First Word – February, 2023

Used Airplanes - Worth A Turnkey Premium?

The hunt for an affordable multi-partnership used airplane continues, not made any easier by the inflated market or our selective demands. Shopping the four-place-single market proves there are some rats in the weeds. Check out the shamefully neglected Mooney nosegear (the rest of the plane didn’t look much better) I found while wandering the ramp on a recent fuel stop, pictured below. But planes with major upgrades and refurbishment—especially engine and avionics—tend to sell for twice the Aircraft Bluebook reference starting point, and the more I look at it, that price premium seems worth it. Let somebody else deal with the hassles of upgrades; coordinating engine and avionics work has never been more stressful because of long scheduling times, long downtimes, component shortages and rising prices. With a fresh-engine, fresh-avionics turnkey ownership, we can fly it now. Over 30 years I’ve seen enough buyer’s remorse—put it down for an engine swap within the first year of ownership and it could become a hangar rat, and a source of tension in the partnership. 

On a side note, it’s not any easier building your own. I got a note from a reader who is 2300 build hours into a Van’s RV-10 with a partner, and the project is at a work stoppage because they continue to wait for a new Lycoming IO-540. The engine was ordered almost two years ago from a popular Lycoming dealership after paying a $45,000 deposit to retain a delivery slot. Others are in the same boat. “What’s going on at Lycoming? We’ve been number 11 on the dealer’s delivery list for 19 months now and our position hasn’t moved—a little scary after dropping that amount of cash,” he told me. I worry about the health and longevity of smaller dealerships that can’t source inventory at the rate of a higher-volume one. Like a small avionics shop that’s hit with component backorders and can’t deliver new installations, it essentially chokes the cash flow. Nah, I don’t want to buy an engine. We’re following up with a report on the state of the engine market in an upcoming Aviation Consumer. 

There’s no free lunch and it’s a tricky market. One of the partners sent me a sell ad for a 1973 Cherokee on the market for around $60K. It had decent avionics but an engine that was just shy of 3000 hours since new. Engine TBO is 2000 hours. Aircraft Bluebook suggests the average retail price is $70,000, but that’s with time remaining on the engine (but without newer avionics). This one has an Aspen Avionics flight display, a couple of Garmin navigators and a good audio system. That’s at least $30,000 worth of avionics work on its panel. Bluebook suggests the average overhaul cost for a Lycoming O-360-A4A is $31,000, but I think that’s lowballing it in the current market. 

A similar but slightly newer Cherokee on the market for an eye-popping $150K had an engine with 800 hours since overhaul, newer paint work, new interior and fresh avionics—a turnkey airplane with a hefty price premium—a lot of dough to swallow for an old Cherokee. It’s probably worth it to pay it now than later, maybe. —Larry Anglisano   

Editor in Chief Larry Anglisano has been a staple at Aviation Consumer since 1995. An active land, sea and glider pilot, Larry has over 30 years’ experience as an avionics repairman and flight test pilot. He’s the editorial director overseeing sister publications Aviation Safety magazine, IFR magazine and is a regular contributor to KITPLANES magazine with his Avionics Bootcamp column.