James Carvel in an election year stated in an interview that when all was said and done the election was based on the “economy.” From this the phrase “it is about the economy stupid” evolved. In aviation we take it one step further. “It is about the maintenance.” I am leaving off the last word.
Pre-buys and continued maintenance are critical on high-end, complicated airplanes. When you get up to complicated pressurized aircraft—piston or turbine—the maintenance on the aircraft will make or break your bank account.
Now, there are two ways to buy a plane. The informed way—you do your due diligence in detail, or the “risk” way—where you cut a deep deal and gamble. I have done it both ways but in the latter you are rolling some serious dice.
THE APPROACHES TO PURCHASE
I have had several situations in the law firm as well as in my own purchases where I did due diligence and got burned and where I rolled the dice, put the sellers in a corner and came out ok. Even if you do the due diligence and the aircraft has been signed off by an A&P as well as an IA you may still get burned.
I purchased a Cessna 150 years ago that I used in my flight training program. The mechanic came highly recommended as he took older planes, cleaned them up and got them into shape and resold them at a fair price ready to go. Right off the bat I started having problems with the plane. When I dug into the repairs I found that he had taken several short cuts. One, he put on a lightweight starter, attempting to bypass the troubling needle bearings that I was so familiar with. He ground the end of the shaft on the accessory case that the new starter engaged with and all the metal shavings fell into the engine. The IA signed it off as being in annual after the A&P did this. The engine had to have a tear down. I went after the A&P for the repairs and IA. The A&P would not respond but the IA did and settled. The A&P lost his license.
On the other hand, I have also done the “what is it worth at the salvage yard” approach. In this case I value the components of the aircraft, the engines, props, avionics and other valuable items and come up with a “salvage value” appraisal. I then do a cursory inspection and get the worst-case scenario to repair and the value after. Then I low ball the purchaser as usually if it has not been maintained they want to get rid of it. Properly done, this method works but you have to know the aircraft.
IT’S ABOUT THE MAINTENANCE S*****
The real problem lies when you purchase something your heart has a burning desire for while your billfold is yelling “don’t do it.” The key to any purchase is who is doing or has done the maintenance.
There are lawyers and doctors, but they do not do everything that they are licensed to do. We know as lawyers that when someone walks in with a problem it may be something we need to refer or walk away from. This needs to apply to mechanics. An example is the Twin Cessna fleet. These aircraft were brilliantly designed and have great capabilities, but they were built almost forty plus years ago. Times have changed, parts are not always there, and because of their designs, airplanes have “quirks” just like people. So, think about it. If you went into a doctor and he said I think you have a heart problem and I can fix it, the next question becomes “how many heart surgeries have you done?” The same applies to maintenance on aircraft and the Twin Cessna line is no different.
Years ago, I worked for a John Deere dealership. As you know, John Deere agricultural tractors and equipment are painted green. One day a gentleman walked into the parts department and had a broken green piece of a tractor. I asked him what John Deere tractor it was off of so I could look it up in the parts book. He said it was off an Oliver tractor (yes, they were green but a different shade). He told me “can’t you just go back there and look through the parts bins until you find a part like this? It’s green.” The point is just because you work on Piper aircraft does not mean you can work on a Twin Cessna and vice versa. They are all different.
Regarding Piper Navajo, King Air and Twin Cessna aircraft, stick with a specialist and by that, I mean someone who really knows these airplanes. You don’t want someone to experiment on them and if they must look something up in the service manual usually that means they are “experimenting.”
I have two Twin Cessna’s and I know these airplanes but when I don’t know something I call Jeff at Air Impressions. They live and breathe these airplanes and have for more than 30 years. Am I doing a sales pitch? You bet, because I don’t want to read about you in an accident report. You will still have problems when the best shop in the world who knows your model airplane works on them, so why would you want to use someone who does not “live and breathe” your model of aircraft?
Again, safety “is about the maintenance stupid.” Sorry, had to say it. One of the things I tell pilots is that 90 percent of understanding the aircraft is understanding the system and understanding the system is how it works. Maintenance leads you in that direction.
Take your aircraft to a mechanic that specializes in your aircraft. If it is a simple problem like needing a battery, then that is simple. If it is diagnosing a fuel transfer problem on a Twin Cessna 421C, take it the guys who have been doing it for years. In the long run, it will pay off.