Finding the best appraisals for your aircraft

Most owners can use a pricing digest valuation. 

An aircraft appraisal is a tool that assures all parties to an aircraft transaction some level of comfort. How thorough of an appraisal do you need? There are three levels of appraisals; each one more in-depth than the one before, each one costing a bit more as the level of analysis increases. 

There are three types—a pricing digest version such as the one offered to AOPA members through Vref, a desktop appraisal, and an onsite or physical appraisal. Let’s look at the differences.

Pricing Digest Valuation
A Vref or Bluebook analysis is good for 90 percent of people’s needs. Whew! You’ll find the majority of transactions can take place with only a Vref appraisal. The disadvantage for a pricing digest valuation is that the data is by nature a somewhat stale—at least a quarter-of-a-year old. Also, the true value of upgrades such as avionics or STCs can be difficult to determine and may not be as accurate as more costly appraisals. 

Also, the pricing digest valuation does not accurately incorporate such fluid things as current supply and demand. If an aircraft was produced in limited numbers (short supply) and demand fluctuates, the value can be much higher or lower than the pricing digests might indicate. In such cases, it is generally better to spend the money for a desktop appraisal. 

Desktop Appraisal
A desktop appraisal is done by a certified appraiser. What the certified appraiser does differently than a simple pricing digest valuation is to look at market data including what is currently on the market. The appraiser will also evaluate where the market has been trending as well as average days on market and use that to figure out where it is going. The appraiser will evaluate an individual aircraft, such as one with a JetPROP engine upgrade for a Piper Malibu, to see where it is in its maintenance schedule compared to other similar aircraft for sale, this gives a more accurate assessment of value. 

This is especially true for turboprops and light jets. Does the aircraft have maintenance expenses coming up? Is it enrolled in an engine maintenance program? A certified appraiser will look at the entire market, do a cursory check of the logbooks and specifications on the aircraft, but will not physically look at the aircraft. The cost of a desktop appraisal is typically $500 or $600.

Physical Appraisal
A physical appraisal is the most invasive—almost like a pre-buy inspection. It is the gold standard of appraisals. The appraiser is going to get into the airplane, open panels, thoroughly examine all the engine logs and maintenance logs, and take a careful look at the aircraft. This type of appraisal is recommended for truly unique aircraft like the JetPROP upgrade discussed or a Blackhawk converted aircraft. and on most jet aircraft it is a requirement.  The disadvantage of an onsite or physical appraisal is its cost—typically $2,000 to $3,000 or more.

Whether you are financing an aircraft purchase or refinancing, your colleagues at AOPA Aviation Finance are ready to help. We’ll walk you through each step of the process. If you need a dependable source of financing or refinancing with people who are on your side, call 800/62-PLANE (7-5263) or visit

Adam Meredith
Adam Meredith
President of AOPA Aviation Finance Company
Adam Meredith, the longtime president of AOPA Aviation Finance Co., died after a long battle with cancer in December 2023. He is remembered for his passion for helping fellow pilots, leading a team devoted to putting flight training and aircraft ownership within everyone’s reach.

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