Pre-Purchase Inspection: How to Select a Pre-Owned Aircraft and Not Regret It

The purchase of an aircraft, especially a pre-owned aircraft, is a very complex process. In fact, purchasing a pre-owned aircraft often carries a little extra gravity, because while buying used can save you a lot of money, there is always risk in losing money through unforeseen repair costs. The only thing you can do to protect yourself in this situation is to perform a well-executed “Pre-Purchase Inspection”. This article will cover all you need to know about this process and discuss the importance of finding experienced professionals to conduct it.

Before imaging all the ways your new aircraft can make your business and life easier, you will require a number of specialists to help you identify potential issues, mitigate any risk, and ensure that the purchase is conducted in a professional manner. Therefore, the Pre-Purchase Inspection (“PPI”) is an essential tool for due-diligence when determining the condition of a pre-owned aircraft before purchase. It is a thorough investigation with a nose-to-tail physical inspection of the aircraft, a comprehensive review of the maintenance records, and a cumulative flight test. So, let’s dive in and look at what exactly a qualitative PPI entails.

Step One: Assemble your Top Team

We can call this step the “pre-inspection” to the Pre-Purchase Inspection! All jokes aside, this is an essential step that you must not skip while on your journey to finding the right business aircraft for you. The team you gather will lead you through the entire PPI process and therefore, should consist of specialists with comprehensive industry experience. Your team will include a technical advisor, the owner’s pilot (if possible), their financial advisor and lawyer. Together they provide you, as the future owner, with the guidance and critical insights needed to ensure the successful purchase of the aircraft.

A PPI is performed once a candidate aircraft has been identified and, from the information received from the seller ( or the seller’s broker), it is clear that the candidate meets the future owner’s expectations in terms of price, age, cabin layout, maintenance status, etc. Often the future owner’s technical advisor will perform a “desktop analysis” of the data received from the seller to confirm key aspects of the aircraft, ensuring that a PPI isn’t performed on an aircraft that doesn’t meet expectations.

The PPI process begins by determining the condition of the aircraft, reviewing its records, identifying technical issues, and establishing any upcoming maintenance (including mandatory modifications and upgrades). With this information, the technical advisor can develop the budget and timeline necessary for repairs, outstanding maintenance, and other modifications/upgrades requested by the future owner.  

The knowledge and experience of your team during the PPI stage greatly increase the prospects of a safe and secure aircraft purchase. At Camber, we pride ourselves in our meticulous team of exceptional aviation technical advisors and seasoned industry professionals. All of our experts have an aircraft maintenance engineer license (and/or hold an advanced aviation degree) with over 15 years of private jet experience.

With our top team and their precise aircraft analyses, potential owners can better understand the issues BEFORE finalizing  the purchase an aircraft, thus providing peace of mind in knowing the most informed decision was made.

Step Two: Screen the Documentation to the Tiniest Detail

The goal of each PPI is to identify all shortcomings that need to be resolved. Experts deliver a PPI report that will help you determine if the aircraft is worth your investment. The investigation begins with a thorough review of maintenance records. This review confirms that all scheduled maintenance has been performed, ensures “Airworthiness Directives” and “Alert Service Bulletins” are in compliance with regulations, and makes sure any unscheduled maintenance is completed and documented correctly. It will tell you if the aircraft has suffered an accident or major repair, and its ownership and registration histories. The maintenance documentation can reveal the complete history of the aircraft, but you need experts to help you interpret it.

The inspection of aircraft documentation continues by establishing the remaining time on certain “life-limited” components, like the engine turbine blades and structural landing gear parts.

It is normal for a PPI to uncover some structural damage. During its lifetime, an aircraft is subjected to inadvertent damage, corrosion, wear, lighting strikes and environmental damage. However, this damage must be correctly assessed, repaired and recorded. Any repairs performed should have been correctly documented, including any subsequent re-inspections. Keep in mind that even if an aircraft is correctly maintained and everything is well documented, structural damage invariably reduces the value of the aircraft when compared to the value of a new aircraft.

Finally, a review of the aircraft’s weight and balance should be performed to confirm the aircraft’s performance has not been compromised in any way.

Step 3: All Aboard! (and Bring Your Magnifying Glass)

The physical inspection of the aircraft often follows the PPI guidelines established by the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer). However, each selected maintenance facility may suggest additional inspections based on their experience with similar aircraft. In general, the inspections will include:

  • Corrosion detection (especially under lavatories, in the lower fuselage, and other areas subject to environmental exposure),
  • Engine and APU borescope inspections and oil sampling (to establish the condition of the engines, check the hydraulic system for leaks and wear, etc.),
  • Exterior paint analysis and inspection of polished metal surfaces,
  • Written record of the serial numbers for all parts/components on the flight deck and avionics racks (to confirm the status of any modifications and ensure that the correct units are installed and up-to-date), and
  • Detailediinspection of the interior to determine the condition of the cabin, including: upholstery and carpets, monument finishes, and system serviceability

The attention to detail during the PPI phase must be precise. Remember, if needed, your team should revisit the physical aircraft to re-examine any items of concern..   

Step Four: What Does the Pilot Say?

Flight testing (not to be confused with a singular test flight) is a process involving several test flights in which the performance/capabilities of the aircraft are established. A flight test is performed to ensure that all systems are functioning correctly (including emergency systems) and confirm that the aircraft handling is characteristic for that type of plane.

A flight test must be conducted by a professional pilot that is endorsed to fly this particular aircraft type, with experience performing these types of tests and maneuvers.  Specific test, prescribed by the OEM,  that will be performed during the flight test must be clearly identified, planned, and discussed with the flight crew. It is recommended that a flight test is conducted by the pilot that will actually fly the aircraft in the future, but additional consultation from an independent and objective pilot is also recommended.  

Don’t Forget: An Excellent PPI Makes All the Difference

At the conclusion of the PPI, a final assessment will list any issues with the aircraft. The resolution of these issues will be negotiated between parties and will play a part in determining the final price of the aircraft. Issues are usually ranked by severity:

  1. Airworthiness
  2. Technical issues
  3. Aesthetic issues

Technical advisor will provide you with estimates of the associated costs and downtime.

Generally, airworthiness issues will need to be resolved prior to the sale of the aircraft. However, the buyer may be willing to accept a price reduction if the aircraft will be undergoing maintenance at the airport immediately following the sale.

A well-performed PPI will always provide the buyer with a clear understanding of the issues, the cost to resolve said issues, and any anticipated upcoming costs (maintenance, modifications, upgrades, refurbishments, etc.). With this information, the future owner can make a well-informed decision on whether or not to purchase the aircraft.

Buying any aircraft without first conducting a PPI can be a costly mistake. For the purchase of pre-owned aircraft, this process is absolutely essential. A highly skilled and independent team of experts can save you a significant amount of money in unforeseen repair costs ranging upwards of $100,000 and more. Numerous direct and indirect costs can only be detected by a professional who knows exactly where and what to look for. If you are thinking about owning a business jet, the Pre-Purchase Inspection is a process you must take seriously.

The Camber team has almost two decades of experience maintaining, operating and managing business jets and bizliners for clients around the globe.  We have performed and overseen Pre-Purchase Inspections on many  types of aircraft and know exactly what to look for. Let’s start the conversation and introduce you to the Camber PPI standards that can save you money and time, reducing your risk,  while helping you find the right jet for your operations and comfort.