Buying a Car vs. Buying an Airplane

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Updated May 16, 2020
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Trever

Trever is a commercial pilot with over 1,700 hours of flight time as well as the owner and general manager of Inflight. He has numerous hours of mountain flying experience and a serious passion for teaching. In just 2 years he earned his Gold Seal Flight Instructor at the age of 22 and became a flight school owner at 23 years old.

When you begin the process of buying an airplane, you may be inclined to think that it’s similar to purchasing a car. In many ways it is, and in many other ways it isn’t. From safety to ownership type to insurance and beyond – there are many things to consider before committing to the purchase of an airplane that you may not consider.

So, is buying a plane similar to buying a car? The answer may surprise you – let’s take a look.

Safety

The biggest difference when buying a plane versus buying a car is that a plane needs to be thoroughly inspected, and meet a number of rigorous airworthiness qualifications. It’s in your best interest to be much more critical of a plane – particularly if it’s used. Since plane shopping requires more specialized knowledge than car shopping, it’s best to get the help of an expert as you look through dealership inventories, particularly if you’re a first-time buyer. Reach out to your flight instructor, fellow pilots or airplane mechanic to assist you before making a purchase.

Used Vs. New

While a bargain car might be a good idea to save some money, even though it’s more prone to break down, purchasing a used plane isn’t quite the same. Breaking down on the side of the road and calling AAA is a much different scenario than having mechanical failure at 20,000 feet in the sky. Some non-reputable dealers may try to sell you an unsound aircraft, causing you massive mechanical upgrades ($$) at best and endangering your life at worst. Again, that’s why it’s important to obtain an expert opinion before making a final decision. Overall, it’s generally best to purchase a new aircraft from a reputable brands like Cirrus, Cessna and Beechcraft, among others. These are accompanied by workmanship warranties and backed up by decades of experience in the small-aircraft industry.

Ownership

Buying

Some car dealerships are able to sell cars without any type of down payment. But there are no zero-down payment options when buying a plane; you’re required to pay 15-20 percent to obtain financing. Plan on saving up an amount of money somewhere in the five-digit range—and then some—for your initial costs and first few rounds of payments. You should also consider future costs like storage and maintenance. Plane storage can cost a few hundred dollars a month, even if it’s outside, and regular maintenance costs always creep up. 

Leasing

Like cars, airplanes can be leased rather than outright purchased if the customer chooses. This helps bring down upfront costs and hassles that accompany storing and maintaining a plane.  A big difference with leasing an airplane is that there are several ways to “lease” an airplane, in a looser sense of the term. These often lead to even less financial obligations and fees, by paying on a per-flight basis.

  • Fractional or Joint Ownership: This form of leasing allows you to buy “shares” in an airplane through a management company. This allows you to use the aircraft for only as much time as necessary, but will often cost more on a per-hour basis than owning a plane. Cirrus, for example, has a factory-sponsored program that links potential partners together to buy a new Cirrus.
  • Airplane Memberships: Brokers sell memberships to charter companies at discounted rates. Memberships include specific chunks of time on certain private aircraft.
  • One-Time Charter Rental: The simplest way to “lease” an airplane is to simply rent or charter a jet for one-time use. 

Insurance

Insurance for a car and an airplane is similar in that they’re both required to operate them – however, airplane insurance is one of the most comprehensive plans available, raising the cost and limiting your options. It’s easy in this day and age to shop around for car insurance, picking and choosing your coverage options. However with an aircraft, you’re required to cover the plane in the hangar, on the ground, in the air, for yourself and any passengers.

What’s Included in Aircraft Insurance?

There are a number of risks that aircraft insurance will protect you from, including public and passenger liability, and hull protection. 

  • Airplane Liability: This protects you if your plane damages third party property, such as houses, cars, airport buildings or other aircraft, but does not cover injury to your passengers.
  • Passenger Liability: This protects you against the risks involved in carrying passengers in your plane. This coverage provides protection if your passengers are injured or killed while riding in your plane.
  • Aircraft Hull: Aircraft hull insurance provides coverage for the physical damage of an airplane, whether the damage occurs on the ground or in flight. The coverage includes all equipment that is used for flying the plane.

Aircraft Rental Insurance

If you’re renting a plane, you’ll also need insurance, as similar to rental car companies, plane rental companies offer some, but not enough protection in the event of an accident. Similar to an owner policy, a renter or non-owned aircraft policy provides both liability and property damage coverage. You normally want to carry as much liability insurance as you can afford, but the property damage limits should be determined by the value of the rental plane you fly. 

Resale Value

One of the more financially beneficial reasons to purchase an aircraft is the fact that unlike most automobiles, airplanes actually hold their value, rather than depreciate over time. According to the IATA, Generally aircraft assets are depreciated over 15 to 25 years with residual values of between 0 to 20 percent. The only cars that don’t necessarily depreciate, on the other hand, are those of vintage or classic eras or from high-end manufacturers like Porsche, BMW and Jaguar.

Buying a Car vs. Buying a Plane: In Conclusion

Now that you know some of the similarities and differences between buying a car and buying an airplane, you can make the entire process easier on yourself. Before signing on the dotted line, always make sure to get an expert opinion on the safety, performance and history of the aircraft. Unlike a car, which can be traded in, maintained and stored with relative ease, you’ll need to be 100 percent sure that you’re making the right choice when buying a plane.


Trever

Trever is a commercial pilot with over 1,700 hours of flight time as well as the owner and general manager of Inflight. He has numerous hours of mountain flying experience and a serious passion for teaching. In just 2 years he earned his Gold Seal Flight Instructor at the age of 22 and became a flight school owner at 23 years old.