Should You Buy a Small Aircraft?

Every pilot inevitably must decide whether to buy an airplane or to continue renting. There are many benefits to owning your own plane, but it’s easy to get carried away. If you’re looking for a formula to determine the perfect plane, you might be disappointed because there is none. Each pilot has a unique set of needs and dreams. Before you jump into comparing models and shopping for deals, weigh out some of the underlying factors so you make a wise decision.


Buying Versus Renting

There are many ways to crunch the numbers to know whether you should buy, rent or enter a fractional ownership arrangement. One helpful strategy is to look at ownership as a business, breaking out fixed and variable costs. From there, factor in how many hours you’ll fly and come up with an average hourly rate to compare owning versus renting.

Fixed Costs

Variable Costs

Monthly payments







Airport fees

To calculate the cost of fuel and maintenance, find out how many gallons of fuel and oil you’ll burn per hour, then tack on an extra $20 to $40 per hour for maintenance.

Also, determine if your uses might qualify your purchase for a tax deduction. If you regularly fly for business, you might be able to reap some significant financial benefits thanks to depreciation and other perks that your accountant can explain in detail.

Speed and Range

Think about how far you want to fly and look for airplanes with a range that exceeds your needs. If you can’t afford a plane with enough of a range, then think about how many times you’ll have to refuel en route. It adds time to your flight, but can also be a nice way to meet other pilots and explore the country.

While you’re thinking about range, also think about speed. Look at how many knots the plane can do and estimate how long it will take to get to your regular destinations. On test flights, clock the flight time between at least two checkpoints. Gathering data from multiple test flights is ideal.


Think about the total weight of your passengers and cargo. This will help you decide which models would work for you. Make sure that your airplane has enough payload to accommodate everybody and tote whatever other gear you need. Resist the temptation to buy into the mindset that bigger is better because it can dramatically increase the costs.

Speaking of payload, also think about your passengers’ comfort, especially if you’re going to use the plane for business. If you picture passengers making deals on your plane, then look for seating that places passengers face-to-face. Look at how much elbow room passengers have and think about the size and preferences of your regular passengers.


Once you have an idea of the payload, range and seating, start shopping for planes that suit you. Now that you know what you need, you can focus on each plane’s condition, price and overall value. Before you decide, inspect it meticulously and hire a pro for additional peace of mind. Besides overall condition, compare time remaining on the engine and prop (if applicable) and replacement/upgrade costs.
If you’re buying an airplane for business, it’s always good to start by evaluating buying versus renting – perhaps even before settling on a type of airplane. If the purchase is for pleasure, keep your mind open and take time to find ‘the one.’ Nothing is better than flying high in the sky in a plane that is all yours.

Related: Top 5 Reasons to Have Your Own Small Aircraft