Buying a Jet? Tips for Avoiding Regret

Don't be one of those aircraft owners who lives to regret their purchase. Dave Higdon shares three key tips to ensure the aircraft you buy is the right one.

Dave Higdon  |  17th August 2020
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    Dave Higdon
    Dave Higdon

    Dave Higdon was a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who covered all...

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    An executive looks on thoughtfully in a Beechcraft King Air cabin

    Long-term satisfaction from a newly acquired business aircraft should be assured before the buyer takes ownership, Dave Higdon argues.

    While a detailed pre-purchase inspection (PPI) should be a given as a part of the process, there's much more to learn about an aircraft that isn’t covered by the PPI. Yet some operators fail to understand this, thereby never giving themselves the best assurance that the aircraft they’re buying will not be the source of regret for months, perhaps years, to come…

    The reasons range from a basic lack of time management, to the buyer not budgeting for the costs of access and use to be sure of the aircraft's ability to deliver on their need. Sometimes, there’s a naïve over-reliance on the seller's maintenance team (the same team that has tended the airplane for years) to be the shop to provide the PPI, or a fresh annual inspection for the seller.

    Even rookie aviation maintenance technicians should know the downsides to that offer: Familiarity breeds mistakes. So how can a buyer best protect themselves from regretting their business aircraft acquisition?

    According to the industry veterans polled for this article, the three keys to long-term satisfaction include:

    • A satisfying, mission-accurate demo flight;
    • A technical systems assessment; and
    • A ‘smile-making’ deal.

    Step 1: The Mission-Accurate Demo Flight (or two)

    At the top of the consensus list is the need for something more than a demo flight, and instead a flight that is structured for the prospective buyer (and related users) to get a feel for the aircraft.

    Demo flights lasting between 45 minutes to an hour, out and back, are more akin to an automotive test drive. A full-spectrum mission assessment flight should necessitate taking the airplane for a day or two and flying several mission profiles that the prospective buyer specifies.

    Those missions should cover all of the routine uses that are expected of the aircraft after closing. The goal is to become familiar with how well the systems work for the company’s missions; the comfort and quality of the interior accouterments; and finally, the overall deal.

    Step 2: Systems Assessment

    How well does the galley meet with your need? Will it support the needs during a maximum-passenger trip, or provide storage space for catered food delivered to the aircraft before departure? Do all ovens and/or heated storage spaces work? How about the cold storage for beverages, and the coffee machine?

    Does the in-flight connectivity service meet with your needs? If the system supports voice calls, do those calls come through clearly, with ample modulation volume and clarity? If equipped to receive satellite television, does it work as expected? What special skills or knowledge does the in-flight entertainment system require to operate?

    And you shouldn't neglect to check the lavatory facilities installed in the aircraft. Can the fresh-water supply support the maximum-passenger, maximum-range trips within the aircraft’s performance envelope, for example?

    On the subject of performance, how well does the aircraft compare with the book performance numbers for the make and model? Is demonstrated climb, cruise and fuel efficiency within the margin for error, with numbers corrected for ambient conditions both on the ground and at altitude? Did the aircraft's runway performance reinforce the book numbers?

    The flight deck also needs verifying. Your flight crew should sample the systems to make sure the database software is current, along with all other upgradable software. Do the panel displays perform well? How about the VHF radios, communication and navigation systems?

    Returning to the cabin, do the seats feel inviting and comfortable even after several hours sitting at the folding table of a club-seating section of the aircraft? If the seats move and recline, do the controls work smoothly and easily, or does turning around one seat block access to the aisle or storage spaces?

    Larger business jets often include cabin seats that are capable of converting into a sleeper bed. If that’s the case on a jet you plan to buy, how easily is it to convert a seat into a bed and return it to its normal seat position?

    Does the cabin offer connections to charge cell phones, tablet and notebook computers, and if so, how many? Do these power connections have any limitations, such as the number of people who can simultaneously use a USB charger, for example, or be connected to the in-flight Wi-Fi?

    And with a thought to cabin comfort, does the fresh-air circulation system do a good job – or does airflow diminish with a full cabin? How noisy is the main cabin? Is conversation difficult?

    These are several, but certainly not all points for consideration in ensuring you experience no buyer’s regret in your new business aircraft. They should serve to highlight the need to make the most of the opportunity to ask the right questions, and test the answers.

    Step 3: The Quality of the Deal

    Too often people want to put this ‘Step’ first, but if the aircraft disappoints then even the best deal is unlikely to overcome the frustration and dissatisfaction discovered when examining the first two points. But assuming the first two steps have been satisfied, what exactly makes a ‘good deal’? Some of the factors include:

    • The price of the target aircraft;
    • The value of any trade-in aircraft;
    • How much of a down payment the finance institution requires (if applicable);
    • The interest rate on any loans taken to finance the deal (if applicable); and
    • The tax implications of the transaction.

    While the prospective buyer (and their staff) may be the best people to assess the aircraft for the first two steps, the most-savvy buyers typically enlist the help of a finance professional to assess the quality of the deal and its financial implications.

    With so many options in tax treatments the best recommendation is that the company's CFO or staff accountant – someone familiar with the customer company's situation and transaction practices – should be involved in making the financial assessment from the start of the search process. 

    While bonus depreciation may be available for a pre-owned business aircraft, using that deduction all at once may not be in the buying company's best long-term interest. Only the buyer's financial experts should be tasked with making that call…

    Do you have a specific aircraft maintenance, upgrade or repair need?

    Use Advantage to outline your maintenance requirements by completing our quick form, and your enquiry will be passed to qualified service providers. Receive the feedback you need to help you choose the right partner and the best deal.
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