Conducting a prebuy or pre-purchase inspection of an aircraft is a crucial step in the purchase process. It could be the difference between a lifetime of smooth flying and sinking thousands into parts and repairs.
Avmkt.com recently spoke with Jamie Hildenbrandt, the President of Hildt Aviation, a full service maintenance operation based in Bennington, Vermont. Hildenbrandt is an FAA certified Airframe & Powerplant mechanic himself and holds FAA Inspection Authorization (IA) enabling him to perform a greater variety of maintenance and alterations as well as sign-off on required annual inspections. Hildt Aviation offers flat rate annual inspections and supports warranty repairs for Beechcraft, Cessna, and Piper aircraft as well as Lycoming engines.
What is a prebuy inspection?
- A prebuy, or pre-purchase inspection is an analysis of the planes current condition and past repairs.
- The mechanic will utilize the airframe and powerplant logbooks to review work that has previously been done and also look for any damage that might not be documented or immediately noticeable.
- While this is not necessarily a full annual inspection, mechanics will look for issues that should be taken care of before a purchase agreement is made.
- The prebuy inspection usually breaks the results down into required airworthiness items, or items that prevent the aircraft from being airworthy, and recommended but not necessarily required items.
- Many aircraft owners organizations provide lists of mechanics and maintenance shops that specialize in a specific aircraft type and some even provide prebuy checklists that can be used to make sure that all of the specific issues that may affect that aircraft type are checked during the prebuy inspection.
Do I need to have a prebuy inspection?
- Yes. Conducting a prebuy inspection is the only way to make sure everything matches up with the logbooks and that the aircraft is in the advertised condition.
- Not only is it necessary from a safety perspective, identifying any major issues before taking possession of the aircraft could save you thousands in repairs down the road.
What does a prebuy inspection look for:
- Logbooks - Before even seeing the aircraft, your mechanic can determine about 80% of its condition from analyzing the logbook entries. If they are complete and thorough, it shows that the owner took good care of the aircraft, which is a great sign for buyers. Don't be thrown off by a laundry list of repairs either. Jamie Hildenbrant of Hildt Aviation says that, “the average fleet is 40 to 50 years old, so you want to see updates and repairs”. The use of digital logbook services like PLANELOGIX are becoming more common as well, so ask for a copy beforehand and go over them with your mechanic.
- Engine time - The amount of flight time on the engine is important to look at. A 1982 Cessna 172 with only 100 hours on it could have been sitting for years without a flight and is likely to require repairs. According to Hildenbrant, “It’s better to see an engine run out completely than something in the mid-range with infrequent use and high potential for needing maintenance.”
- Airworthiness Directive & Service Bulletin Compliance - A thorough prebuy inspection will review an aircraft's compliance with all appropriate Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins for the specific serial number that you are looking at.
- Spare parts - Updates are going to be needed over the life of your craft, so ask your mechanic if the necessary parts are available before you make the purchase. There's nothing more frustrating than being grounded while your plane is in the shop, so make sure that your craft can be serviced properly.
How to streamline the process:
- Find out the availability of your mechanic. The market is becoming hot, and shops could have a wait list. Hildenbrandt now does 2-3 pre-inspections per month compared to 2-3 per year over the past 24 months.
- Make sure to ask the seller for a copy of the log books before going to see the aircraft. Go over them with the mechanic that you've selected, look for any red flags, and make a list of questions to ask the seller.
- Once the prebuy inspection is completed, move on to the purchase agreement. Keep in mind that the buyer is on the hook for all repairs needed after ownership is transferred, so you may need to negotiate with the seller for repairs that need to be completed before you take possession of the aircraft or for a price reduction so that you can pay for the necessary work.
- Be wary of sellers offering to have their own mechanic do the inspection. Using a qualified 3rd party, that is familiar with the specific type and vintage of aircraft that you are considering, ensures that your interests are being considered.
- Some sellers will offer the results of a recent annual inspection or a previous prebuy as a way to save you time and money. As appealing as this may sound, it is always best to complete your own pre-buy inspection.
- Don't assume that past Airworthiness Directives or Service Bulletins have been complied with. Also, make sure you understand of any recurring Airworthiness Directives. These can be costly surprises.
- Even if you have some maintenance experience or are mechanically inclined and want to do the inspection yourself, using a trusted 3rd party eliminates potential bias and oversights.
- Verify that the resource you plan to use for your pre-buy inspection has experience working on the specific type of aircraft that you are looking at, even getting down to some of the specific modifications or variants that may exist for the aircraft type.
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