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Feb 8 2013

Buying an Airplane in Canada, Part 2: Search

Best thing you can do in Canada when searching for a plane to buy, is to become a COPA member. Beware – they have a completely unsecure registration process which will expose your name, password, account number, and lots of other personally identifiable information to almost everyone who’d like to sneak a peek into your mail box.

That’s incompetent, unprofessional, and plain wrong – however, their membership will give you access to some excellent classifieds, and wealth of information about purchasing and owning aircraft in Canada. It is possible to download COPA guides for free, right, but these would probably be outdated, and honestly, why not to support the people who are doing something useful, even if they don’t always do it right?

Besides COPA, there is a website “generalaviation.ca”, which is rather worthless, with its listings mostly outdated and often incorrect (old photos, wrong specs, long ago sold planes). However, it’s a not too bad supplement to COPA classifieds for Canadian market, especially in the early stages of your search. And there isn’t other like it up here, alas.

Then there are Barnstormers – an incredibly popular and useful online marketplace for everything aviation. They usually have piles of stuff to look at, providing an easy and immediate contact with the sellers. However, absolute majority of the offerings would be outside Canada, and Canadian part of their listings is mostly an overpriced garbage.

Even Kijiji or Craigslist may have some airplanes on sale, and these may be quite interesting and more realistically priced compared to COPA classifieds or specialized websites – the drawback being a need to search through the bunch of provinces and cities. Google help you to get the right stuff in the most efficient way…

Plus there are also Trade-a-Plane, Controller and ASO. Controller is more for a vanilla type of planes, like Cherokees and 172s, ASO is for more expensive machines, and TaP provides good variety – but again, almost none of these listings will feature Canadian stuff (and if they will, that’ be the worst quality for highest price type of offerings.)

Couple of important things to keep in mind when working with aviation, or any other used vehicles ad listings:

  • Photos are mostly lying to you. Better disregard what you see in the ad, and request the owner to send you the most current ones, pointing out specific areas of interest. If the owner refuses to do that, dump him for he’s trying to hide bad things, or is just too lazy to earn your business;
  • Text of the ad may be very misleading – always keep an eye for the odd combinations of engine time and top overhauls, hints to damage history, etc. It’s incredible how good a textual ad may describe an airplane – and how poor would its actual logs look like in comparison;
  • Contact the seller immediately if there is a tiniest shade of interest in the offering. Some of them may prefer the phone, so insist on getting into email – this way you could get a more reliable grip on them, and receive specs and photos on demand. Do not trust excuses about the old-school no-email, these are only to hide something.

That’s not to say that a dude who can’t communicate properly, or posted some ugly picture with dumb description is actually selling hopeless junk, but that’s highly probable – the ultimate way to figure out would be a personal visit, if he’s nearby. But that won’t be the case in most of the situations – so don’t hesitate to abandon the poor cases at the first sight of the intentional information incompleteness.

Here comes another word of advice: Feel easy dumping the seller. Don’t care about their feelings, these may be perfectly fake. Or they can actually believe in the bullshit they’re telling you, but that’s even worse! Their stupidity or incompetence should not earn your business. Just in general – people sell something they don’t want anymore. And you’re attempting to buy it. Not purchasing a complete piece of garbage is in your very best interest, emotions should not affect the outcome.

Then comes the legal context…

Check the title. It’s a huge pain in the butt here in Canada… You can outsource the search to an agency, spending roughly 800-900 dollars to get a not 100% sure answer. Not because the agents are mean, it’s that Canadian system allows registering a lien in a number of ways, so there’s always a possibility that one of them would slip through the net.

Say, plane registration is C-FOAM – some of the provinces will register a lien to “FOAM”, others to “C-FOAM”, and others to “CF-OAM” or even “CFOAM”. Registry girls won’t care about the “correct” way of writing the registration mark, if even Transport Canada allows two perfectly valid ways of doing that!

Resulting record may refer to an airplane or just some “vehicle” with an odd number entered instead of VIN. In some provinces the plane could be, effectively, entered as an aircraft – but supposed to be searched on-line as a car, with no option for an aircraft provided! As ridiculous as it gets.

Besides, a lien could be hanging on a person’s name against the province, or be posted on a federal level. Plus there may be other cases I am not aware of, or not quite understand, so be careful – that’s just so idiotic and annoying…

But you can save some money by building a list of provinces and using their web sites to effectuate a personal registry search on your own – which will cost you about 8 dollars per search (don’t forget that you must try different versions of a registration, plus check a person who owned it previously). But then, some provinces require a paper mail or faxes moving around, slowing down an already cumbersome process.

And down in the States… sigh… there is simply a central FAA office registering liens on the aircraft. Check with them, and you’re done, in one simple and immediate turn. Cozy, eh?

But American airplanes bring you pain in another department – courtesy Transport Canada, not on their own.

Every little fix or modification of the plane should be “properly” documented, with no one except for MD-RAs or similar being capable of saying for sure what’s proper, and what’s not. And they still might be wrong, even being the same people who’d sign-off the importation papers in another occasion!

So whatever pain you save on title search for US aircraft, would return as huge importation chores anyways.

Which brings another advice: Get the scanned logs. These could be huge volumes, but hey, you’d rather show these ADs and 337s and other suspicious pieces of technical information to someone here in Canada who knows… hopefully… or at least may give an advice after looking at them.

And importing a plane from US is always a risk. If someone who’ve imported a couple of plain and boring 172s or 140s from there would attempt to teach you that “things are easy if you do them right”, disregard the moron – he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, unless he managed to bring up here a couple of Porterfields or Texans with no pain.