providers who are very capable as well.
More important than the facility is the specific mechanic or team leader who will perform the work. That is truly where the expertise lies. Use your network to find an expert on the aircraft make and model being purchased. Every maintenance organization has its strengths and weaknesses. You want to be certain that the maintenance provider you choose has a team that really knows the aircraft model in question and will know what to look for.
As for the scope and detail of the inspection, keep it simple. The equivalent of a 100-hour/annual inspection should be performed as part of the pre-purchase in order to uncover any possible hidden damage or corrosion. The 100-hour/annual inspection performed on small piston aircraft is intended to be a tip-to-tail inspection that, when performed, will uncover all possible airworthiness concerns. In the case of large or multi-turbine powered aircraft (Ref: Part 91.409 (e)), a “100-hour/annual” inspection is usually not available in the maintenance program provided by the manufacturer. However, it is not too difficult to find the equivalent of a 100-hour/annual inspection within the manufacturer’s inspection program. The manufacturer always has a group of inspections that, when combined, consist of a tip-to-tail inspection of the aircraft. If an aircraft is imported into the United States from another country, the regulations require that the “equivalent of a 100-hour/annual inspection” be performed (Ref: Part 21.183 (d)(2)). Because of this regulation, large and multi-turbine aircraft manufacturers can tell you what group of inspections contained within their maintenance program (when accomplished together) are “equivalent to a 100-hour/annual” type inspection.
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