Buying an aircraft


Which one is right for you?

The Canadian loonie is soaring to record highs and the Federal Government has just announced it is reducing taxes. Perhaps it’s time to buy an airplane.

At some point most pilots start dreaming of the advantages of owning their own aircraft. Just think a myriad of different types you could possibly own and fly whenever you want.

The following is a brief look at what you’ll find in our COPA Guide to Buying an Airplane on our website. The guide is free for members to download and print. Copies can be mailed for a small fee for those who don’t have a printer or access to the Internet.


Certified aircraft have a standard Certificate of Airworthiness (C of A) and therefore meet all the applicable certification requirements.

Most pilots learn to fly on certified aircraft, so those are most familiar to them. Importing and exporting certified aircraft is a fairly simple venture in Canada. Certified aircraft include popular light airplanes such as the Cessna 150, 152, 172, Piper Cub and Cherokee, Beechcraft Bonanza, Mooneys, Maules and other well known brands.

This category also includes certified gliders, helicopters, balloons, airships and even some certified gyroplanes.

These are factory-produced aircraft and they must have their maintenance release signed by an AME after maintenance work is completed.

Certified airplanes have predictable handling characteristics – they are stable and generally non-demanding to fly compared to some ultralights and homebuilts.


If you have decided to buy a factory new certified aircraft congratulations! This is definitely an easy way to go! You won’t have to worry about liens and title searches, pre-purchase inspections and other factors that are important when buying a used aircraft. Your new aircraft will come with a warrantee that will cover any defects for the first year or more. Also, new airplanes are not usually "high-maintenance," unlike some older aircraft.

Your new aircraft will likely be well equipped with state-of-the-art avionics and the latest in safety and comfort features. What more could you ask for?

The downside in buying a new aircraft is they are not cheap! Not only is the purchase price higher than a used aircraft, but the insurance premiums will be proportionally high as well. This can make operating a new aircraft quite a bit more expensive than operating an older model of the same type.

The other factor you will have to consider is depreciation. New aircraft lose their value, just like new cars do. For example, a 1999 Cessna 172R lost 28 per cent of its value since new, between 1999 and 2004, or an average of almost six per cent per year.


Buying a used amateur built aircraft can be a good way to get a lot of performance for a reasonable price. It is also a great way to find an affordable helicopter or gyroplane. Many people buy used amateur-built aircraft because they want an interesting aircraft they can maintain themselves, but don’t have the time available to build one of their own from plans or from a kit.

Amateur built aircraft are subject to pre-cover and pre-first flight inspections from an MD-RA Inspector before they get their flight authority for the first time, so there is quality control in their construction. They fly under a Special Certificate of Airworthiness – Amateur Built.

Even if you buy a used amateur built aircraft the owner is permitted to do all the work on the aircraft and also sign the maintenance release for the work completed.

There is a huge variety of aircraft that fit into this category – airplanes, helicopters, gliders, balloons, airships and gyroplanes to name a few.

Amateur built airplanes are limited to four seats maximum in Canada. The airplanes are also limited to a maximum of 5,000 lbs gross take-off weight and a wing loading of 13.3 lb/sq ft without flaps and 20.4 lb/sq ft if equipped with flaps.

Amateur builts with higher wing loadings are permitted, but they are considered "high performance" and the pilot will need a type rating. There are similar limitations that apply to gliders and other categories. Once completed and flying, amateur built aircraft comply with the same flying rules that govern certified aircraft.


For some people, ultralights are the only affordable form of flying available. However, others who can afford a bigger and more expensive aircraft also lean towards the simplicity of "low-and-slow flight" which is the hallmark of ultralight flying.

That said there are some very fast and cross-country capable ultralights being flown in Canada. There is no doubt that ultralights are great fun to fly and are relatively inexpensive to own and maintain.

The only permitted uses for ultralights are private recreational flying and commercial flight instruction, rental and towing hang gliders. Other commercial uses such as crop spraying, aerial photography, towing gliders, carrying freight or passengers for hire are not permitted.

Canadian ultralights come in two flavours – Basic Ultralights (BULA) and Advanced Ultralights (AULA).

Basic Ultralights are the original ultralights. Today, basic ultralights may currently have one or two seats, weigh up to 1,200 lbs take-off weight and have a stall speed of 39 knots (45 mph) or less.

Basic ultralights are not permitted to carry passengers, although they may be flown with two pilots on board or with a student and instructor. Helmets are required when flying basic ultralights.

There are no specific maintenance requirements for basic ultralights, but protecting your investment and yourself means taking good care of your basic ultralight.

Advanced ultralight airplanes (AULAs) started as a new category here in Canada in 1991. They are single or two seat airplanes that comply with the Light Aircraft Manufacturer’s Association of Canada (LAMAC) publication called Design Standards for Advanced Ultralight Aeroplanes.

AULAs must be purchased as a kit or complete aircraft. For quality control reasons they cannot be built from plans. Changes were made to the category in June 2001 and, as a result, AULAs can now weigh up to 770 lbs for single seat and 1,232 lbs for two seat.

Under the revisions to the category, powered parachutes and hang glider-based trike ultralight designs may now qualify as AULAs.

AULA aircraft types are added to the TC Listing of Models Eligible to be Registered as Advanced Ultra-Light Aeroplanes (AULA) when the manufacturer signs a Declaration of Compliance (D of C) for the type and TC accepts it for the list.

Individual AULAs get their status from a Statement of Conformity (S of C) that the manufacturer issues when the plane is built. This S of C indicates that the plane conforms to the standard for the type. The S of C allows the AULA to be registered with Transport Canada as an advanced ultralight.

AULAs cannot be modified without the written authority of the manufacturer and they must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If an AULA is modified without permission from the manufacturer or not maintained as required then its Certificate of Registration will be cancelled. Maintenance records are required for all AULAs.

Used AULAs must have a Fit for Flight Form (FFFF) completed by the previous owner or else they cannot be re-registered in the name of the new owner as an AULA.

AULAs can carry a passenger, if the pilot is qualified to carry a passenger. This currently requires at least a Pilot Permit - Ultralight Aeroplanes with the Passenger Carrying Rating. Helmets are not required to be worn in AULAs, but may be a good idea depending on the design.

COPA has guides providing more information on all the above types of aircraft and on many others you may be interested in buying. Have a look at the COPA Guides on our website under About COPA.