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Regulatory considerations when buying an aircraft

On Behalf of | Jun 16, 2023 | Aviation Law |

Most of us are familiar with the process of buying, owning and operating a car.  We know where to look to shop for one, we know how to choose what we want, and we know the rules, regulations and laws we must follow for insurance and registration. When we got our driver’s license, we also learned the rules of the road. But the process of buying, owning and operating private aircraft is only vaguely similar to the automobile experience.  And the same is true of the state, federal and foreign rules, regulations and laws of owning and operating an aircraft. While few people require professional advice when acquiring an automobile, failure to obtain professional advice and guidance before purchasing a private aircraft can be extremely expensive, both financially and legally.

What do I need to know when planning to buy a private aircraft?

The need to become informed about industry-specific requirements is present at almost every stage of the process of planning the acquisition, ownership, and operation of private aircraft.  Having a knowledgeable aviation attorney at your side will help you meet these challenges much more easily.  These include:

  • Who Is Eligible To Own? Not just anyone can own an interest in a private aircraft.  Every country has its own citizenship laws and rules governing who is eligible to be an owner or co-owner of a private aircraft registered in that country.  It is essential to know those laws and regulations before you make a commitment to such an expensive investment.  If your plan is to have your company be the owner, there are also very particular laws and rules which govern that as well.  Knowing the rules in advance eliminates needless risks.
  • Aircraft Operations: Private or Commercial Regulations? The laws and regulations governing interstate and intrastate air commerce are of great importance to the governments of every country.  For that reason, there are specific requirements for private aircraft operation for private purposes, and other more stringent requirements for operating private aircraft for commercial purposes.  The complexity and expense of complying with each of these requirements are such that you should seek the advice of an aviation attorney before you begin making your plans.
  • Services and Vendors. Once you begin your planning to acquire a private aircraft, one of the many things you need to think about is, whose help do I need to maintain and operate my aircraft?  All aircraft require one or more pilots, maintenance technicians, quality training for both, hangar space and insurance.  More complex aircraft require navigation chart subscriptions, maintenance tracking subscriptions, engine and avionics programs, international flight planning services, over-flight permitting, personnel knowledgeable in customs and border rules, and the technical know-how to make it all work together to keep your aircraft operating efficiently, safely and legally.  A knowledgeable aviation attorney can refer you to the right services offered by people whom you can trust.
  • And What About Taxes & Fees? As is true with most activities, there are a range of state, federal and foreign taxes which may potentially apply to the ownership and operation of private aircraft, and it is vital that you include professional tax consultation in your planning to acquire a private aircraft.  These taxes can take the form of a sales, property, excise and value added tax, and they can apply on the initial purchase of the aircraft, the services used in operating the aircraft, and on where and how you register and base your aircraft.  Working with your tax advisor, a knowledgeable aviation attorney can help you weigh the alternatives for your planned acquisition from an informed perspective.
  • Airspace Laws & Regulations. There are not only different categories of airspace at home and abroad. There are also strict laws and regulations which govern their use.  The key to remaining in compliance with those laws and rules which will apply to you begins with your travel planning before you commit to a particular aircraft.  Once you decide upon an aircraft, and how and where you will use it, hiring well-trained and experienced pilot services and flight planning and over-flight permitting services will help you to operate your aircraft efficiently, safely and legally.

These details only touch upon a few of the big-picture issues one needs to consider when planning to buy and operate a private aircraft.  There will likely be many more questions which arise once you move forward with your decision.  Once you know what you want to use your aircraft for, and where and how you want to use it, consulting an experienced aviation attorney to help you with your planning and acquisition will help transform your generalized dream into a fully realized success.