When considering the purchase of a new aircraft, it is critical to appraise the safety profile and service history of the vessel in question. In addition to the obvious need to protect the flight crew and passengers, having a clear understanding of past issues may be a good predictor of future costs. While it is easy to get lured into a purchase based on the price, performance, and size of the jet, none of these variables are as seminal as the expected price of upkeep. In this blog, we will discuss what factors one should consider when evaluating an aircraft for sale.
The first consideration to keep in mind is the age of the aircraft. This factor is less about safety and more about the comfort and other amenities that passengers may enjoy during flight. In fact, a study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that age in and of itself is not a significant risk factor for mechanical failure or other safety issues. Due to stringent regulations regarding maintenance and inspection, it is likely that an MRO facility would suggest retiring an aircraft long before it reaches a dangerous point. However, many of the onboard luxuries that passengers may have become accustomed to may not be available on vintage models.
It is also essential to determine which group provides maintenance to that particular aircraft. Over the last decade, much upkeep of planes has been contracted out to either domestic or foreign providers in order to save money. While these contracted groups may be reputable, it is unlikely that they have the same level of familiarity with the aircraft when compared to a standard fleet operator. This is analogous to bringing an automobile to an outside mechanic instead of a dealership. While customers may enjoy a good relationship with the mechanic and receive a better deal, it is possible that they do not have access to certain parts or expertise specific to the model in question.
Next, one should discern how often the aircraft receives an inspection by a mechanic familiar with it. While some operators demand that their airplane be routinely inspected every few days, others may wait until they are due for a mandatory inspection. However, the most significant determinant for how often an aircraft gets inspected is how much it is used. While some vessels fly routes daily, others may sit on the tarmac for months at a time. Additionally, it is important to find out how often the aircraft returns to its home base, which is the airport where that vessel has a dedicated maintenance crew. While some fleet operators have the staffing to ensure the aircraft returns back to its home base nightly, others may spend up to 72 hours operating away.
It is also beneficial to request a service history for the aircraft that contains the total time in service for the airframe, the engines, and propellers, if applicable. Included in the same record is the time between overhauls (TBO) for each of these components, which will help predict upcoming maintenance costs. If the vessel has any applicable airworthiness directives (ADs), they should also be included alongside all proof of compliance. Finally, it is important to know what alterations, if any, have been applied to the aircraft.
Finally, learn how many pilots and mechanics are assigned to the aircraft. In general, reliable operators will assign 4-6 pilots to a particular vessel, along with dedicated maintenance personnel. This model is beneficial because it ensures that everybody operating the aircraft from a functional and maintenance point of view is intimately familiar with it.
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