A Guide: Buying An Airplane With Missing Logbooks

By Jason Zilberbrand

August 8, 2022 Educational

Are you thinking about buying an airplane with missing logbooks?

No one can stop you from doing so, but you want to be sure that you're buying an airworthy aircraft. If you plan on moving forward with purchasing a plane without its logbooks, there are a few things to think about before you do.

A word of caution, missing logbooks is not a subject matter for first-time buyers. If you want to purchase your first aircraft and discover (hopefully, early in the due diligence phase) that the logs and historical records are missing, please move on to another aircraft.

The dark side to missing logbooks and records is not for the faint of heart. There are a ton of questions that can and should arise very quickly if you are unable to determine accurate and empirical data from the logs. It would be nearly impossible to determine airworthiness, airworthiness directive and service bulletin compliance, annual inspection status, engine and prop overhaul status, and vital factors like what part of the world the aircraft lived in for most of its life.

Depending on precisely what's lost, buying an airplane with missing logbooks could leave you with a plane that isn't airworthy or has many more problems than expected. Either way, you're out of the money you've invested in purchasing the aircraft in the first place.

Visit VREF for aircraft appraisals of all kinds.

What To Know Before Buying An Airplane With Missing Logbooks

Generally, buying an aircraft without its logbooks is not a great idea. Most people walk away from the plane that is missing their logbooks, but newcomers in aviation tend to buy anyway. To new pilots, don't let a low price point fool you. It's often said that an aircraft's logbooks are considered worth more than the aircraft itself. Selling an airplane without them results in a significant double-digit loss – between 40% and 60% of the plane's total value. If you find a fantastic deal and insist on buying, know your future options are limited for your aircraft. This includes not being able to charter it out or use it for other commercial purposes.

Also, you should know that the older the aircraft, the older the logbooks will be. If you're missing earlier logbooks, pages, or sections, they probably won't carry much value. But if an older aircraft is missing its records entirely, then you have a problem.

Pilot Logbook Vs. Aircraft Logbook

A pilot's logbook will have information about every flight they've taken and the number of hours they've flown. It also includes landings, flight times, and other intricate details and notes. A pilot will keep this type of logbook on their person, which is not the type of logbook you should be concerned about when purchasing an aircraft.

An aircraft logbook is the logbook or books that should be available at all times and kept in a safe place. For piston aircraft, this will look like a small or medium-sized bound book or book with rings. Again, for older aircraft, there may be multiple books. They may even occasionally be stored digitally. These logbooks will contain specific information that determines its condition and airworthiness, like:

  • History
  • Maintenance
  • Repairs
  • Overhaul information
  • Inspections
  • Certifications

Are you looking for a comprehensive appraisal before you buy? Get yours through VREF.

Financing An Aircraft With Missing Logbooks

You will find it pretty impossible to receive financing for an aircraft without its logbooks, and I don't understand why. Think about it this way. The lender has a lien on the plane, which means they own it in the event of a default. While this seems simple, you need to take it one step further. As in, if the buyer ends up defaulting their payments, the aircraft has to be repossessed. Banks and other financial institutions don't want to take on the responsibility and liability of repossessing a plane because it can be hard to sell. Suppose you find financing for an aircraft without its logbooks. In that case, you can expect to put up substantial collateral that can be easily liquidated.

Best Practices For Your Aircraft Logbooks

You can take some extra steps and precautions to protect your aircraft's logbooks.

  • Protect From External Elements
  • It cannot be emphasized enough that protection from fire, smoke, and water is key to keeping your logbooks in good condition. Ensure your records have a protective covering or case. Consider leatherbound or made with fire-retardant material and please store them in a fireproof safe.
  • Keep A Scanned Copy
  • There is nothing more valuable than the original logbooks. However, it might help to keep a copy that you update annually. Your annual update should include general housekeeping, like ensuring everything is correct, accurate, and in the proper order.
  • As far as copies go, pilots tend to keep them in a fireproof box or safe at their home, personal office, or hangar. Again, it would be best if you did everything you could to ensure your originals were always protected.
  • Never Let Them Out Of Your Sight
  • Logbooks are known to be stolen, so keeping them well protected and locked up tight is essential. Even if you're showing the plane to someone you assume you can trust, have an eye on your logbooks at all times.
  • Thieves steal logbooks to extort you into paying them before you can get them back. You want to avoid this type of event at all costs. Because similar to online ransomware, there is no guarantee that you will get your logbooks back and in the same condition. Logbooks are sometimes burned or otherwise destroyed, even with payment. If someone asks to see your logbooks, stay with them as they look. It's better to be safe than sorry.
  • Take Photos & Inventory
  • Keep images of your logbooks safely stored on your computer or in the cloud. This can help you take inventory of all information that should be there and see how you can prepare for upcoming maintenance and repairs.
  • Go Digital
  • It's still essential to have a physical inventory of your logbooks. However, digital records offer the benefits of encrypted storage, which eliminates the chances of it being physically stolen from you. You can move your logbooks to a digital platform if it's safely secured and maintained online.
  • Before Buying An Airplane With Missing Logbooks…

Reach out to the experts of VREF to give an accurate, unbiased appraisal based on years of experience from our team of ASA appraisers. The last thing you want to do is think you've found a great deal on an aircraft only to find out the entire plane is a dud. A final reminder? Logbooks are vital to keeping track of the airworthiness and condition of an aircraft.

Don't buy without the facts from a partner of the AOPA – contact VREF.