Aviation Safety Letter 1/2004

Buying an Ultralight Airplane - Part II

by Inspector Martin Buissonneau, Recreational Aviation, Flight Training Standards, Transport Canada, Quebec Region


Part II

In the first part of this article, we talked about the importance of defining your needs. We mentioned the type of pilot permit required, the choices and characteristics of airplanes and engines offered, their equipment, the required insurance, and some important considerations to take into account to protect your investment. We will now talk about transporting passengers, buying a new or used airplane, and installing a ballistic parachute.

Transporting passengers

The second question pertains to the choice between a basic and advanced ultralight airplane.

At this time, transporting passengers on a basic ultralight airplane is illegal, except in the following two cases:

  1. in-flight training required for issuing a pilot permit - ultralight aeroplane or the endorsement of an instructor rating on a pilot permit - ultralight aeroplane;
  2. when two holders of a pilot permit - ultralight aeroplane are on board the airplane (this is also true for the recreational pilot permit - aeroplane and the private pilot licence - aeroplane).

For advanced ultralight airplanes, the pilot may transport a passenger if they hold a licence or permit authorizing the transport of a passenger. In the near future, the holder of a pilot permit - ultralight aeroplane will also be able to transport a passenger after having taken additional training, and passed a flight test, which would remove the "No passengers" restriction on the pilot permit.

For an ultralight airplane to be considered advanced, the following conditions must be met: 1) the manufacturer must have issued a declaration of compliance for the ultralight airplane, 2) the owner must not make any modifications to the airplane, unless the modification was approved in writing by the manufacturer, 3) the airplane must be maintained according to the maintenance program indicated by the manufacturer, 4) the owner must conform to the mandatory actions published by the manufacturer and 5) a poster must be put up in a location that is visible by the two occupants of the airplane and must contain the following: "This airplane is an advanced ultralight airplane that is used without an Airworthiness Certificate." You can check which makes and types of ultralight airplanes are advanced on the Transport Canada Web site. To check if a specific registered airplane is advanced, "Advanced UL de type évolué" must be written in the "Subject" box on the registration certificate. On older registration certificates, "/a" in the "Aircraft Manufacturer Designation" box is also common.

New or second-hand

The third question has to do with the choice between a new or second-hand airplane. It is possible that you will not be able to find a particular make or type of airplane second-hand, or that a certain type of new airplane is not available.

After having studied and analyzed all of the manufacturer's information on the type you are interested in, go to aerodromes and talk with pilots who own ultralight airplanes to find out more, especially if they own the type of airplane that interests you. Often, people who have nothing to gain or lose by sharing their experience are a good source of information. In addition, searching on the Internet is a good way to find out more about the airplane (check association and manufacturer sites, discussion groups, sites that review certain types, etc.).

Buying a new airplane brings about fewer worries than buying a second-hand airplane. However, new airplanes sometimes have to be assembled and, depending on the make and type, the complexity and the number of hours required to assemble the airplane can vary enormously. It is normal to be unable to assemble the airplane on your own, and if you have any doubts, you should ask for help, whenever possible, from the manufacturer or the authorized representative (if they are able to carry out the work). You may also want to have the airplane assembled by a person with experience, and who is known in the aeronautic field, and if possible, has already assembled the same type of ultralight airplane.

Once the assembly of the airplane is finished, and it has been registered and insured, various tests should be conducted thoroughly. The engine tests and preliminary run-in should be carried out according to the manufacturer's procedures. It is preferable if an ultralight airplane pilot, who has a reasonable amount of experience flying and piloting the type of airplane in question, carries out the in-flight and ground tests of the airplane. Procedures and steps must be strictly followed so that these tests are carried out safely. Given the requirements of these tests, it is preferable to ask an experienced pilot to carry them out.

If you are thinking of buying a second-hand ultralight airplane, here are some things to take into consideration: 1) Has this airplane been in an accident and then been repaired? 2) How many flight-hours do the airframe, engine and propeller have? 3) Was the airplane stored inside or outside? 4) Did the owner have a journey log and a flight maintenance log for the airplane? 5) Does the owner still have the manufacturer's manual, and if not, is it possible to get one directly from the manufacturer? 6) Was the engine and airframe maintenance carried out according to the manufacturer's recommendations? Given the fact that the answers to these questions are difficult for the buyer to check, having the airplane inspected by an expert is a good way of evaluating it before making the final decision.

To close this section on second-hand airplanes, here are some suggestions. For basic ultralight airplanes, beware of any changes made by the owner in order to "improve the type." Have the airplane checked by an aircraft maintenance engineer before buying (they will check the quality and the service life remaining of the fabric, the use of parts that are not authorized for aviation, or on the type in question, the installation or assembly of certain parts using methods that are not approved for aviation, etc.) and have an in-flight test performed by a pilot who is experienced and competent on this type of ultralight airplane. Make sure to check the insurance policy first to avoid complications and legal action in case of an accident. Depending on the airplane's age and general condition, replace basic parts that would render the airplane impossible to fly if there was an in-flight failure. Make allowances for the cost of the parts to be changed and repairs to be made to the airplane.

Here are some more general suggestions. Seriously consider installing a ballistic parachute. They are relatively inexpensive, but are very useful if a major failure occurs. They will let you down almost gently on the ground, and significantly reduce the risk of serious injury. Research the types of protection offered by insurance policies, for example, public liability insurance, insurance on the shell of the airplane while in-flight and/or on the ground, and disability insurance. If you do not hold a pilot permit or licence already, find out from your life insurance company what the consequences are on your annual premium if you become a pilot. Look into the possibility of buying an ultralight airplane with one or two other people, or even the possibility of renting an airplane at a flight school that rents airplanes. You should also make allowances for the cost of training on the new airplane, especially if you have never flown this type of ultralight airplane.

In conclusion, chose an airplane in which you feel comfortable and you would enjoy flying, because after all, this is what recreational aviation is all about.

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