How to Research Aircraft

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.

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.

Above all, I wanted a safe, reliable aircraft for my family.

Peter Tinsman,

Owner/Operator of a KING AIR C90GTX turboprop

Benefits to consider

Mission needs
Where are you flying? What’s the typical trip length? How many passengers?

Aircraft size
Does it accommodate the typical number of passengers and baggage?

Passenger comfort
Are passengers comfortable in the seats? Is there enough headroom for tall passengers

Luggage space
Is there enough room for everyone’s belongings?

Cabin amenities
LED lighting, high-definition sound, Wi-Fi: what do you need and expect in the cabin?

Fuel burn
What’s the cost for your mission profile’s typical trip?

Operating costs
What are the expected maintenance and other operating costs?

NTSB record
How do incident rates by year compare?

 

Performance
What are the cruise and climb speeds under normal operating conditions?

Redundant systems
Are there built-in redundant systems: avionics, generators, engines, etc.?

Service availability
How 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 twin-engine
turboprop
Pilatus PC-12NG single-engine
turboprop
Differences 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 and King Air C90GTX aircraft. 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

“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.”

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.

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Know the numbers

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.

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“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.”

The more thoroughly informed you are, the better choice you will make.

Peter Tinsman, Owner/operator of a King Air C90GTx

Some follow-up questions you may consider asking

1. What kind of system redundancies do your aircraft offer?

2. Of the incidents reported, what is the ratio of engine failures to accessory failures?

3. (When offered anecdotal evidence) What is the rate at which that has occurred throughout the aircraft’s population?