Finding Your Ideal Aircraft: You Know What They Say About ‘Best-Laid Plans’

Aircraft financing is unique when compared with home or car loans.

On our way to the pre-buy inspection. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

When my wife and I got serious about buying an airplane, one of the first steps was to secure pre-approval for financing. That would allow us to shop with confidence and make an offer as soon as the right candidate appeared.

We also understood the importance of keeping our lender updated on the aircraft we were considering, because the exact terms of the transaction would change with varying market values of different aircraft. What we did not know was that we might need to educate the lender regarding certain details of the aircraft we intended to buy.

Don’t they know this stuff already? Not necessarily.

After checking out a number of Beechcraft Bonanzas, we found a Commander 114B that seemed just right for us. As I had done previously, I contacted our loan officer to let him know about the new prospect just before seeing the aircraft in person for the first time. “Let me know what you think of the Commander,” he said. There was no sign anything was amiss—yet.

After an encouraging visit with the Commander, I let the loan officer know we wanted to move forward on the deal. We had a tentative agreement on an offer, and we were ready to send a deposit to the escrow agent. Then the phone rang—a rare occurrence in these days of electronic text  communication. The finance guy was on the line. His voice was shaky.

He informed me that his company could not make a loan for the Commander because it is an “orphan,” meaning its manufacturer is no longer in business. He apologized and admitted that he was new to the job and simply did not know exactly what a Commander was. Well, clearly his boss knew and put the brakes on the deal.

Commanders have an active, resourceful owner’s group, and there is still a substantial, if finite, supply of original parts available. Still, that is not the same as a Cessna, Piper, or Beechcraft model with an active company supporting it. And that difference apparently gives lenders pause.

We would have to look elsewhere—and quickly, because we had already set up a pre-buy inspection with hopes of closing just afterward. We already had dreamy images of receiving the Commander’s keys and flying it back to our home airport from the mechanic’s shop, stopping at a favorite lunch spot on the way.

It could still work out. We found a more sympathetic lender, and there was no room on the inspection schedule until this week, so time appears to be on our side again. The seller and I flew the Commander to the mechanic, which gave me time at the controls. I tried to be cool and unemotional about the occasion, checking the functions of every instrument, switch, button, and light bulb.

Once flying, though, I was nearly overcome by the childlike giddiness of someone who has waited decades for something he wants very badly. It was no surprise that the airplane was a joy to fly—smooth and harmonious. It seemed happy to fly straight and level but absolutely encouraged me to practice steep turns.

If this deal works out, the flight home in our new Commander will be anything but direct.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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