Is Buying An Aircraft To Build Flight Time A Good Idea? By Jason Zilberbrand, ASA, CAA, ISA AM, AOA AM, MRAeS

By Jason Zilberbrand

March 9, 2021 Educational

Buying an aircraft to build flight time seems like a good idea, right?

Well, the answer is that it depends.

There is no one-size-fits-all for what type of aircraft you should or should not own.

Cost aside, including maintenance and storage, there are a few more things to consider before buying a plane to meet flight hours.

Questions You Need To Ask Before Buying An Aircraft To Build Flight Time

Before you jump the gun and purchase the first aircraft you think might be perfect, consider the following questions before making your decision.

How Close Is Your Airport And What Services Can They Provide?

First, let’s take a look at where you are located. Seasoned aircraft owners know that part of owning an aircraft means you must map out where you plan on flying out of, coordinate where you land, and cover fees that come with each trip.

Some fees can include, but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Landing

  • Parking

  • Hangar storage

  • Fuel

  • Ramp space

Now, let’s take a look at airport types. Commercial airports might have some delays as they cater to commercial flights. The same can be said about international airports. You could be facing long or delayed wait periods to arrive at your destination.

You will likely want to use a smaller airport for your aircraft. These more exclusive airports are better designed for private fliers. Using one of these airports, you are more likely to have a seamless experience with vehicle transportation on the tarmac, loading luggage, taking off, and parking your aircraft.

Are Airplanes Available For Purchase?

Something critical to note is that there are currently more buyers than sellers right now in the aviation industry. This means entry-level airplanes may be harder to come by and are experiencing many competing offers.

An ideal aircraft for flying to accrue hours is a single-engine aircraft because it’s more compact than larger models. According to Plane & Pilot Magazine, the most affordable aircraft options on the market include the following:

  • Cessna 150

  • Ercoupe

  • Aeronca Champ

  • Cessna 170/172

  • Beechcraft Skipper

  • Luscombe Silvaire

  • Piper Cherokee 140

  • Stinson 108

  • Quicksilver MX II Ultralight

  • Pre-201 Mooney M20s

Keep in mind that aircraft maintenance can cut into a budget just as much as proper storage. These recommendations are based on the idea that you are purchasing one of these planes in good or great condition. Buying an older or less than optimal condition aircraft can leave you subject to more maintenance costs.

Do You Want To Learn On The Aircraft You’re Buying To Build Flight Hours?

Something else you may want to mull over is whether or not you see yourself flying your purchased aircraft long term. Shouldn’t you train on a plane you want to fly? Similar to owning a vehicle but on a much larger scale, owning an aircraft is a commitment.

If you are intent on owning an aircraft to build flight time, have an exit strategy. When the honeymoon period is over in six months, you will want to be prepared to answer how long you plan on owning it.

The bottom line is if you don’t purchase an aircraft you want to learn on and fly, chances are you won’t enjoy owning it.

What Is The Aircraft’s Payload Capacity?

Similar to trucks and trains, airplanes have a “payload capacity.” The payload is the carrying capacity of your aircraft. Reaching its maximum capacity is the weighted amount you can safely load and travel to your destination.

For commercial aircraft, this may mean luggage (or a traveler) gets bumped from a flight to keep within the parameters of a safe payload capacity weight.

However, private aircraft can be slightly different and impact which aircraft you end up purchasing. Larger jets have more room for bags and other cargo. But the payload capacity for one of the more affordable and compact aircraft mentioned above is much smaller than that of a large jet.

For example, a 1977 Cessna 150M offers an empty weight of 1,111 lbs. with a takeoff and landing weight of 1,600 lbs. The bottom line? This plane is small and does not leave a lot of space for extra cargo or additional travelers.

Exactly How Many Flight Hours Does It Take To Obtain A Pilot License?

First, there are several types of pilot licenses. And each one requires different levels of schooling, certification, testing, and flight time. As a new pilot, it’s challenging to know what you want to do. But you should know what you're piloting before you purchase an aircraft.

Depending on your age, experience, and time available (preferably full-time), it is possible to get your pilot’s license in 6 months. If you cannot commit to earning your pilot’s license full time, you may earn it in 2-3 years. Flight time requirements are as follows:

  • Private Pilot License (PPL) - 40 hours

  • Commercial Pilot License (CPL) - 250 hours

  • Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) - 1,500 hours

  • Sport Pilot - 20 hours

What Are Some Other Ways You Can Build Flight Time?

In addition to buying your own aircraft, you can take part in an hour building program. Some businesses offer pilot packages on various aircraft to build and get the hours that you need to advance.

If owning an aircraft doesn’t seem to be your speed, take a look at renting one. By doing so, you get to shake up your experience flying different aircraft while you build upon those flight hours.

You know those banners you see flying across the sky? You can get a job piloting those planes and build flight hours that way as well.

There are also flight hour opportunities in tourist and thrill attractions, such as skydiving, flying tour guides, and aerial photography.

Still Looking At Purchasing An Aircraft?

We’ve got you covered! Use our wide database through VREF Online and get real-time online aircraft valuations, accurate data provided directly from the manufacturers, and so much more.

Interested in learning more? Contact us today.