That Moment When An Airplane Seller Thinks They Can Pull A Fast One

What’s the worst part of buying an airplane?

By far the biggest time wasters were people doing as a friend recently suggested and omitting important details from the postings. Over time I learned to assume that the sellers were hiding something. Now, of course, you can never come across as accusing people of lying or questioning their integrity because there are also tons of honest people who will be put off by the assumption that they are lying, but you do need to figure out what you value and ask questions as you are interviewing people about the planes. In my experience the main items were:

1) Missing or broken equipment. This is the scenario the seller of a 1946 airplane I ran across recently is in. It is completely reasonable to expect an aircraft to have a radio in 2014. His plane doesn’t have one. If he leaves out the fact that his antique doesn’t have one, he will be consciously playing on that assumption. In the case of an antique plane, maybe it’s reasonable to assume that buyers of that sort of plane know not to assume there is a radio. But some sellers do these sorts of omissions for less pure reasons. Bad mojo, IMO. Know what you want and ask people if the plane has it. Ask if anything is starting to seem flakey.

2) Paint/interior quality. People just lie about this. There are some absolute pigs out there that are listed as 8′s on both interior and exterior. Like “paint oxidized and flaking off” and “foam coming out of the seats” kinds of deals listed as an 8. I suggest you send this to sellers and ask them to reply with their aircrafts condition and photos supporting their grade: Airplane Condition Rating Scale

The usage of an objective measurement system makes it harder for people to ‘just lie’. The request for photos means you will see the general appearance of the plane in more detail without having to say to the person “hey, I don’t trust you, send me more photos”.

3) Damage history. 90% of the bush planes that don’t say “no damage history” have damage history and they are playing the same game with lies of omissions. Ask the question: “Does this airplane have a damage history”.

In terms of limiting travel time, that was a big one for me. I was pretty set on a Maule, which meant it was very unlikely I would find one locally (oddly it later turned out that when I took my Maule to a new home in Mexico that it was one of three on a field with only about 15 airplanes. I assure you that Maules do no represent 20% of the total GA fleet!). I figured it was going to cost me hundreds of dollars to flying someplace to view a plane, so I may as well just have a pre-purchase inspection done first *then* fly myself out to take a look if it passed. The shop agreed to take a bunch more photos of their findings so I wouldn’t only have the flattering photos that the seller provided. As it turned out, the first plane I got this far with failed the pre-purchase so quickly that the shop didn’t even bother to charge me. They got it in their hanger, called me with a couple issues that were obvious without even having to open the cowl and we let the seller know that I wasn’t interested. For the second plane, I got really lucky. I found a seller that was just a great guy. When he found out that I needed a tailwheel endorsement he invited me to come out, get it in his plane and then if I liked it he would sell it to me for our agreed price. If not, I could just pay him for the time I used and be on my way. I have no advice on how to find this kind of seller, but am really glad I did. And I did buy his plane.

Said another way, there are great people in aviation. Just don’t set yourself up to be the sucker for the bad ones.

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