The Aircraft Pre-Purchase Evaluation - the mechanics dilemma

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Ed Gagnon
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The Aircraft Pre-Purchase Evaluation - the mechanics dilemma

As aircraft maintenance providers, we are often called on by our customers to evaluate an aircraft relative to its condition and compliance prior to the purchase of that aircraft.

The evaluation consists of a visual inspection of certain areas of the aircraft and a functional or operational inspection of certain systems.  Additionally, the maintenance records are reviewed to confirm the aircraft is being operated in accordance with its maintenance program with respect to Chapter 5 Inspections, Chapter 4 Airworthiness Requirements and Airworthiness Directives.  Some customers even elect to perform a compliance review of the Service Bulletins that are applicable to the aircraft.

As the evaluation is performed, we inevitably uncover discrepancies that may or may not be an unairworthy condition.  And of course that puts us right in the middle of the dispute between buyer and seller about what is airworthy and what is not.  But that's a subject for a future post.

What we do find ourselves in, however, is the dilemma of whether a pre-purchase evaluation is considered a 14 CFR 43.9 event or a 14 CFR 43.11 event.  In other words are we approving the aircraft for return to service with respect to work performed (43.9) or are we approving the aircraft for return to service and certifying its airworthiness (43.11)?

If we do uncover an unairworthy condition and the customer elects not to correct that condition do we make a maintenance record entry only for the work we did perform (43.9) or do we make a maintenance record entry that records the pre-purchase and states that a list of open discrepancies has been provided to the owner/operator (43.11)?

One answer is that a pre-purchase evaluation is not an inspection required by 14 CFR part 91 and therefore 43.11 does not apply.  But then, 43.11 does state that it applies to any inspection performed "in accordance with" part 91 not "required" by part 91.

Finally, when you look at the definition of Maintenance in 14 CFR part 1, it includes inspection.  So therefore, even if the pre-purchase performed is not an inspection that has anything to do with part 91, it is still an inspection and 14 CFR 91.407(a)(2) does require a maintenance record entry required by 43.9 or 43.11, as applicable.

What Say You??

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Anonymous (not verified)
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Is there any requirement that someone doing a pre-purchase inspection for a buyer even be certificated in any way, shape, or form?

A quick check of 43.1 "Applicability" doesn't seem to show anything remotely like "pre-purchase evaluation" on behalf of someone who is neither owner nor operator being covered.

Posted by Jim Logajan via LinkedIn

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

Hi Bob,
Since pre-purchase evaluation does not requiere a specific guide, I think that the aircraft can not be certified neither 43.9 nor 43.11 unless we follow step by step of a complete annual guide and solve all discrepancies. If we do 100 hours/annual inspection and solve the squawks, could be used for a good evaluation, this is recommended. However, some customers requires a chip and fast evaluation avoiding we to extend to a commplete inspection.
Best regards.

Posted by Guillermo Brenke via LinkedIn

Anonymous (not verified)
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If you want a legal opinion that you use for CWA, contact me through

My off the cuff is that you have no problems with the FAA though could incur legal liability if you don't handle it properly and something were to go wrong. In general, common sense, honesty, and documentation will cover most situations.

I do occasional pre-purchase inspections for some of the general aviation aircraft which I have experience owning or operating. When I do, I make sure that my client understands that I am not making an airworthiness inspection, even though I hold an A&P/IA. I am merely providing an opinion of the condition and care that the aircraft has received and an opinion regarding what additional maintenance items might rear their head in the future.


Posted by Kristin Winter via LinkedIn

Anonymous (not verified)
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to have more clarity on the subject it will be helpful if someone can share the complete rules and directives of FAA and JAA related to Pre-Purchase evaluation; and also the conventions and practice followed by global aircraft valuation companies such Ascend/ IBA etc.

Posted by Amit Mittal via LinkedIn

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

Hi Bob & Kristin

I want to agree with Kristen, in my opinion a pre-purchase inspection is a commercial/technical evaluation of the condition of the aircraft to determine value, and holds no certification value. At no time are you either returning the aircraft to service or certifying airworthiness.

A report of this inspection may be used by the relevant CAA to make a decision on limited airworthiness (often with requirements for certain work/inspections to be carried out before the aircraft is released for flight) should a ferry flight be required etc.

Only after competing such requirements of the CAA would Release to Service and/or Certification of Airworthiness be required.


Posted by Bart Smit via LinkedIn

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

Dear Gentlemen and Lady;

Why are you all beating yourselves up over this age-old-issue?

The simplest and easiest way to deal with a pre-purchase inspection, regardless of size, class, weight, type, etc. is to utilize a formal manufacturers inspection schedule form, to accomplish a pre-purchase inspection. Obviously both the Buyer, Seller and the Independant Inspecting Facility must agree to this, and execute a formal agreement that specifies this. Then before any work is performed, the Buyer must fully pay the Flat-Fee of the Inspection up-front, so if he/she walks away from the deal, neither the Seller or Inspection facility is out of pocket.

Finally when everything is all-said and done with the inspection, and both Buyer and Seller are negotiating over the squawks, the chief inspector, or IA, or whomever shall be signing the aircraft off, for release to return to service, the work that was performed, was in accordance with a formal manufacturer required inspection, so there is absolutely no arguement from anybody. The items are simply either Airworthy, or not.

Use a Phase 1 through 4 for a King Air; use a 48 Month for a Hawker; a C-Check for a Falcon; and a 72 Month for a Gulfstream, etc.

I wrote about this very issue a number of years ago at Globalair. You can read both versions: Bizjet Pre-Buy, and Little Aircraft Pre-Buy here:

and here:

Best Regards,

Jeremy Cox

Posted by Jeremy R.C. Cox via LinkedIn

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture


I commented because Bob posted the question. I comment now because I disagree with your premise. As I understand your position, you suggest using an annual inspection as a pre-purchase inspection. IMO, that is both under and over inclusive. The manufacturer's inspection program is designed to determine whether the aircraft is minimally airworthy at the time of inspection. I have yet to have a buyer expressly seek out an aircraft that was minimally airworthy.

The manufacturers program, or FAR 43.13, Appendix D, wastes time examining things that do not always need to be examined, and overlooks key issues, such as avionics functionality, whether the aircraft flies straight, etc. Of course, if an annual inspection is due anyway, then that is one thing. But the point is that no two airplanes are identical and the checklist may be different for each. Obviously, a corporate-owned jet will need a different approach to a pre-purchase inspection than will a 50 year old Bonanza.

Bart has it right. The buyer needs information to determine value, not whether the aircraft is minimally airworthy, though that is a component. To get the full value of a pre-purchase inspection, the evaluator needs to know the service history of that type of airplane. Such background only comes from a history of operating or maintaining the aircraft. It is one thing to have a mechanic tell a buyer that the bladder fuel tanks are not leaking. It is more useful to know what the further life expectancy might be.


Posted by Kristin Winter via LinkedIn

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

Fair enough Kristin. Each to his own. I would however like to add that too many people in the aviation industry, are willing to accept damaged, and non-compliant aircraft. To do so, in my mind, is both iresponsible, mindless, and in some instances - unsafe. From the value aspect, you are setting yourself up on the path of ruin. My two cents.

Posted by Jeremy R.C. Cox via LinkedIn

Frank Mattioli (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

In my opinion, a Pre-Purchase evaluation is nothing more than an evaluation of the aircraft in regards to the sale.

Posted by Frank Mattioli via LinkedIn

Stacheair1's picture

DO NOT put your company or your career in jeopardy. It is important that the shop or technician make no recommendations about what to look at on the aircraft and avoid any opinions during a pre-purchase inspection. Opinions and recommendations have a way of coming back to haunt you. After the sale you or your firm may be included as parties defendant in a lawsuit by an irate buyer seeking a pound of flesh. A pre purchase inspection is simply designed to give a buyer a low cost look at the aircraft. It is NOT and should not be an airworthiness inspection. If you do a pre-purchase inspection always put a logbook disclaimer as follows:

Warning Disclaimer

I, we, hereby acknowledge and agree that this pre-purchase inspection is not an airworthiness inspection and is not an inspection defined by the Federal Aviation Regulations. The items inspected are selected at random or at the request of the buyer(s) and/or seller(s), and this shop or mechanic(s) gives no opinion and makes no recommendations with regard to the airworthiness of this aircraft, its engine(s), accessories, and avionics or the accuracy of its records and maintenance history.

Buyer: ____________________________ Date:______________________
Inspection Facility and/or Mechanic: ________________________________

Keep in mind FAR 43.11 does not apply for pre-purchase inspections; it is not an inspection the FAA recognizes. However FAR 43.9 does apply, but only for the maintenance (work) performed. Also as a professional if you find a discrepancy that makes the aircraft unairworthy the mechanic has a duty to warn the registered owner of the discrepancy. Part 91 makes the owners responsible for airworthiness and not mechanics. Mechanic jobs are to perform maintenance and fix things. When mechanics perform inspections our job is to find things broken stuff (discrepancies) and report them to the owner. It is the owner responsible to have discrepancies fixed.

Kristin Winter (not verified)
Anonymous's picture


Two things: That point about opinions makes little sense to me as all inspections are opinions. People pay for opinions all the time. The trick is to make sure that the potential buyer understands that and understands the limitations of a pre-purchase inspection.

Second, I would never make a disclaimer entry in a seller's logbook. Unless you have been asked to perform maintenance or an inspection, you have no right to make any marks or comments in an aircraft's logbooks. The disclaimer is between you and the potential buyer and should be formal and in writing.


Posted by Kristin Winter via LinkedIn

Stacheair1's picture

As a follow-up to what I post today.

All civil aircraft must be inspected at certain intervals as provided in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) to determine the aircraft condition. Keeping in mind a Pre-Purchase inspection is not a recognized inspection. As a maintenance person I would be very careful of any pre-purchase and recommend the aircraft have an annual, 100-hour inspection, phase inspection since these are recognized FAA inspections.

In order to determine the specific inspection requirement and rules regarding inspections, reference should be made to the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), which prescribe the requirements for the inspection of aircraft in various categories of operation. The FAR requirements for inspections can be found Part 91. However you won’t find Pre-Purchase inspection mentioned in the FAR’s.

So if a person requests a pre-purchase inspection in most cases it will require some kind of maintenance to remove panels, doors and etc. to look. Opening up panels and doors is considered maintenance so a FAR 43.9 record entry is required to perform this task of opening and closing. Having the owner or buyer provide a list of items they want inspected (look) at for condition requires the mechanic to look up the limitations in the maintenance manual in some cases or to check the data plate for serial number and part numbers. Just looking at the part is not considered maintenance in most cases, but determining the condition (wear limits) such as brake pads for example is an inspection since they do have wear limits. Some items such as brake pads can be measured for wear so this isn’t an opinion nor is tire wear.

So in my opinion the mechanic must require the owner or buyer to state what they want inspected on their pre-inspection. Do they want a records inspection, AD inspection, hard landing inspection, time life component inspection, etc., or individual component condition inspections accomplished. What is to be inspected must be stated up front in writing so the mechanic will know what the task will involve. In many cases it will involve some type of maintenance to gain access on the aircraft.

When it comes to aircraft records (logbooks) since these are official records what better place to record what you accomplished in your maintenance tasks during a so-called pre-purchase. If you as a mechanic have a written pre-purchase contract stating what items to check the condition, why would you not want to record it in the aircraft records? All you are stating is at the time of this inspection found item in a serviceable condition, it may not be tomorrow.

On the other hand if you don’t have a written contact on what to look at during a pre-inspection you will certainly open yourself up for a liability law suit if something goes wrong after the fact. This is why you want it all in writing. What you record in the aircraft records is the only thing you as a mechanic can be held legally responsible for. In my opinion I would certainly want to record in the aircraft records only the items look at, inspected, or evaluated on behalf of a buyer or owner.

Also keep in mind for any item to be airworthy it must meet two conditions. The term "airworthy" is not defined in Title 49 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C.), or in 14 CFR; however, a clear understanding of its meaning is essential in making an airworthiness determination. Furthermore, the definition of airworthy applies to type-certificated products (aircraft, aircraft engine, or propeller), and parts thereof. Title 49 U.S.C. section 44704(c) and 14 CFR sections 21.183 (a), (b), and (c) state that the two conditions that must be met for issuance of an airworthiness certificate are:

(1) The product must conform to its type certificate (TC). A product conforms to its TC when its configuration and the components installed are as described in the drawings, specifications, and other data that are part of the TC, which includes any Supplemental Type Certificates (STC), Airworthiness Directives (AD), and field approved alterations incorporated into the product; and
(2) The aircraft (product) must be in a condition for safe operation. This means with in its wear limits.

If one or more of these conditions are not satisfied, the product would be considered not to be airworthy.

Just one man’s opinion.

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

e-CFR Data is current as of July 22, 2010

Title 14: Aeronautics and Space

Browse Previous

§ 3.5 Statements about products, parts, appliances and materials.
(a) Definitions. The following terms will have the stated meanings when used in this section:

Airworthy means the aircraft conforms to its type design and is in a condition for safe operation.

Bob Pasch (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

As a newcomer to this site (but not to aviation) I'd like to express some of my thoughts on your debate. First and foremost, there's no such thing as a pre-sale inspection! There is no regulatory requirement and nowhere in the CARs or FARs will you find that terminology! Anyone who thinks differently is mistaken, big time!!! Any rated technician who performs such an event is doing a disservice to his/her customer and opens Pandora's liability box! Pre-sale or pre-purchase is a term long endeared by salesmen, owners/sellers and buyers who, as we all know, carry absolutely no weight in the regulatory arena.

My job, as a D.O.M., is to provide a service to my customers. If one such customer is purchasing an aircraft, my recommendation is ALWAYS for us to perform an Annual Inspection in order to determine the condition of said aircraft. I am their advocate and as such my goal is to find any discrepancies that exist on the aircraft including all paperwork and documentation. You'll note, I said condition, NOT value. That's not our job!

No one can tell you the true condition of an aircraft without a complete Annual-period! The 'tire kicker' approach of a compression check, gear swing and pop a panel or two is absolutely detrimental to the buyer and will be refused by every reputable mx organization around. An attempt to save money on the front end will undoubtably cost exponentially more when YOU are paying the bills! It has been my experience (36 years worth) that 7 out of 10 buyers who do not have their shop or their mechanic (emphasis on the word 'their') perform an Annual are caught by the short hairs when the first Annual rolls around and 99 times out of 100, it's something that would have been caught on the inspection.

We would perform the Annual Inspection IAW the manufacturer's inspection check list (as opposed to one under 43 App D) and list the status of all SBs for Part 23 aircraft and 135 aircraft, if that's the intended usage. There is concentrated attention focused on the aircraft, engine, propeller and accessories' records and documentation. Aside from discrepancies, which WILL occur on every aircraft, the majority of major problems are found in the historical records. ADs not complied with, component servicing ignored, time change and life-limited items missed and that's where the costs skyrocket. Then, a list of discrepancies, both airworthy and (what I call) cosmetic are then given to both parties for their discussion and debate. At this point, we, the maintenance providers, are out of the picture!

When the seller and buyer reach an agreement, we, the maintenance providers, then have several courses of action possible. If the customer is going forward with the purchase and the Annual is to be signed off (and there's nothing that sez it must be!) we clear the airworthiness discrepancies and any others at the customer's discretion, and return the aircraft to service with a fresh Annual.

If the customer is going forward with the purchase and has negotiated a favorable purchase price but does not want the Annual signed off, we reassemble the aircraft and return it to service with the work we performed, e.g. oil change, packed bearings etc. The current Annual Inspection is still in effect and the aircraft is legal for flight. Now before you get your proverbial breasts in a clamping device, no aircraft would ever be released with a safety of flight issue unaddressed!

That said, the final course would be reassemble the aircraft and return it to the seller should there be a deal breaker. Again, no aircraft would ever be released with a safety of flight issue unaddressed!

I've read the comments posted and they're quite varied. Jim Logajan's question was a very good one! The answer is "no". Since there's no such thing as a 'pre-sale inspection' there's no such rating required to be a 'pre-sale inspector'! :) If that's the way you choose, anyone can do it! Although I'd be verrrry careful, you can't pull over on a cloud and pop the cowl...

Several people have referred to 43.9 and 43.11 and only one has used them in their correct perspective! These regs are expressly for documenting maintenance performed on aircraft, engines, propellers and appliances. Nowhere, Guillermo does either section "certify" anything! CUDOs to Stacheair1 who is apparently a very knowledgeable poster here!

Now, to get in to the sweet stuff cuz I luv controversy! I read all of Kristin's posts and as I read them, I realized the differences we have. She apparently is one of those 'aviation professionals' who doesn't work in aviation maintenance yet holds an A&P and I.A. It's nice for an aviation attorney's resume but the practical experience is obviously lacking and it's evidenced by comments in her posts.

Kristin apparently believes to know more than the FAA or the manufacturers when she sez, "The manufacturers program, or FAR 43.13, Appendix D, wastes time examining things that do not always need to be examined, and overlooks key issues, such as avionics functionality, whether the aircraft flies straight, etc." As an active IA, I disagree! Avionics are not required to be checked other than security and mounting, much less operational for an Annual. I agree that it's important for a perspective buyer to know but her priority for that information is overinflated!

She goes on to say "The buyer needs information to determine value, not whether the aircraft is minimally airworthy, though that is a component." Really? In my entire aviation career, my primary purpose was to ensure safety. I would never trivialize that as an anecdote. Besides, as an IA that's not our job.

My last example is this statement, "It is one thing to have a mechanic tell a buyer that the bladder fuel tanks are not leaking. It is more useful to know what the further life expectancy might be." I truly think Kristin needs to voluntarily surrender her IA. An IA's job is not prognastication or fortune telling. We don't do Annuals with a warranty or guarantee, that's not our job! Our job, as an IA, is to determine if the aircraft meets its original type design or as legitimately altered. Nowhere does it say we must predict the aircraft's future!

Besides myself, you have two other true aviation professionals espousing the benefits of an Annual Inspection when buying an aircraft. Then you have an attorney who tells you it's not necessary. The maintenance providers job is to determine the condition of the aircraft not the value! So I ask you, if you're going to court vs. the FAA, who are you gonna call? You're A&P? So when you have a maintenance question, who are you gonna believe? Your experienced, full-time, aviation maintenance professional? Or your attorney?

Thomas Mitchell (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

When a traditional inspection is not accomplished (C- check etc.), my interpretation for a required entry is to return the aircraft to service after maintenance performed (R&R access panels, test equipment, etc.). When discovered discrepancies are found and not approved for repair or relieved by an MEL, in my opinion the obligation is to formally inform the owner/operator as it is their responsibility to operate the aircraft in a legal manner.

Posted by Thomas Mitchell via LinkedIn

Don Sebastian (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

Thank you, everybody for your insights. I am 68 years old, stated my A&P training 53 years ago. Now a ATP, CFII, Ground instructor, expert witness. Rated in airplane/helicopter/glider. Been in prebuys for 35 years. Never got sued. Did almost everything from Boeing to J-3 Cubs. Here is some thoughts on this prebuy matter. Never flat rate, just charge for your time. Depending on the aircraft and buyer, call your service, an opinion, evaulation, prebuy, records review, status report. Sign your report, supply it to the owner as a maintenance record. Keep your pictures and reports forever. If the airplane is not safe to fly, put a red tag on it, ask the owner or operator to stand by it, and take the picture. This usually solves the matter. Don (910) 315-0099.

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

Mike Busch has a good article at, columns, The Savvy Aviator #64: The Pre-Buy. He does not like any discrepancies written in his log book though.

Alan Quackenbush (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

I agree with Frank. A pre-purchase evaluation is a general conditional inspection related to a sale only unless the owner requests a particular formal certification inspection under the appropriate CFR

Posted by Alan Quackenbush via LinkedIn

Anonymous (not verified)
Anonymous's picture

Questions for Experts/Forums

I am in a Business class at SDSU, and we are trying to get some opinions on what happens to the tires during landing, and if any of the wear on the plane, and the tires can be avoided...

1. In your opinion, what are the top causes of aircraft tire wear?

2. What have been some proposed solutions to this problem?

3. Is it likely that the aircraft companies would like something to decrease this wear?

4. In your opinion, if the wheels were spinning at the same speed as the ground on approach and upon contact, the amount of wear on the tire would be substantially decreased?

Thank you for your thoughts...

AskBob's picture

The FAA has a tire course you may find interesting

On small aircraft the highest tire wear is from the pilot holding the right or left brake and spinning on the tire to make a tight turn or locking up the brakes to make the first turn off. Not that much tire wear is caused by normal landings. On large transport aircraft the most damage I have seen is either from hydroplaning or from failed anti-skid systems.

Stacheair1's picture

What is a pre-purchase inspection?

A pre-purchase inspection has no official status under Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR’s). It is not a recognized inspection under Title 49 and should not be signed off in accordance with part 43.11.

The pre-purchase inspection is an extensive condition report verifying the condition and originality on the aircraft someone wishes to purchase. The pre-purchase should be able to tell you if the aircraft is currently airworthy, and if the aircraft has been in an accident or been modified.

There are many different types of pre-purchase inspections from a simple records search to a detailed inspection involving ADs, Service bulletin’s and other areas of interest to the prospective buyer.

To perform a pre-purchase inspection some minor disassembly is normally accomplished during the inspection. Disassembly of aircraft for inspection is considered maintenance. Any maintenance performed even during a pre-purchase inspection will require a maintenance record entry. Be aware there is nine inspections the FAA will recognize and a pre-purchase inspection is not one of them.

How this type of inspection is recorded in the maintenance records is an important issue. If the inspection requires removing cowling, perform a compression test, torqueing of spark plugs, removing and reinstalling seats by a properly rated mechanic or certificated pilot then a maintenance should be made only for the maintenance performed. This may include removing and reinstalling cowling, compression test, per part 43.9.

The downside to any pre-purchase inspection is what does the mechanic do when they find an unairworthy item and how should it be documented? From a legal stand point the owner must be notified of any unairworthy condition that exists. And the best way is by providing a list in letter format of your finding to the owner of any unairworthy items found and this letter should be referenced in your maintenance record entry.

Because of the legal issues involved in a case where an aircraft is purchased and the owner has issues after taking ownership can and will cause issues for the mechanic. This is why it is very import that the mechanic have a signed agreement what the owner wants inspected on the aircraft in writing. And only inspect those items listed on the agreement.

I would recommend a record entry with at least the following to CYA: I, we, hereby acknowledge and agree that this pre-purchase inspection is not an airworthiness inspection and is not an inspection defined by the Federal Aviation Regulations. The items inspected are selected at random or at the request of the buyer(s) and/or seller(s), and this shop or mechanic(s) gives no opinion and makes no recommendations with regard to the airworthiness of this aircraft, its engine(s), accessories, and avionics or the accuracy of its records and maintenance history.

Just a quick comment on tire wear for General Aviation aircraft, besides having the toe brakes slightly on during landing that causes flat spots, with the main gear tires. Also if the gear is out of alignment it will cause wear on one side of the tire more. It’s not very often a mechanic will check main gear alignment during inspections it’s easier to change a tire. This is a whole different topic and can be addressed better in a different location.

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