Buying an Aircraft (Part Two)

Aircraft Documents

There are numerous documents that should be reviewed and transferred when you purchase an aircraft.

Bill of Sale or Conditional Sales Contract

The bill of sale or conditional sales contract is your proof of purchase of the aircraft and will be recorded with the FAA to protect your ownership interest.


Airworthiness Certificate

The aircraft should have either FAA Form 8100-2, Standard Airworthiness Certificate, or FAA Form 8130-7, Special Airworthiness Certificate.

Maintenance Records

The previous owner of the aircraft should provide the aircraft’s maintenance records containing the following information:

  • The total time in service of the airframe, each engine, and each propeller;
  • The current status of life-limited parts of each airframe, engine, propeller, rotor, and appliance;
  • The time since last overhaul of all items installed on the aircraft that are required to be overhauled on a specified time basis;
  • The identification of the current inspection status of the aircraft, including the time since the last inspection required by the inspection program under which the aircraft and its appliances are maintained;
  • The current status of applicable ADs, including for each the method of compliance, the AD number, revision date, and if the AD involves recurring action, the time and date when the next action is required; and
  • A copy of current major alterations to each airframe, engine, propeller, rotor, and appliance.


Manufacturers produce owner’s manuals, maintenance manuals, service letters and bulletins, and other technical data pertaining to their aircraft. These may be available from the previous owner, but are not required to be transferred to a purchaser. If the service manuals are not available from the previous owner, you can usually obtain them from the aircraft manufacturer.


Two conditions must be met for a standard category aircraft to be considered airworthy:

  • The aircraft conforms to its type design (type certificate). Conformity to type design is attained when the required and proper components are installed that are consistent with the drawings, specifications, and other data that are part of the type certificate. Conformity includes applicable Supplemental Type Certificate(s) (STC) and field-approval alterations.
  • The aircraft is in condition for safe operation, referring to the condition of the aircraft with relation to wear and deterioration.

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14 CFR part 91, section 91.403, places primary responsibility upon the owner for maintaining the aircraft in an airworthy condition. This includes compliance with applicable ADs. The owner is responsible for ensuring that maintenance personnel make appropriate entries in the aircraft maintenance records, indicating that the aircraft has been approved for return to service. In addition, the owner is responsible for having maintenance performed that may be required between scheduled inspections. Inoperative instruments or equipment that can be deferred under 14 CFR part 91, section 91.213(d)(2), will be placarded and maintenance recorded in accordance with 14 CFR part 43, section 43.9.

Pre-Purchase Inspection

Before buying an aircraft, you should have a mechanic you trust give the aircraft a thorough inspection and provide you with a written report of its condition. While a pre-purchase inspection need not be an annual inspection, it should include at least a differential compression check on each cylinder of the engine and any other inspections necessary to determine the condition of the aircraft. In addition to a mechanical inspection, the aircraft logbooks and other records should be carefully reviewed for such things as FAA Form 337, Report of Major Repair or Alteration, AD compliance, the status of service bulletins and letters, and aircraft/component serial numbers.

Light-Sport Aircraft

Light-sport aircraft is a growing sector of the general aviation community, specific to the United States. Several resources are available if you have questions about acquiring a light-sport aircraft. You can contact the FAA Light Sport Aviation Branch (AFS-610), your local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), or the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) for assistance. Chapter 6 discusses light-sport aircraft in greater detail.

Amateur-Built Aircraft

There are several unique considerations when purchasing an amateur-built aircraft. The prospective buyer is advised to have someone familiar with the type of aircraft check the aircraft of interest for workmanship, general construction integrity, and compliance with the applicable 14 CFR parts. You can contact your local FAA Manufacturing Inspection District Office (MIDO) or FSDO to speak with an FAA aviation safety inspector (ASI) who can explain the requirements for experimental certification.

Things to consider when buying an amateur-built aircraft:

  • Examine the Special Airworthiness Certificate and its operating limitations. This certificate is used for all aircraft that fall under experimental status and states for what purpose it was issued. The operating limitations specify any operating restrictions that may apply to the aircraft.
  • Check the aircraft maintenance records of the airframe, engine, propeller, and accessories. Under 14 CFR part 91, sections 91.305 and 91.319(b), all initial flight operations of experimental aircraft may be limited to an assigned flight test area. This is called Phase I. The aircraft is flown in this designated area until it is shown to be controllable throughout its normal range of speeds and all maneuvers to be executed, and that it has not displayed any hazardous operating characteristics or design features. The required flight time may vary for each type of aircraft and is covered in the operating limitations.
  • After the flight time requirements are met, the owner/operator endorses the aircraft logbook with a statement certifying that the prescribed flight hours are completed and the aircraft complies with 14 CFR part 91, section 91.319(b). Phase I records are retained for the life of the aircraft.
  • In Phase II, the FAA may prescribe Operating Limitations for an unlimited duration, as appropriate.
  • Before taking delivery of the aircraft, make a final pre-purchase inspection. Ensure that the Special Airworthiness Certificate, Operating Limitations, Aircraft Data Plate, Weight and Balance data, Aircraft Maintenance Records, and any other required documents are with the aircraft. If the Special Airworthiness Certificate, Operating Limitations, and Aircraft Data Plate are surrendered to the FAA by the original builder, you may not be able to recertificate the aircraft because you are not the builder.
  • Amateur-built aircraft require a condition inspection within the previous 12 calendar months. This inspection requirement and those who are eligible to work on the aircraft are addressed in the Operating Limitations of that particular aircraft.

Military Surplus Aircraft

Certain surplus military aircraft are not eligible for FAA certification in the STANDARD, RESTRICTED, or LIMITED classifications. The FAA, in cooperation with the Department of Defense (DOD), normally performs preliminary “screening” inspections on surplus military aircraft to determine the civil certification potential of the aircraft. For aircraft eligible for potential certification, you must “show” the FAA that your aircraft conforms to the FAA-approved type design (type certificate), and that the aircraft is in a condition for safe operation (airworthy). This means you are required to provide the technical data necessary to support this showing.

For example, certain military surplus aircraft may be eligible for certification in the RESTRICTED category and modified for special purpose operations. Military-derived RESTRICTED category aircraft may be manufactured in the United States or in a foreign country, but military surplus aircraft must be surplus of the U.S. Armed Forces. The FAA bases its certification on the operation and maintenance of the aircraft including review of the service life of the aircraft and any modifications.

When an aircraft has been modified by the military, you must either return the aircraft to the originally approved civil configuration, or obtain FAA design approval for the military modification. This is accomplished through the STC process. The STC process is also necessary for modifications to the aircraft for a special purpose operation (e.g., crop dusting). Once the FAA determines that the military surplus aircraft conforms to the FAAapproved type design, as noted in FAA Order 8130.2 (as revised), Airworthiness Certification of Aircraft and Related Products, and military records, you may apply for an airworthiness certificate.

Since no civil aircraft may be flown unless certificated, you should discuss this with an ASI at your local FSDO, who can advise you of eligible aircraft and certification procedures. An additional source for advice on amateur-built and surplus military aircraft is the EAA.

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