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How to research aircraft

Finding and comparing the most accurate information

When Peter Tinsman was ready to step up to a larger aircraft, he wanted the best combination of size, performance and safety. Although he had his favorites, Tinsman set out on a nearly year-long journey to find just the right aircraft—researching and evaluating hundreds of facts, figures and features along the way.

“Above all, I wanted a safe, reliable aircraft for my family.”Peter Tinsman, owner/operator of a King Air C90GTx

Tinsman and his wife Heather traveled from their hometown of Dubuque, Iowa, to Atlanta, Georgia, to the National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA) annual convention where they could see their options side-by-side on static display. With a family of six who each stand near or above six feet tall, the Tinsmans needed a roomy aircraft that could hold everyone comfortably on vacations and trips to colleges.

Benefits to consider

  • Mission needsWhere are you flying? What’s the typical trip length? How many passengers?
  • Aircraft sizeDoes it accommodate the typical number of passengers and baggage?
  • Passenger comfortAre passengers comfortable in the seats? Is there enough headroom for tall passengers?
  • Luggage spaceIs there enough room for everyone’s belongings?
  • Cabin amenitiesLED lighting, high-definition sound, Wi-Fi: what do you need and expect in the cabin?
  • Fuel burnWhat’s the cost for your mission profile’s typical trip?
  • Operating costsWhat are the expected maintenance and other operating costs?
  • NTSB recordHow do incident rates by year compare?
  • PerformanceWhat are the cruise and climb speeds under normal operating conditions?
  • Redundant systemsAre there built-in redundant systems: avionics, generators, engines, etc.?
  • Service availabilityHow many facilities are located in your area, and are mobile service units available?

“We kept a very open mind to evaluate aircraft that were single- or twin-engine turboprops. We looked at several options,” Tinsman, who owned and operated a Mooney Acclaim at the time, said. “One didn’t have the quality we expected in places like the passenger seats; plus I thought it was way overpriced, just like a Swiss watch. Others just didn’t feel right.”

“One company resorted to trying to scare us into buying their aircraft, making all types of wild safety claims against other aircraft. It was incredibly unprofessional, not to mention untrue.”

“Negative-selling” happens occasionally in the industry, according to Patrick O’Connell, regional sales director for Textron Aviation. He advises shoppers to be wary of sales representatives who use this tactic, because it’s likely the salesperson is trying to distract the buyer or appeal to the person’s emotions.

“Also, don’t take company-issued facts at face value. Verify all information,” said O’Connell. “Claims of a single-engine turboprop costing half as much to operate as a twin and burning half as much fuel are two common myths. They’re just not true. For example, a turboprop with two engines only costs 50 dollars per hour more in fuel to operate than a turboprop with one engine. It’s not double.”

Check the fuel efficiency*

When evaluating the differences in aircraft performance, Tinsman advises buyers to ensure they’re comparing apples to apples. For example, when comparing fuel efficiency, shoppers should look at charts that show fuel burn at the same power settings and the same cruise speeds throughout each aircraft. Sales representatives can provide those specialized reports based on the buyer’s typical missions, including altitude, speed, power settings and trip lengths. This specialized information offers the most accurate information and often clarifies which aircraft best suits the buyer’s needs.

How to break down performance data to fairly compare fuel efficiency

King Air 250
Pilatus PC-12NG
between the two
Cruise altitude 35,000 ft 28,000 ft 7,000 ft
Power setting Matched to single-engine turboprop Max cruise Matched speed
Cruise speed 259 ktas 259 ktas Matched speed
Fuel flow 69 gph 57 gph 12 gph
Fuel cost at $4.50/gallon $345/hour $285/hour $60/hour

*To properly compare fuel burn, the calculations are based on the King Air matching the cruise speed of a competitive single-engine turboprop.
**Performance numbers are based on 2018 models and are subject to change.

After the Tinsman family tested and evaluated several aircraft types, they eventually narrowed their search down to the BEECHCRAFT KING AIR 250 turboprop and the KING AIR C90GTx turboprop. In the family’s opinion, the two aircraft offered the best combination of size, quality and performance, based on everyone’s needs.

Do your research

After nine months of evaluation, several demo flights, two factory tours and hours of conversations with experts, pilots, engineers and sales representatives, the Tinsmans chose the King Air C90GTx aircraft.

“I did so much research on my own. I looked at all of the numbers for the aircraft we were considering, including the reliability, performance, fuel burn, even the records from the NTSB,” said Tinsman.

“I remember the first time I flew in a King Air 90. It was while working on my multi-engine rating. The King Air was smooth, stable and responsive—really nice. I loved it instantly.”

Making the right choice

  • Take your time
  • Ask questions
  • Ask your sales rep to compile trip profiles with projected fuel burn at different altitudes
  • When analyzing someone else’s comparisons, make sure each is based on equal logic
  • Track down the facts
  • Talk to a variety of sources
  • Take a demo flight

Tinsman and his wife enjoyed the buying process—choosing fabrics and colors, special options and equipment. With so many choices to make, he said it was important to rely on a trusted team who could streamline the process. He also said it was important for the manufacturer to understand and respect his budget and mission concerns.

“Heather and I liked everyone we met at Beechcraft. They’re honest, direct and just truly good people. They ended up being like family. They seemed genuinely interested in helping us find the right airplane for our needs, and not overselling us,” he said.

Long after delivery, Tinsman and O’Connell say buyers should continue to expect great customer service. From questions about the aircraft’s operation to advice on maintenance schedules to modifying a particular component, the manufacturer should be the go-to resource with experts ready to help.

Know the numbers

Judge rates, not numbers

To make a true head-to-head comparison, especially when reviewing NTSB records, ask the manufacturer to provide rates based on aircraft population and not merely totals. Because aircraft models are often put into service in different years, totals can be misleading because they can encompass varying timespans.

At last check, the Tinsman family had logged more than 1,500 hours, 775 hours on the King Air, mostly visiting family and friends, traveling on vacation and shuttling to and from colleges. With his family on board that much, it’s clear why confidence in the design and manufacturing was an important factor in Tinsman’s decision making.

His advice to anyone shopping for an aircraft is to take a cue from his family and choose the right aircraft for the mission, thinking past the honeymoon phase when the initial excitement fades. Take the time to make an educated choice by talking to a variety of sources—flight instructors, charter pilots, technicians, aircraft engineers and existing owner/operators—the more sources, the better.

“The more thoroughly informed you are, the better choice you will make.”Peter Tinsman, owner/operator of a King Air C90GTx

“There’s an aircraft for everyone. It’s just a matter of finding the one that fits your mission. Do your homework. Don’t take anyone’s advice for granted. Look for evidence in other places. Also, understand people’s motivations,” O’Connell said. “This is a big purchase. Take your time, and choose an aircraft that works for you and that you’ll love for years to come.”

Some follow-up questions you may consider asking

  1. 1. What kind of system redundancies do your aircraft offer?
  2. 2. Of the incidents reported, what is the ratio of engine failures to accessory failures?
  3. 3. (When offered anecdotal evidence) What is the rate at which that has occurred throughout the aircraft’s population?