See if this sounds familiar…you are a married man with a family that either loves to travel or has need of traveling, you’ve got a pilot license and 200+ hours of single-engine piston experience and an instrument rating, and you are dreaming of moving up to pressurization. You flew a Skyhawk/Cherokee for a while, moved up to a Skylane/Saratoga, and have even dabbled at turbo-charging and sticking tubes up your nose. You love the idea of speed and your wife likes comfort. She’s OK with you flying, but is far more interested in the destination than the enroute portions of the trip. If an airplane upgrade gets her to the kids/grandkids/lakehouse better/faster/easier, and it satisfies that flying “need” you’ve got that she doesn’t understand/agree with, then she’s all for you moving up in airplane…as long as it is safe…
This is the usual picture of the normal PA-46 buyer, in my experience. Moving up from an unpressurized single/twin to a pressurized cabin usually means a huge investment, literally hundreds of thousands more than what is currently in the hangar. A King Air, Mitsubishi, Cessna 400 series, or Twin Commander is out of the question due to operating expenses. The only airplane that fits this mission profile is the PA-46. So…which type of PA-46 do you seek? This is the question that I get asked a lot, and to me it all boils down to your budget.
If you don’t have $250k to spend on an airplane, or if $250/hour operating expenses make you choke, go get a Centurion/Saratoga and get used to flying in the lower altitudes. Flying is not cheap and the PA-46, although FAR cheaper to operate than any twin on the planet, is still an expensive airplane.
If your budget is $250k to $600k, I recommend 2 options:
- Buy an ’84-’88 Malibu: The Continental engine allows you to operate lean of peak, and that translates into 15-16 GPH fuel burns while going 200+KTAS. There is no cheaper PA-46 to operate. The purchase price is the lowest and it goes just as fast (or faster) than any Mirage.
- Buy a late model Mirage: For those who know me best, they know I choose the Continental-powered Malibu over the Lycoming-powered Mirage. The Mirage costs more to buy, operate, and replace the engine at overhaul. But, and this is a HUGE but…if you ever think you might have the opportunity to upgrade to a Jetprop, you might want to consider a nicely equipped, low total-time, nicely painted Mirage. Newer airplanes are a far better choice for investing $500k in a JetProp conversion. An ’85 Malibu can be upgraded to a Jetprop, but it is a FAR lesser option as compared to a more recent model. If you know you’ll never upgrade to a Jetprop and you’ve got $500k to spend, go buy a straight Malibu and use the extra $200k for a nicer interior, panel upgrade, paint job, or just for spending cash.
Got a $600k+ aviation budget? If so, I always steer pilots to the Jetprop. Go to this post to see why I believe the JetProp is the best airplane on the planet for the serious owner-flown pilot interested in a fabulous combination of speed, performance, and low-cost.