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I'm halfway through a 10-year plan to pay for pilot training and buy my own plane (or a share of one). When I was introduced to flying by a friend, he said if he had the chance to do it over again, he would have saved up and bought a plane before he started instruction.

The benefits he mentioned:

  • Learn in the plane you'll be flying.
  • Avoid "throwing away" rent money.

What I've seen in most cases, though, is that most people get their license before getting a plane.

Thus my question: when does it make sense to buy a plane before training for your PPL?

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We would assume you mean an aircraft commonly used as trainers, perhaps a Cessna 172 or Piper Archer? If you bought a Baron twin, (I assume) you could not take your initial training in it. –  CGCampbell May 14 at 15:15
Yes, that's a valid point. I'd be purchasing a 172 or 152, or a similar "starter" plane. –  Garrison Neely May 14 at 15:23
@CGCampbell Theoretically, you can get trained in any plane. Practically, it is not very feasible. –  Farhan May 14 at 16:08
I made a spreadsheet to figure out the costs associated with owning my own vs. renting while training. It came out that I needed to fly 100 hours a year for it to be worth owning my own plane vs. renting, but I lived in a place with a great club (KMYF) that had incredible rental rates. Aircraft prices also tend to be somewhat steady in the 172/Cherokee market, so you may be able to fly one for a couple hundred hours and then sell it after you're done training and almost "fly for free." The risk you're taking is having to pay a major maintenance expense before you built up your reserve. –  Canuk May 14 at 16:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I will mention some considerations that were not mentioned above. First of all, it does make sense to buy a plane for training, and it can save you a lot of money on rent but you need to be aware of what you are doing. The positive side is that airplanes do not depreciate as fast as most assets of their kind (it is not unheard of being able to sell an airplane for practically the same amount as you bought it several years ago). However, consider that:

  1. Usually an airplane you want to train in (something sturdy and easy to control, like a C-150) is not an airplane you would like to fly most of the time (traveling in a 150 is not a lot of fun, now a twin Comanche is a different story...).

  2. Insurance costs for a student pilot (even with various restrictions) can nearly negate the advantage of not having to rent.

So, if you would like to buy an airplane to mostly train (and have some fun occasionally) and then sell and buy a 'travel' (or aerobatic) airplane, it can save you money. It is better to get your private first, however, so you can concentrate on initial training (which is a handful) without worrying about the 'pleasures' of plane ownership.

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Thanks for the input--my goal would be to get a 172, or even fractional on a 182. Would it make sense from a training point to use those types of planes? –  Garrison Neely May 14 at 18:21
A 172 makes a fine trainer. A 182 would do in a pinch but they're a lot more powerful and the learning curve could be problematic. Insurance would probably increase correspondingly. –  egid May 14 at 20:59
I would also think twice about a partnership: they are a lot harder to get out of in case you need to. You would also have to think about how to proportion expenses such as annuals, maintenance, etc among the partners (would it depend on how much one flies, for example?) –  alexsh May 14 at 22:23

There are two assumptions in your questions which could be addressed.

First, learning in the plane you'll be flying: it might also be useful to learn to adapt to different planes. Each plane is a bit different to control and not everything on the plane is standard across manufacturers. You might be better off starting to learn how to adapt your flying to the machine instead of locking yourself into a particular model.

Second, rent money isn't really "thrown away". You're paying for the convenience of not owning which is to not have to think about issues like maintenance for example. Let's you focus on the joys of flying.

On the other hand, it makes sense to buy a plane before learning how to fly if:

  • you're 100% committed to flying
  • you worked out all the costs (money, time, your energy, etc.)
  • you're able to go up the learning curve of how to fly + be an owner at the same time

Also, it's worth remembering that an airplane is an asset that depreciates over time.

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I'm not sure they depreciate all that much. It seems like most used, old (pre-80s) training planes these days are actually rising in value because new planes are so ridiculously expensive and fewer are being made. Low supply, high demand... If you buy the right plane, depreciation isn't really a consideration. Now, loan interest...that's another question. –  Jay Carr May 14 at 17:31
Regarding depreciation of airplanes, this question is sort of related: aviation.stackexchange.com/q/3370/65 –  Farhan May 14 at 17:36

If I were you I'd only buy an airplane once I'd successfully got my license and flown enough to know what you want to own long-term. Once you know more about it you can make an informed decision. Also, you will be able to judge whether an airplane is worth buying, or whether you'll be inheriting a load of expensive problems.

Owning an airplane is very expensive, with a lot of up-front costs. It only makes sense over renting if you fly a lot, and even then over time.

By all means start saving, but wait.

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To address your worry of me buying a klunker: I'd have my pilot friend with the experience help me through the process to pick a solid plane. –  Garrison Neely May 14 at 16:04
This is an important consideration but would you have enough experience of deciding that this is something that you would like flying. The more you fly the more your tastes will change. A Citabria, for example, feels very uncomfortable to a fresh pilot but it is a fun plane to fly once you get proficient in it. –  alexsh May 14 at 17:21

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