Should you buy a New or Used Private Jet?

If you’re buying a business jet does it make sense to purchase one new from the manufacturer, or shop the pre-owned marketplace? David Wyndham considers the pros and cons of each option…

David Wyndham  |  23rd December 2020
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    David Wyndham
    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and...

    Embraer Legacy 500 super mid-size jet waits for passengers

    If you are in the market to buy an aircraft and you know the make and model that you need, the next decision may be whether to buy new or used.

    While new private jets cost more to acquire than used, there is more to the financial decision than the cost of the acquisition. There’s also more to the value of what you get with new versus used. 

    Life-Cycle Cost and Net Present Value

    Previously, I covered the financial analysis tools of Life-Cycle Costing and Net Present Value. In brief, the Life-Cycle Cost takes the total costs into account, including the cost to acquire the aircraft; the costs to operate it (fixed and variable); taxes and depreciation; and the return of money as the residual value at the time of disposition.

    The Net Present Value calculations then look at when costs and revenues occur, and account for the time value of money or cost of capital.

    Those two can provide the financial best alternatives between new and used, as well as lease, finance, and purchase decisions. Each set of circumstances needs its own calculation, including tax ramifications.

    Given market depreciation over the last 12 years since the 2008 recession, a used aircraft can be acquired for significantly less than its new counterpart. For example, a new business jet selling for $24m may be acquired used, out of warranty, well under age 10, for perhaps $12m.

    Even after taxes, Life-Cycle Costs for a business aircraft tend to favor the used acquisition by a significant margin.

    What are the Advantages when Buying New?

    So, how do you decide whether to buy new or used? Let’s take some time to consider the advantages offered by each option, starting with what you get for the extra acquisition cost with a new aircraft.

    Upgrades: Within the same make/model, manufacturers can add value by increasing capability (or otherwise improving the aircraft).

    For example:

    • Updated engines may yield improved fuel consumption, reducing operating costs and increasing range.
    • An increase in the maximum weight can allow for more payload, or more fuel to be carried with high payloads.
    • Winglets tend to add to the range and climb performance.
    • The advanced avionics upgrades available on new models can add significantly to the safety features (e.g. synthetic or enhanced vision systems, Autoland, faster air-to-ground datalinks, and improved reliability).

    As an example, the Falcon 2000 family has enjoyed a production run of ~25 years. During that time, the cabin has remained the same size, but the new engines, winglets, avionic and safety system enhancements, and other upgrades found in the Falcon 2000LXS compared to some of the older models, have added significant capability and value.

    Even within models recently introduced, there can be changes from year to year installed on new aircraft.

    Warranty & Maintenance: Today’s new aircraft warranty typically runs for at least five years, and usually covers any unscheduled maintenance (including parts and labor). Based on Conklin & de Decker research, during the warranty period aircraft owners can save about 15% on labor costs and 30% on parts costs, and sometimes more.

    Even with a thorough pre-buy inspection, there is still the chance of unforeseen maintenance popping up on a used aircraft – and you incur that cost. Like all mechanical devices, as aircraft age their parts and accessories wear out, require overhaul, or need some sort of repair. These increased costs occur outside the warranty period.

    A typical eight-year old business jet can see maintenance costs about 50% higher than that of the new model, due to both warranty and the effects of aging.

    Availability: In addition to reduced maintenance costs, new aircraft typically spend fewer days undergoing maintenance, leaving more days available for use – which may be especially important to a small operation with one or two aircraft, or a commercial operation that needs the aircraft to generate revenue.

    Major inspections on aircraft occur after the aircraft has been in service for a while. The timing varies but most business jets see their first major maintenance visit somewhere between age six and ten, repeating at the same interval. If you need to maximize aircraft availability and utilization, this favors acquiring new.

    Configuration: When ordering a new aircraft, the customer gets to select the options and configuration they want. That covers the paint colors, the interior design and fabrics, and having the latest in safety equipment and avionics.

    Seating can vary, especially in larger cabins. For example, some Super Mid-size business jet buyers want an eight-seat configuration with a large galley whereas others prefer 10 seats with a smaller galley. And Large Jet buyers may consider sleeping configurations or conference tables, etc.

    Depending on your requirements, if you buy pre-owned you may not find the exact match you are searching for.

    What are the Advantages When Buying Used?

    So far, we’ve focused on the advantages offered by new aircraft. There are, of course, good reasons to consider pre-owned jets for sale too. As mentioned, the big advantage of a used aircraft is the acquisition cost and (sometimes) availability.

    A new Mid-Size Jet costs about $16m, whereas an eight-year-old used Mid-Size Jet today goes for about 50% of that ($8m). The $8 million price difference can buy a lot of maintenance and upgrades if needed. That relative differential holds true among most current production models.

    If there isn't a significant difference in capability between the new and used models, why pay more for new? Or, if you don’t need the increased capability of the new aircraft, where is the value?

    Choice: If you are purchasing a model that has been in production for a number of years, there may be a number of used models to choose from. For example, from a run of 200 aircraft, it’s not unusual to find between 15 and 25 options available on the pre-owned market. Not all of those will be viable, but there is still choice.

    Moreover, a used aircraft can be purchased and put into service in a matter of a few months, or less. 

    New business jets have a lead time of about six months from ordering to delivery if you wish to specify all the options. And popular new designs may have 12 to 24-month lead times while you wait for a production slot.

    For those wanting a new model in a hurry, there may be a ‘white tail’ available. (A ‘white tail’ is a new model that has not been delivered, either because the sale fell though or the manufacturer built too many aircraft for the current market.) These aircraft are complete, but are painted white with no other stripes or trim colors, hence a white tail.

    In Summary

    Answering the ‘new versus used’ question is essentially a matter of trade-offs. While used aircraft sell for less, they cost more to maintain and spend more time being maintained.

    Older, out of production aircraft, might not have the desired configuration or avionics needed to operate in today's environment without costly upgrades, but if a used model has all the capability you need, the lower acquisition cost compared to new can provide headroom for a lot of extra maintenance.

    There truly is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In general, pre-tax Life-Cycle Costing favors buying pre-owned. After-tax, and considering the time value of money in the Net Present Value analysis, it may favor buying new.

    Essentially, buying an aircraft costs money either up front (in the acquisition), or later (in maintenance and refurbishment).

    There is added value in buying new when you account for increased performance, model enhancements, safety features, and the ability to specify all the options. But, as already stated, that’s only if you need the extra capability.

    Before entering the market, it is essential that you do your homework, evaluating your aircraft ownership needs and requirements, to become as well informed as you can be.

    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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    Read More About: New Jets to Market

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    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham

    Editor, Ownership & Operating Costs

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and budget analysis and finance fundamentals. With several decades supporting aircraft owners and operators in making fully-informed decisions about their aircraft needs, his expertise spans from the flight department to the executive boardroom.

    David is the founder of David Wyndham + Associates, and previously he was a Co-owner and President of Conklin & de Decker where he consulted with large corporations, individuals, and government agencies on their aircraft needs.



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