Owners who vigorously look for the best price on parts can substantially reduce their maintenance costs. Savings on a repair can be 50% of the whole job (parts and labor).
This page tells you how. It uses this logic tree (full size shown later) to help you find Skymaster parts at the best possible price. Although the logic tree may seem complicated, you will find it easy and I'll help you along the way. This page also includes names and contact info for suppliers.
This was prepared by the author as a paper for presentation at the April 23-27, 2003 Skymaster fly-in and meeting in Nashville, and was delivered at that meeting for the author by Larry Bowdish. A year later it was delivered by the author at the April 21-24, 2004 Skymaster fly-in and meeting in Oklahoma City (see group picture below). Some of the narrative delivered at the presentations -- but not all -- is included here; therefore, you should use the information on this page only as a reference and strictly follow the recommendations of your A&P mechanic.
Before getting into the subject of buying parts, let me deviate for a moment and offer some thoughts on choosing your A&P mechanic. He or she is the key to cost-effective maintenance of your Skymaster. Aside from choosing one who is knowledgeable and competent, you should strive to seek a mechanic with the additional characteristics listed below -- and once you find such a mechanic, befriend and pamper him/her. Here's the list:
OK, on to parts. The image below is your road map (click here to see image, then use your browser's "Back" button to return to this text). Starting at the top, work through the logic tree, trying to get to the left-most purchasing block possible (green is better than yellow, yellow better than red, etc). Your co-pilot is your mechanic, making sure he/she agrees with each decision you make.
- Price competitive. Rely less on hourly rates and more on the recommendations of other aircraft owners for a mechanic whose jobs are consistently reasonable in price. A mechanic with a $30 rate is no bargain if he/she takes twice as long as other mechanics or is dishonest and pads the hours.
- Smart. This is different from "knowledgeable". Often, problems are hard to diagnose and require an intelligent mechanic.
- Likes Skymasters. A mechanic who hates to work on Skymasters is a problem -- it's hard to get him/her to work on your aircraft and he/she may add a "hassle" factor to your bill. Find one who knows the aircraft and likes to work on them.
- Lets you help. Last but not least, find a mechanic who will let you look for parts and help with maintenance (remove inspection plates, etc).
Before you start you need three things. First, get the part number from the Illustrated Parts Catalog (IPC). This is something you should own if your mechanic doesn't have one; Trade-A-Plane display advertisers have them for sale for about $80 and they sometimes appear in eBay for less. Second, see if there is a superseding (newer) part number by calling your favorite Cessna dealer (mine is Yingling). Finally, ask the dealer his price for the part. Obviously, you'll use this price as a reference, seeking substantial reductions for used parts.
Your first decision on the logic tree (click here), is whether to buy new or used. Most items can and should be bought used. Some, however, should be bought new and often these should be obvious to you; they include batteries, tires, spark plugs, wires, cables, bearings, motor mounts, seals (such as gaskets and O-rings), windshields, etc. So, generally, you will be buying used most of the time and new only by exception. Here is one criterion for deciding: buy used if the item will give you roughly the same lifetime as a new item at a substantial cost savings. Notice that the item need not have the same lifetime. Instead, it must give you roughly the same lifetime. So, suppose a used rudder will give you 50 years of life while a new one will give you 100 years. Who cares. You are not going to own it 50 years, so as far as you are concerned, both will give you the same lifetime.
If you choose to buy used, the next decision on the logic tree (click here) is between "as-is" (also called "as-removed" or "repairable") and overhauled/serviceable. Your decision should generally be based on this: if your A&P is authorized to service the item, then buy it "as-is", otherwise buy it in overhauled (OHD) or serviceable condition. There are, of course, exceptions. If your propeller is sent to be overhauled and one blade "scraps-out" (meaning that the shop has determined that it cannot be repaired), then, assuming that the shop doesn't have one to sell you, try to find the blade "as-is" for delivery to the propeller shop.
Once you decide what to do and start looking for an item, don't give up if a source doesn't have it. Ask that same source if he/she knows where you can find it. Two sources I usually contact are Don Nieser and Owen Bell, particularly for expensive items. Both are Skymaster specialists. Don, at Commodore Aerospace, has a huge stock of new-surplus material, plus he parts-out whole Skymasters, so he also has a good stock of used parts, from large airframe pieces to small items. Owen's company, Aviation Enterprises, makes fiberglass or carbon fiber replacement for many Skymaster parts (prop spinners, strut fairings, battery box, glare shield, gear doors, window frames, etc.) and modifications for the Skymaster, including wing extensions which increase gross weight, auxiliary fuel tanks, air conditioning, etc. They will either have it or know who does. Often, new parts from one of these two suppliers can be less expensive than a used part.
When you are looking for as-is or as-removed parts, several sources are cited in the green box (above), but check Trade-A-Plane classified ads for other yards which are currently parting-out Skymasters (these ads can be found at the end of the Cessna classifieds under "Cessna Miscellaneous"). As-is parts can be bought at 70-40% off list. Although all parts to be used on your aircraft -- even new ones -- should be checked by your A&P before installation, this is particularly true for as-is or as-removed parts, and you should err on the side of rejection if there is any question; thus, the policy on returnability of such parts is a key issue when you deal with used-parts suppliers.
If you need overhauled parts ("overhauled" and "serviceable" are often identical terms), then you fall in the yellow box. Check Trade-A-Plane display ads for overhaulers. Savings here can range between 30 and 50% off list.
OK, but what if you need new parts? As you can see on the logic tree (click here), you should first look for PMA parts (the orange box below). PMA stands for "Parts Manufacturing Approval". These suppliers have FAA authority to build and sell new replacement parts which are not Cessna. Typically, a PMA part will cost around 30% off list, but there can be wide variations (some as much as 60% off, while others may cost near list price because they are better than the original Cessna). In addition to the PMA sources listed in the figure and Owen Bell's fiberglass or carbon fiber replacement parts, you should do a diligent search on the Internet to see if you can find other suppliers; Googling "aircraft windows" brings up LP Aero and Great Lakes Aero, and once I was in need of the large plastic caps at the top of each of the rudders and using search terms like "wing tips" and "rudder caps" I found a firm in Florida that makes them out of fiberglass for about 85% less than a new Cessna unit.
For bearings, a good source of non-Cessna new bearings is Dixie Aerospace; they distribute new RBC bearings at prices that can be a third those of Cessna.
If you can't find new PMA parts, you're still not forced to buy expensive parts from a Cessna dealer. You can try to find them in the surplus market (the pinkish box below). These are new Cessna parts sometimes bought by firms (like Preferred Airparts and KRN Aviation Services) from Cessna dealers that have gone out of business. As mentioned earlier, Don Nieser at Commodore has a large stock of these parts, bought from the U.S. military after the Skymaster O2s used in Vietnam were retired from service.
If you're buying seals in the new-surplus market, check for currency of seals (cure date) and that the sealed packaging is undisturbed -- this is always a good idea, but especially when you are buying from suppliers whose items may be somewhat older.
Another special option deals with exhaust parts (mufflers, tailpipes). My experience is that the repair facilities that do exhaust parts will "repair" your item, regardless of how dilapidated it may be, and return to you essentially a new item. They'll use maybe a clamp or a tiny piece from your old item and use new items for the rest, and that qualifies as a repair under their FAA repair license. I suggest you get a recent Trade-a-Plane, look for the several display ads from exhaust system repair shops and call them. I think it may be 1/10 of other alternatives.
Your last resort, but often an unavoidable one, is to buy new parts from a Cessna dealer (the red box in the logic-tree figure below). Here there are several choices. Yingling is my favorite for its discount, great customer service and immediate shipment directly from Cessna's vast stock (they're both in Wichita). One drawback, since they have little stock of their own, is that for small items (bolts, etc.) their minimum order is too large (e.g., you need 2 but they won't sell you less than 25). In those instances, you want to find a Cessna dealer with its own sizeable inventory; I have found El Cajon Aircraft Supply to be a good choice. Pearson Air in Olympia WA is another Cessna dealer sometimes mentioned as having the best discount on parts.
The suppliers identified in the image or mentioned above are listed below with phone numbers. The author has previously found these suppliers reputable. It is only a partial list and other reputable suppliers exist.
Contact for suppliers listed above:
(Don't forget to search the Internet for other suppliers)
Aircraft Spruce -- 877-477-7823 (www.aircraft-spruce.com)
Air Salvage of Dallas -- 800-336-6399
Atlanta Air Salvage -- 800-237-8831
Aviation Enterprises -- 615-865-1802 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chief Aircraft -- 800-447-3408 (www.chiefaircraft.com)
Commodore -- 405-503-4686 or 722-4079 (email@example.com)
Dixie Aerospace (mostly bearings) -- 801-489-2000 (www.dixieaerospace.com)
Dawson Aircraft -- 877-293-5300 (www.aircraftpartsandsalvage.com)
El Cajon Aircraft Supply -- 800-888-3227 (www.elcajonaircraft.com)
Great Lakes Aero -- 888-826-2043 (www.glapinc.com)
J.T. Evans -- 800-421-1729
KRN Aviation Services -- 800-366-6462 (www.krn.com)
LP Aero -- 800-957-2376 (www.lpaero.com)
McFarlane Aviation -- 866-920-2741 (www.mcfarlane-aviation.com)
Pearson Air -- 800-562-6374
Plane Plastics -- 580-327-1565 (www.planeplastics.com)
Precision Hose Tech. -- 800-331-5946 (www.aircrafthose.com)
Preferred Airparts -- 800-433-0814 (www.preferredairparts.com)
SVA -- 530-279-2111 (Phone is disconnected, company may no longer exist)
Yingling Aviation -- 800-854-2647 (www.yinglingaviation.com)
Group Picture of Skymaster fly-in and meeting in Oklahoma City on April 21-24, 2004
Last updated May 19, 2011
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