What are some of the considerations when shortlisting the next aircraft to buy? Why is it important to focus on needs, versus wants? Johnsonville aviation director Andre Fodor provides some useful insights…
My friend was emphatic as we discussed his new job flying an older jet model: “This aircraft never breaks,” he enthused. “Everything starts without glitches, and we dispatch every time!”
This was music to my ears, just as it should be to any other flight department manager or director of maintenance whose sleep is disrupted by reliability issues, maintenance hiccups, deferrals, delays and canceled flights.
In fact, the conversation made me rethink the process for selecting an aircraft to add to the flight department; particularly what should be considered in the analysis leading to a final purchase recommendation to our principals?
There’s merit in looking at how the airlines maintain high levels of dispatch. Scheduled airliners are ultimately revenue-generating machines. They’re not ‘babied’, stored in hangars, or washed after every flight. And they’re not maintained by one mechanic with specific serial number knowledge and expertise. Nevertheless, the scheduled airlines generally keep their aircraft flying, meeting most of their schedule demands.
The OEMs build airliners with reliability in mind. Cockpits are relatively sparse compared to modern corporate jets and the focus is on what is needed to get the job done with operational robustness. Airline operators will always opt for reliability over style, ensuring commonality of operations, avionics, parts and training across the fleet.
What’s Necessary in Your Next Jet?
While I’m not advocating a ‘bog-standard’ approach to selecting a business jet, there should certainly be questions asked as to which equipment is really necessary, and which would fall into the ‘nice to have’ category.
Corporate cockpits tend to boast the latest in avionics, with high-definition color screens and sophisticated interfaces which are aesthetically beautiful and fun to use. In the cabin, the latest options for entertainment combine a vast network of data, video and audio that raise the experience of flying private to new levels. But could all of this come at a cost to reliability?
Business jet systems are so complex that one electron hiccup may cause all to malfunction. Some modern technology has not matured sufficiently to guarantee long-term reliability.
To compound the problem, there’s a growing shortage of technical expertise within the industry. Many of Business Aviation’s technicians have had to become network specialists, for example.
Sourcing the experts to maintain the complex systems on business aircraft remains a challenge, and this should be a consideration when considering the next aircraft purchase. What technology do you really need to successfully fly the mission, and what is its track record on the market?
Safeguarding Against Reliability Issues
As with all technology, product maturity plays an important role in helping complex systems remain reliable. As a rule-of-thumb, it takes eight months for a new aircraft to mature through all the glitches that invariably plague it as it enters service. Some airplanes have greater maturation issues, and even aircraft of one serial number will behave differently to the next. If you’re buying an airplane that is still in production, it’s worth selecting a representative to audit the critical phases of assembly and manufacture.
Older business jets face their own reliability challenges, and when you’re considering buying a jet that is no longer under manufacturer warranty, you should consider aircraft that are already enrolled on an hourly maintenance cost program.
Be aware that all things are not created equal, though. Whether a manufacturer warranty or an hourly maintenance cost program, there will be different levels of coverage. For example, some will cover corrosion while others may offer no protection in that regard. Although two may seem similar, warranties or hourly maintenance cost programs require careful attention and negotiation prior to a purchase.
You could also check whether there’s an OEM-owned or authorized service center near to your operation, assuring that you’re not geographically isolated from maintenance expertise, technical support and training for your next aircraft when it’s needed.
And when deciding on a specific aircraft make/model to purchase, keep in mind that there are several current production models designed for similar mission needs. It’s worth considering the in-operation fleet size, because being one of a large fleet can bring advantages, such as more expertise through a larger network of service providers, and more affordable and plentiful parts.
However, you may find there’s more demand for maintenance and inspection slots, and training, forcing you to plan further ahead if you want to keep the aircraft flying on your schedule.
Alternatively, purchasing a lesser known (new) aircraft make/model could give you deferential treatment from the OEM as a ‘brand ambassador’, rendering better terms and longer warranty agreements.
Closing Thoughts on Buying a Jet
As you choose your next aircraft, consider current and future growth in your corporation. Will the airframe fulfill your load needs now and for the next five years? Growing out of an airplane too soon can create financial losses. Besides missing the depreciation advantages, you’ll waste any investment in training, tooling and aircraft induction.
All of this makes it vital to research your next jet, getting beyond your wants and focusing on your needs. Read the supporting information and product specifications and be sure to make an educated decision based on real-life data and experiences. This will yield the best available choice, value and reliability that everyone within the corporation can be happy with.
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