Why buying aircrafts is a good investment

Buying your own aircraft takes some thought and planning. If you know what you’re doing and have a good team to help you, the process can go fairly smoothly. But, if you haven’t bought a plane before or if you want to try and “wing it”, you can be in for some exciting surprises. Here’s a look at Why buying aircrafts is a good investment and some things and questions to consider: how much does a passenger plane cost, affordable personal aircraft, airplane insurance cost, best used 4 seat airplane.

Why buying aircrafts is a good investment

Purchasing an aircraft is a daunting task – but it doesn’t have to be. With the expert advice of Travelers Financing and Leasing Solutions, you head into a complex marketplace with the assurance that you’re in good hands. Our experience in specialized aircraft financing solutions such as asset-based term loans and pre-approved financing lay out your options before shopping for the perfect craft.

Like any sound investment, you should always first ask yourself a few key questions:
What are the benefits of owning an aircraft for you?
Is your preferred make/model a reputable investment?
Can you afford to set 25 percent of the overall budget aside for maintenance costs?
Is this an investment for your company or organization?
Is this a shared purchase?
Should you finance or lease?

Effective for Frequent Flyers
Ownership of an aircraft is an even better investment if you find yourself flying consistently – and more so, find yourself waiting in lines and dragging your heels through international customs, baggage, and slow commercial airline procedures day in and day out. For the consistent flyer, privatized aircraft ownership makes perfect sense. It not only gives you the freedom to act and do as you please but also gives you the confidence to tend to spur-of-the-moment deals and obstacles. With an aircraft, you’re almost always available.
For the corporate sector, having access to a ready-set aircraft means never missing an important opportunity, or deal finalization ever again – it also means increased efficiency when it comes time to leave. Time is money, and when you spend less of it in line, sorting through paperwork and checking bags, you’re able to spend it where you need it.
For passionate hobbyists, owning your own aircraft means taking your friends and family across the province for a special event, traveling across the country at a considerable discount when compared to commercial flight prices, and having the freedom to come and go as you please.

Aircraft Hold Their Value
One of the more financially beneficial reasons to invest in an aircraft is the fact that unlike most other forms of transportation, airplanes, helicopters and jets can actually appreciate in value, rather than decrease over time.
In many cases, Travelers find themselves financing existing aircraft that require maintenance, upgrades or freeing up capital for owners to invest elsewhere. In this regard, purchase financing is our most active product. When you consider financing over a direct purchase, you may consider the appreciation of the aircraft in the long run.
For example: over a typical 5-year term, we’ve found that many aircraft are worth a similar price to the original purchase price – or have increased slightly, meaning that our borrowers and clients are in essence only paying for the use of the aircraft over time – in a way, this means that your potential loan payments act as rental fees and net down the costs of borrowing. Of particular note, is the fact that the recreational aircraft market is less susceptible to the economic pendulum, allowing value to remain consistent – whereas business jets bolster value that is more tightly bound to the state of the economy.

Buying a private plane is a lot like buying a car, except that for your own sake you ought to be more critical of a plane than of a car. There are some aircraft salespeople who may try to pass off a defective plane at a bargain price, realizing that you are an amateur and probably won’t discover the fault until later. If the fault results in the failure of some part of the ship while you are flying, it may be too late for you! The majority of airplane distributors, however, are reputable, and they like to deal with intelligent people who ask questions and demand demonstrations before they buy.

If flying is comparatively new for you, it’s a good idea to invite someone who knows about planes to go along with you when you shop for a plane. He might be your flying instructor, an accredited airplane mechanic, or an experienced airman. Be guided by his suggestions.

You’ll be better off if you buy a new plane built by a well-known firm. If something goes wrong, they’ll be more likely to make good and it will be easier for you to get standard replacement parts. Beware of homemade or rebuilt planes.

Why do you want a plane?

Before you start shopping for an airplane, decide what you want in the way of shape, size, weight, performance, and seating capacity. The best way to begin is to ask yourself, “What am I going to use this plane for?”

If you are going to be a “Sunday flyer,” and do most of your flying on week ends near home, you will probably invest in a low-cost, low-horsepower plane that will have a cruising speed of about 100 miles an hour and a range of about 200 miles.

If you plan to use your plane for cross-country trips, for business, vacation, or weekends at grandfather’s place in the country, you’ll want more speed, greater range, and larger carrying capacity. The flying machine you might buy will be moderately large in size and have a cruising speed of about 130 miles an hour and a minimum range of 500 miles between refuelings. Too frequent stops for fuel seriously cut down the average speed of an airplane on cross-country trips. If you plan to fly for business, you’ll probably have to spend $5,000 or more for your plane and be ready to pay high maintenance costs, operating expenses, and insurance rates.

If you’re going to do a lot of cross-country flying, you’ll probably want radio equipment, which is not included in any standard medium-priced personal aircraft. On normal operations, you will then be able to receive take-off and landing information from airport control towers and other information from the airways radio to help you in your flight: In flying through a storm, your radio will bring you weather reports. In emergencies, radio-signal direction finders operated by the Federal Communications Commission can establish your location if you get lost.

You must have radio equipment to land at air terminals where commercial airliners make scheduled stops, unless you are forced to land in an emergency. Radio communication with the control tower in such airports is necessary to the smooth handling of air traffic. Through radio, planes are notified where and when they are to land, when they should take off, and what runway to use.

Think before you buy

Safety, comfort, practicability, performance, and good looks are going to be the chief points that airplane salesmen will use to induce you to buy.

When you think of seating capacity, don’t forget to consider the number of persons in your family. If there are three in your household and you buy a two-seater, someone will always have to be left on the ground.

Twin booms, like those in the Lockheed P-38 fighter plane, will be offered on some planes instead of the more conventional long fuselage. In this type the twin booms carry the tail control and stabilizing surfaces. When the wing is fastened to the bottom of the fuselage to give a low-wing design, a very safe plane results. Pusher planes of this design, where the engine is centered in the rear of the cabin so that the twin booms build a fence around the propeller, have an added safety feature. The booms protect bystanders from serious injury in the blades of a whirling propeller when the airplane is on the ground.

It is important that the pilot’s visibility be good. From a comfortable, relaxed position in the pilot’s seat, you should be able to see above, below, far back on at least one side, and of course directly ahead. The better the visibility, the easier it will be for you to control your plane and the less will be the chances of collision. Ample visibility for the passengers is important, too. If they can look out of the plane conveniently, they’ll enjoy the trip more.

Additional safety features may be: two instead of three controls; dual controls, so that either person in the front pair of seats can pilot the plane; and flaps, known as high-lift devices. The latter act as a sort of supplementary wing, permitting the pilot to take off and land at a lower ground speed—thus with greater safety.

Your plane will come equipped with all the flight and navigational instruments necessary for its safe operation. These include compass, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, airspeed indicator, fuel gauge, and clock. If you plan on buying additional instruments, invest in a rate-of-climb indicator, artificial horizon, and directional gyro. They’ll be most helpful to you.

The power plant

PlaneThe engine in your plane should be of the approved type, which means that it has passed stringent factory and government tests. You must be able to rely upon your engine. If it should fail in the air you might have a serious crack-up, or at the very least a forced landing.

You should check the following desirable characteristics of aircraft engines before you buy. First, low weight per horsepower. The engine should not weigh more than four pounds per horsepower.

Second, quick response. By actual demonstration see that the engine functions smoothly over a wide range of speeds at various altitudes and that it responds promptly to speed changes from idling to full power.

Third, economy of fuel and oil consumption—a factor of great importance. This is desirable from the standpoint of reducing the weight of fuel to be carried and keeping the cost of operation as low as possible.

Fourth, freedom from dangerous vibration. Engine vibration; if excessive, imposes unnecessary strains on the entire airplane and may cause breakage of pipes, tubes, and wires, as well as discomfort to the passengers. Vibration of the plane’s instruments may seriously affect their accuracy. The engine should be well balanced and comparatively free from vibration at all operating speeds.

Grasshoppers for sale; Uncle Sam, prop.

Surplus stocks of small liaison planes and trainers that have been doing war jobs for the Army, Navy, and the Civil Air Patrol are being sold to civilian purchasers now. More of them may be available soon after the war is over. With their drab warpaint hidden beneath gay rainbow colors, some of these surplus Taylorcraft, Stinson, Cub, and Fairchild air-craft may be as good and as much in demand as new private aircraft. But don’t expect to be able to buy one for a song.

Some of them may be in top condition when the government puts them up for sale. They may be more airworthy and more reliable in engine and instrument accessories than they were when Uncle Sam bought them new. In many cases the planes are being sold with very expensive instruments and other equipment installed especially for wartime use and which are not to be removed before they are sold.

AirworthyThis does not necessarily mean they will be more air-worthy or reliable or better buys than a brand-new plane. These little planes live a rugged life under GI colors, and in many cases are sold “as is.” Only planes that tip the scales at more than 5,000 pounds are checked over before disposal by the service branch which has used them.

Engineers of the Civil Aeronautics Administration examine every type of plane declared surplus by the armed forces to determine whether it is airworthy according to CAA standards. Airworthiness means it is safe for operation in civilian hands.

Some of these planes are so close to civilian standards—many of them came right off civilian assembly lines—that no changes will be necessary. Others, built or rebuilt to military specifications, will require certain changes to meet established civilian standards of safety. CAA engineers will determine what these changes are as to each type.

Individual airplanes of that type, however, may need specific repairs in addition to these changes to conform to air-worthiness requirements. In some instances, thus, the purchaser may have to make minor alterations, specified by CAA engineers, before a license can be issued.

Now—or later?

Small airplane manufacturers view the sale of more and more of these planes by Uncle Sam as a threat to their business in the immediate postwar era. It has been “suggested that the government restrict the sale of such planes to schools and colleges and public or federal aviation training programs. These organizations need aircraft to use in instructing the future engineers, pilots, mechanics, and technicians who will keep American aviation ahead of the rest of the world. If the sales of such planes are limited in this way, airplane manufacturers will not have to wait a year or two until a substantial market for new aircraft begins to develop and will have a chance to develop their business in an open market.

If, on the other hand, airplane manufacturers are forced to wait a year or two, they might benefit from the time by devoting their entire efforts to the improvement of their planes and the development of new types of personal aircraft. Then, when they are ready to display their wares before the public, they will be able to offer planes of much greater utility.

One-third down, a year to pay

If you want to buy a new airplane or a used warplane under a time-financing plan, the banks are ready to offer you an installment plan, as well as special financing services for other phases of aviation.

One Pacific Coast bank has the following plan for the purchaser of a $1,500 private airplane. He can pay one-third down and the balance in twelve monthly installments of $103.50, making a total of $1,742. These payments also cover $183 worth of insurance and finance charges totaling $59.

Other plans being offered include time financing for student, pilot, or mechanic training and financing arrangements between manufacturers and distributors. Under the latter program, persons interested in becoming aircraft dealers are established financially and provided with planes to sell.

How long will you keep your plane?

On the average, one individual owns a plane for three and a half years—according to studies made by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. This is about half the useful life of the private plane. In many cases private planes change hands every year or so.

In the prewar days many people learned to fly, bought air-planes, and then discovered that the upkeep was too great, too much time was spent in getting back and forth from the airport, and that flying had not proved as useful as they expected. They sold their planes and in many instances gave up flying. Cost of maintaining and operating a private plane has always been the main consideration in its purchase. However, this cost must be weighed against the value received. Undoubtedly, in many cases the owners mentioned above could have cut their other expenses sufficiently to carry on their flying if they had believed it was important or necessary to their way of living.

As the utility value of an airplane increases, more people will buy planes and will keep them longer. If the airplane becomes a necessity, a person’s income bracket will not be the main factor in determining whether he can buy a plane and keep it. In a recent survey of one hundred airplane owners in one part of the country it was revealed that their average annual income was $2,200.

For Discussion

Would you purchase a used warplane for your private flying machine if you could buy a new plane? Should most of the used warplanes on sale be restricted to institutions providing instruction for aeronautical trainees? Should war veterans who want to purchase private aircraft be able to buy them at a reduced price? Would this privilege be abused by some who might buy planes for resale at a profit? Will installment plans for the purchase of aircraft get more people interested in flying?

Have you ever considered owning your own small aircraft? Sure, we all have at some point. A plane represents a sense of independence, giving you the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. And you’re not limited to just the road. But let’s face it. Having your own plane, say a Cessna, is also a status symbol. After all, only the most rich and elite own their own, personal airplanes, so if you can count yourself among them, you’re one step ahead of the game.

Aside from offering you the convenience and recreational opportunities you seek, owning a small plane does come with a lot of responsibility. Financial responsibility, that is. The costs can mount up, with the expenses ranging from the initial sale price and down payment, to repairs, storage fees, insurance, and fuel costs.

Key Takeaways

  • The type of plane you wish to purchase radically affects the price point.
  • If you finance an aircraft, it’s essential to budget for monthly payments.
  • Consider establishing an escrow fund for maintenance to pay for engine, propeller, avionics, and airframe overhauls.
  • You’ll also need to consider storage, insurance, and fuel costs.

Upfront Costs

One of the first things you’ll have to consider is what kind of plane you’re going to buy. The type of plane you wish to purchase radically affects the price point. Here’s the breakdown of what you’re looking at when it comes to the purchase price of a plane.

  • Ultralight Aircrafts: Single-seat, single-engine recreational planes. These may be purchased new, for an up-front cost of $8,000 to $15,000.
  • Single-Engine Planes: These planes which hold two or more people and are more economical to operate and maintain than multi-engine planes, typically cost between $15,000 and $100,000.
  • Multi-engine Planes: If you consider a plane like this, it will cost you between $75,000 and $300,000.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to pay for your plane in cash. But not everyone has that luxury. You may have to get a loan for your purchase. So don’t forget, along with the full sale price for your plane, you’ll also have to consider the interest you’ll pay on top. But don’t relax, because you’re not soaring yet. There are other considerations.

Storage

When not in use, planes must be stored at an airport either in hangars or outdoors. Outside storage is typically cheaper than hangars and other covered spaces, although this depends on the region and location of the airport. Urban airports typically charge more than comparable rural airports. Meanwhile, the average hangar cost is $275 per month, plus $100 for tiedown gear. Incidentally, residential storage is rarely available to the average small plane owner.

Financing

If you finance an aircraft, it’s essential to budget for monthly payments. Home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) offer an alternative to traditional financing, but, in either case, buyers should shop for the best available. interest rate, and loan terms.

Just like a car, there are several things that are factored into the financing for your aircraft. The financing company may consider the following:

  • Your down payment
  • Your credit score
  • The overall amount of the loan you’re requesting
  • The usage of the plane and how often you intend to use it
  • The condition of the plane including the year, make, and model

Financing companies look at some of the same factors lenders do for car loans including your down payment and credit score.

Maintenance and Inspections

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) recommends establishing an escrow fund for maintenance to pay for engine, propeller, avionics, and airframe overhauls.1 Contributing to this fund each time you fly helps cover unexpected expenses that can arise. Small aircraft are required to undergo annual inspections, which range in price from $600 to $1,200, while specialized planes with retractable landing gear cost more to inspect.

Insurance

Aviation insurance covers aircraft damage and provides liability for anything your aircraft damages. Coverage varies by policy, and aircraft damage is categorized either as in-flight damage and from external damage. When selecting small aircraft insurance, which runs between $1,200 and $2,000 per year, it’s best to consult with a licensed aviation insurance agent.

Gas and Oil

Small aircraft should have oil changes every four months or 50 hours—whichever comes first. For the average user, this represents three oil changes per year. The average small plane fuel burn rate is five-to-10 gallons per hour. Aviation fuel is significantly more expensive than typical automotive fuel, averaging $5 dollars per gallon.

The Bottom Line

Many costs factor into the economics of small aircraft ownership. On average, a $75,000 financed Cessna winds up costing $200 per hour, if flown 100 hours per year, with $80 going toward fuel, oil and maintenance. Similar aircraft may be rented for about $125 per hour.

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Four of the last five airplanes that I bought were new. The one that wasn’t new had but 500 hours on it. That was years ago, the last being in 1979. Still, I know the real thrill that comes from getting a brand-new airplane and being the only person, other than the test pilot, who has flown it. Today, the new high-performance single-engine airplane (over 200 horsepower, according to the FAA) buyer is a lot different. Most new airplanes are now bought by relatively new pilots. Old pilots will just tell you that they buy used because you can get a comparable airplane for a lot less money. True, but there is more to the argument than that and saving money is not always the same as a lower purchase price.

To begin, a huge factor is whether or not you have business use for the airplane and your business activity has enough cash flow to cover the airplane. This is strictly between the individual and his tax person (and the IRS). Sure, some airplanes are sold to folks with no business use, but most new airplanes have an attachment to a business activity checkbook. It’s a very different proposition to pay for an airplane with before-tax dollars, than it is to hand over what’s left after the government’s cut.

Before looking at airplanes, what kind of money are we talking about? Few buyers are just going to go under the mattress and come up with the cash. Most will finance, be it through a finance company or a bank. And many will use a line of credit instead of using the airplane as collateral. There are also lease deals available.

Looking at new high-performance singles, and looking at the best available financing, you might think in terms of 10 to 20 percent down (of an average price in the high $400,000 range) and from $3,000 to $5,000 a month as the required cash flow to own an airplane in roughly the middle of the price range of the high-performance singles that we are considering here. As a rough rule of thumb, and depending on the deal, about 1 percent of the retail price would come fairly close to the monthly payment. Some lease deals don’t require the substantial down payment. There are many different finance plans, some going out for 20 or more years. Fuel, insurance, hangar and maintenance add on to that monthly payment for the total cash flow requirement.

One thing that has to be considered is the possibility of being “upside down” in the airplane if one of the most liberal finance deals is used. This simply means that a quick sale of the airplane wouldn’t yield the amount of the note. The difference would have to come out of your pocket. From looking at values of 2005 Skylanes, Cirrus SR-22s and Columbia 400s in Vref and Aircraft Bluebook, it appears that wholesale prices of 2005s are about 80 percent of retail. That would mean that if you paid 10 percent down and had to sell quickly, you’d have to write a check. I’d add that there is more variation in values of these airplanes between the two sources than I have ever seen. An accountant can show you how the liberal depreciation rules in the federal tax code can help on that cash flow when the airplane is used primarily for business. The interest on the loan is also deductible. In most cases, the cash flow for an airplane used in business is actually positive for a while because of the tax benefits. But, again, the use of the airplane has to be related to business activity and the cash flow has to be there for this to work. When a person buys a used airplane, it is with a requirement to stash some cash for surprises. Every airplane owner is familiar with these and they can run into the thousands of dollars. New airplanes come with a warranty, so the new buyer is shielded from major and expensive surprises for the term of the warranty. That is a big advantage, as are some incentive plans that are offered on new airplanes from time to time. A while back some airplane manufacturers were offering free fuel, but $4 a gallon probably cured that.

The fact is that you can buy a new airplane and accurately project costs for the term of the warranty. You can’t do that when buying a used airplane.

Something else that tips the scales heavily in favor of new airplanes is the glass cockpit. If you want a fully integrated glass system you have to buy new. Garmin’s retrofit G600 system will allow a primary flight and multifunction display with an AHARS and air data computer for the retrofit market, enabling owners of existing airplanes to get rid of the vacuum system and the gyros and modernize the panel. The retail price of this is just under 30 grand and we won’t really know the installed price until the equipment is being delivered and installed. The complete new glass cockpit systems are simply too complex to be economically retrofitted to an existing piston airplane, so if you want the best, and the big screens, so far it has to be a new airplane. All the new airplane buyer has to evaluate here is which airplane/avionics combination is the most desirable. Airplane selling is a highly competitive business and any salesman will try to convince you that his airplane is the only one that you should consider. You have to live with the airplane, the salesman doesn’t, so you have to carefully weigh what is available against your needs.

Also, when you take a demo flight, consider how the engine is operated during the flight. If the airplane is a turbo and it is climbed at full power, that looks great in rate of climb, but in the long run it might reduce engine life. Likewise, how much fuel is burned at cruise? Some of the new airplanes, especially turbos, are demonstrated at quite high cruise power settings and the new engines, especially the turbocharged Continentals, will generate more than rated power. It is not uncommon to see a cruise fuel flow of 25 gallons per hour in a turbo single, and that equates to more than 300 horsepower at an average specific fuel consumption. That is roughly 100 percent of the horsepower rating of the engines.

High-performance piston singles (over 200 horsepower) currently in production range from the Cessna Skylane at the lowest price point to the pressurized Piper Mirage at the highest. Those are two great airplanes with a lot of interesting ones in between.

Speed is often foremost in every pilot’s mind when buying an airplane. But how important is it? That depends on how far you fly. If most of your trips are 200 to 300 miles, then speed isn’t the most important issue. The longer the trip, the more speed counts, especially when there is a headwind, which there will statistically be more than half the flying time. Even though an extra 10 or 20 knots of true airspeed will save only a few minutes on an average trip, I’d bet that most pilots put speed pretty high-if not at the top-on the list. We buy airplanes to move about, and the faster the better. Speed is expensive, though, and a 30 percent increase costs more than 30 percent more money.

Range might be second only to speed as a performance factor important to most pilots. It is often said that the average trip in a business jet is about 300 miles. For some reason, in singles pilots tend to want to fly farther, as in getting from where it is cold to where it is warm in the winter. An airplane that will do this without a fuel stop is highly desirable. Actual useful range has to be carefully calculated because the range and speed superlatives cited by a salesman might not go together. An airplane might fly fast and fly far but not do both at the same time.

If you have a specific trip in mind, it is a good idea to get information from a pilot’s operating handbook and feed the trip through a flight planning program on a number of different days to see how often it could be done without a stop. The computerized flight planners plug in the forecast winds for the day and give you a very precise estimate, but you can also enter your own estimates of wind based on experience over the route. In either case, wind must be considered because the no-wind range of an airplane is an interesting but almost useless number, particularly at single engine speeds where the wind can add or subtract a large percentage of the actual true airspeed to or from the groundspeed.

Range also has a direct bearing on what you can carry in the cabin. Most new four-seaters excel at carrying full fuel and two people and baggage, which is a fairly standard load. If every heavy option is added then the choice of a passenger might be limited to someone who is not bottom-heavy. Maximum range trips with full seats are just not possible in any of the new high- performance piston singles.

There are other performance matters to explore. The climb rate and the airfield performance might be more important to some than to others, for example.

Turbo or not turbo is a big question for the new airplane buyer. I could sit here and write many words about why turbocharging is not really worth the expense on an unpressurized airplane flown in the eastern U.S., but I’d be just as out of step as I always managed to be in close order drill. When airplanes are offered with the choice, buyers often vote in favor of the turbocharged airplane. An exception is the Cessna 182 where the normally aspirated airplane has been outselling the turbo by a lot, but even that is changing. The 206 turbo far outsells the normal. The turbo version of an airplane will fly higher, go faster up high, burn more gas and cost more to maintain. The warranty deals with the latter for a while. And while it is hard for a pilot to “hurt” a normally aspirated engine, because once it starts climbing there is less available power, it is easy to trash a turbocharged engine that will make gobs of power well up into thinner air. There is no fadec on new turbocharged airplanes yet. When it comes, any turbo advantage will be enhanced.

A normally aspirated airplane will almost always beat a turbo when an upwind and downwind round trip are compared. The reason is that the naturally aspirated airplane is typically faster down low, so it spends less time on the upwind leg than the turbo saves by climbing into stronger winds on the downwind leg. So the turbo has to be attractive for other reasons. These might include smoother rides in the middle altitudes, better tailwinds eastbound and a little better shot at getting on top of the clouds, though that is pretty elusive no matter how high you fly. Most turbocharged airplanes have a built-in oxygen supply, though getting the system recharged is not something that you can do at every airport. And a lot of pilots don’t think that flying above 18,000 feet even with supplemental oxygen is such a good idea. There are certainly cases on record of higher-flying pilots becoming incapacitated. A strong advantage of the new normally aspirated big-engine singles is their ability to be operated in the mid-teens to snag a big tailwind. No, they won’t go as fast as a turbo at 15,000 feet, but when you are enjoying a 60-knot tailwind the difference in groundspeed won’t be all that great and the fuel flow will be a lot lower without the turbo.

Where the used airplane buyer has to look at equipment and the possibility of a lot of expense in upgrading, the new airplane buyer has no such problem. All the new singles in this category have complete glass cockpits, most including traffic, weather and terrain information. The avionics option lists, which used to be long, are now short and virtually all the airplanes are built with all the options.

On most new airplanes, there is not a choice of autopilots. And, the autopilot in a new airplane is something that you probably fly with for a long while. Wise buyers look carefully at this.

Autopilots currently in new airplanes range from those barely integrated into the glass cockpit system, as in the Cessnas with Garmin G1000 cockpits and Bendix/King KAP 140 autopilots, to completely integrated, as in Columbia and Beech airplanes with the Garmin G1000 system, including the automatic flight control system. More airplanes will likely be getting the complete Garmin package, and a competitor offering an equally integrated package will almost certainly emerge. (Because the Diamond DA40 has 180 horsepower, less than the FAA definition for high performance, it is not included here, but that airplane now has a completely integrated Garmin system and recent improvements have boosted the airplane’s performance.)

There are two basic types of autopilots. One is rate-based, meaning the autopilot senses any rate of change in turn or air pressure and does something about it. The KAP 140 and S-Tec autopilots are of this type. These autopilots don’t always fly neatly in turbulence, though S-Tec has done a lot to improve the performance of their autopilots and they tend to fly these airplanes rather well. The Garmin autopilot is attitude based, getting inputs from the solid state attitude heading reference system (AHRS) and the digital air data computer. The entire automatic flight control system uses digital electronics, like the ones in turbine airplanes, and it flies with precision. Then there is the ability of the Garmin system to sport a keyboard to use in entering things into the G1000 system. That is currently available only in the Columbia airplanes, but you can expect keyboards to show up in others in the future.

With glass cockpits comes a requirement for electrical and instrument backups. These are mostly all-electric airplanes. On electrical backup, all the FAA requires is battery power to operate all essential items for 30 minutes after a charging system failure. Most pilots would rather have more than that and backups range from nothing other than the primary battery, to standby batteries, to auxiliary standby alternators, to complete dual electrical systems. The buyer of a new airplane should look carefully at this and choose an airplane with a system that provides whatever comfort level the pilot wants. As of this writing, Piper singles have the most basic standby, except for the Mirage, which has a dual system. The Columbia also has a dual system. Everyone else has extra batteries or standby alternators that can support essential equipment after the failure of the primary alternator. Every all-glass airplane has a mechanical attitude, airspeed and altimeter to back up the electronic displays, and the placement of these standby instruments is also something the pilot has to make peace with. I think the best placement of the standbys is presently in the Cirrus where they are front and center, but every pilot has an opinion on the subject.

With the Garmin systems there is a reversionary mode where all required items can be shown on one screen were one to go bad. There is only one AHRS and one air data computer in the G1000 system in singles so reversionary mode won’t cure failure of those items, but it does offer backup of a display failure. This is not true of the Avidyne systems. As this was prepared the Avidyne glass cockpit system was offered on Piper and Cirrus airplanes. Garmin or Avidyne was available on the Columbia, though virtually all orders were for airplanes with the complete Garmin system. Beech, Cessna and Mooney have Garmin glass cockpits and the autopilot question is evolving by the day, with Beech and Columbia already flying with the full Garmin system.

If it sounds like choosing a new airplane might revolve around the systems and the cockpit and the instrument panel, it does seem like it has come to that. Which avionics system attracts you most is as important as the performance of the airplane.

With glass cockpits, terrain awareness and traffic information have become all but standard. On traffic, the best system is the active one that sees all transponder-equipped aircraft. The other system gets information from selected air traffic control facilities and coverage is limited. Any new airplane deserves the active system. Air conditioning is available on most new airplanes and the folks who buy new airplanes gladly pay the money and accept the weight penalty that this rather heavy option demands. Only old cynics would not order A/C and they don’t buy new airplanes, anyway.

There is always the question of ice protection, too. This comes in two forms, either approved or not, for flight in icing conditions. For new Bonanzas, an approved and a not approved system are available in the aftermarket. On Cessnas, only the not approved system is currently available in the aftermarket. The Cirrus and Columbia airplanes can be ordered from the factory with ice protection that is not approved. The Mooneys and the New Piper Mirage have systems available that are approved.

The main difference in the approved ice protection systems is in the testing that is done. For a system that is not approved, it must only be shown that the system causes no hazard. On an approved system, the airplane has to be flown in selected icing conditions and with various ice shapes attached to the airframe. There might have been ice testing done on unapproved systems and it’s up to the buyer to find out how much testing has been done. With either system, the pilot has to be aware that there are certain icing conditions that no airplane can tolerate and that any system is best used while fleeing any ice that is encountered.

There is one other major design feature to consider on high-performance singles-the landing gear. Retractable landing gear used to be considered essential on any airplane used for serious travel. No more. The two big-engine, fixed-gear composite airplanes, the Cirrus and the Columbia, are as fast as, or faster than, the retractable singles that we have known and loved over the years. The first person to talk with about this subject is an insurance broker. If the pilot were torn between a Mooney and a Cirrus or Columbia for example, the insurance premium might or might not be substantially higher in the retractable. That would depend on the pilot’s experience level in retractable gear airplanes and the ever-fickle nature of the insurance underwriter.

This is a great time to be shopping for a new single-engine, high-performance airplane. There are a bunch of them out there, there are good finance programs and there might be the opportunity to defray some of the cost (but keep all the tax advantages) by leasing the airplane back to an FBO for his rental or charter fleet. Only the FBO can explain that, so any buyer interested should ask about it and understand what is available.

One other thing. There are not many people around who remember Packard automobiles. I actually owned one years ago. Their ad slogan was, “Ask the man who owns one.” That’s not a bad idea on new airplanes. Pilots do tend to convince themselves that what they bought is the best, but most would share a word on any warts.

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