Aircraft pre-purchase Inspections
A pre-purchase inspection of an aircraft that you are seriously considering buying can be a valuable tool in negotiation with the owner. AOPA has a short list of engineers who are willing to survey an aircraft prior to purchase, but for geographic location reasons it may be more convenient to approach a local maintenance organisation and ask if any of their employees might be willing to assist.
There is normally a going rate per hour plus expenses. A licensed engineer is not essential, as many unlicensed engineers employed in a maintenance organisation have a wealth of experience. You might also consider approaching local groups operating an aircraft similar to one you are interested in, as such a group usually has a co-owner who looks after the engineering side, and they are often quite knowledgeable. Different aircraft types suffer from known problems particular to that type. Owner club websites are also a good source of information.
The aircraft and engine logbooks (preferably going back to the date of manufacture) need to be made available to your engineer because he/she will be able to tell you a lot about the aircraft simply from its recorded history. He/she will also examine the logbooks to check that all the correct maintenance has been properly carried out, and that all the ADs and SBs (Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins) have been attended to. If the aircraft has flown much less than 100 hours per year for considerable periods in the last few years, then beware of engine corrosion problems. Many owners do not take kindly to their aircraft being dismantled in order for a third party to investigate its airworthiness, and in this case an inspection relies mainly on what can be viewed externally or seen via inspection panels. But, if the underside of the aircraft is dirty or muddy, beware of superficial corrosion of the skins (assuming an aluminium structure) indicated by little bubbles under the paint. Check the state of the interior and the avionics fit, because this has an impact on the value, as does the total hours on the airframe and particularly the engine. Bear in mind that bringing an engine back to zero hours, together with renovating all the ancillaries may set you back £15k plus or minus depending on type. Different engines have differing TBOs, so an aircraft with an engine coming up to the end of its TBO life, or calendar life if that is closer, is worth that much less that one with a brand new engine. A new paint job will set you back £6000 or more.
A typical pre-purchase inspection will cost something of the order of £250 or more, and will vary according to factors such as depth of inspection required, selling price and complexity of the aircraft. Twin–engine aircraft, and aircraft with retractable gear, de-icing, variable pitch propeller etc. will inevitably cost more. You should expect to cover the engineer’s expenses, typically travel and subsistence. Remember the basic price quoted above is roughly equivalent to a 50-hour check inspection - the pre-purchase inspection at this level cannot be expected to uncover problems that may only come to light at an annual check, which is much deeper than a 50-hour. If asked, your engineer may (or may choose not to) offer a valuation – do not expect one in writing, though. He/she may also recommend that you avoid purchasing the aircraft altogether (again, not in writing) and in this case you would be wise to heed his/her advice, even though that advice has cost you money.
If you are a qualified engineer reading this and would like your details published on this website as a point of contact for pre-purchase advice and inspections please contact us at the AOPA UK Office.