Keeping Your Wish List Realistic

Airplane values are changing; what's in your budget?

What pilot wouldn't want to own an Eclipse or Cirrus Vision SJ50? And who among us hasn't lusted after a panoramic synthetic vision panel? But as all these innovative airplanes and avionics move the top end of the ownership "wow" curve upward, those of us with older, lower-tech airplanes are watching our market values diminish -- and the faltering economy isn't helping.

At the same time, retrofit avionics and other systems are offering increasing opportunities for enhancing our old birds' capabilities. But at what cost? And at what return on investment? And unless you're seriously planning to sell the airplane, who cares?

As you wander the candy-filled aisles at Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture Oshkosh, it's a good idea to have a realistic wish list based on your airplane's current capability, and how you might reasonably expect to upgrade that capability given the type of flying you do. Or hope to do. For example, a panel-mounted multifunction display is awesome to behold, but if your engine is getting close to TBO, maybe you should consider getting by with a portable MFD, such as a Garmin 496, and saving the bucks for the less-glamorous hunk of metal under the cowl.

And sometimes you have to choose between upgrading beyond the recoupable resale price and selling your airplane to buy another with the goodies already installed on someone else's nickel. But if you really like what you're flying, feel free to go ahead and get in over your head. I remember a couple of happy owner-partners I met in Kentucky who had refurbished their vintage Piper Comanche 250 with new engine, paint, leather interior and avionics. After a while, I asked, politely, what they thought about their potential resale value compared to what they had spent. "We don't think about that," one replied. "It's better that way."