Tips When Shopping Older Citation Jet Markets

With thousands flying around the world, Cessna Citation 500-series business jets have built a solid, reliable reputation in the industry over the past 40+ years. But do they represent good value in the pre-owned marketplace? Tom Lelyo explores...

Tom Lelyo  |  13th July 2023
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    Tom Lelyo
    Tom Lelyo

    From Youth Ministry to selling million dollar private jets, Tom Lelyo was the Top Producer in one of...

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    Tips for buying older Cessna Citation Jets

    If you're in the market for a pre-owned Light or Mid-Size Jet, the chances are that you've at least considered one of the legacy Cessna Citation 500-series models. Spanning decades of production, these include the Citation 500, 501, 550, 551, and 560 along with their respective iterations.

    As with aircraft of all makes and models, there are pros and cons to weigh before taking ownership. The following article seeks to help you navigate through some of the bigger points you’ll need to consider, including depreciation, affordability, ingle pilot operations, and pilot and maintenance support.

    It should also be noted that the same considerations should be given to all pre-owned private jets, whether Citations, Learjets, Hawkers, or other. Without further ado, let’s delve a little deeper...

    Harnessing Full Depreciation Benefits

    When it comes to buying an older private jet, its previous owners have already taken the biggest depreciation hit. It’s no different to the first person who drives a luxury car off the showroom forecourt.

    Older Cessna Citation 500 series jets have already experienced significant market depreciation, meaning pre-owned buyers can enjoy the advantage of purchasing one at a fraction of their original cost. For example, while the initial price of a Cessna Citation 500 was $695k (equivalent to $5.5m in today’s money), you can now buy one for as little as $500k.

    Tax depreciation further sweetens the deal. In the United States, you can currently write-off 80% of your purchase price. However, the depreciation drops to 60% from January 1, 2024, and disappears altogether in three years’ time.

    Nevertheless, when shopping the low-cost market for older pre-owned Citations, bear in mind that their original avionics and cabin systems will offer nothing like the capability and functionality of modern-day systems. For example, some were built before in-flight connectivity developed into what it is today, or perhaps contain legacy avionics in the flight deck.

    You will need to select carefully from the available options on the market, ensuring they have been upgraded to meet your needs, along with any upcoming equipage mandates.

    With a low market value, the last thing you need to do is spend more on upgrading the jet than you paid to acquire it. If the previous owner has borne the bulk of the cost required to bring the aircraft’s systems up to present-day functionality, so much the better!

    Older Cessna Citations: Attractive Price?

    If they’re equipped to meet your flying needs, older Citations offer an accessible entry point into the world of private jets without compromising on performance or style.

    In 2023, you can expect to find a solid Citation 501 (ISP) available on the pre-owned market for around $500k. Other models in the Citation 500 line top out at just over $2m (for a Citation Ultra) with plenty of options available in between to suit every budget.

    Compared to a brand-new Cessna CJ4 Gen2 which costs about $9m to buy, while the CJ4 Gen2 offers some additional range, speed, and greater fuel efficiency, it can be difficult to ignore the $7m lower cost of the older model.

    If you have the need to fly up to 1,600nm, accessing any States carrying five to eight passengers and a single pilot, the $500k-$2m price of an older Cessna Citation model is appealing.

    Navigating the Maintenance Maze

    Again, you will need to be smart when selecting from the pool of available Citations. Make sure you understand when the next overhaul is due for any particular model, since the price of an overhaul per engine could easily exceed the purchase price of the aircraft.

    While shopping private Jets, you may have come across the idea of an enrolling with an engine maintenance program, which allows you to set aside funds for engine maintenance items such as an Overhaul or Hot Section Inspection.

    Unfortunately, many older Citations built before the late-1990s/early 2000s are not enrolled on engine programs. Where a jet is enrolled, it is worth finding out how much money has already accrued towards any upcoming overhaul or inspections. But if the engines are not enrolled, it’s worth considering the alternatives to overhaul.

    One option is an engine extension program that allows the engines to go past the TBO time. Alternatively, engine exchange programs enable you to exchange high-time engines for newly refurbished ones, with the engine OEM discounting the value of the jet’s old engines from the price of the newly overhauled ones. 

    Or, if you are a Part 91 operator you could consider undergoing a Hot Section Inspection in lieu of a full overhaul.

    Again, you will need to do some solid calculations on what each option will cost, and whether it makes sense to proceed with the acquisition, but having done the math, if you find it is worth pushing ahead with buying an older Citation 500 model, you can rest assured that there are plenty of qualified MRO shops who can undertake the work who specialize in these jets.

    In fact, your maintenance costs can be more easily controlled with an older Citation model because the market for spare parts is robust. There are plenty of cost-efficient options available for maintaining your jet, and while you might not bring your vintage jet back to Textron for maintenance there is a solid base of experienced mechanics, some of whom specialize in legacy Citation models, helping ensure your older jet receives the love and care it deserves.

    Single Pilot Advantage

    One of the key advantages of the older Cessna Citation 500 series is their design for simplicity and ease of use, particularly when it comes to single-pilot operations. While the Citation 501 (ISP) and 551 (IISP) can be operated by a single pilot ‘out of the box’, the entire Citation 500 series can be flown by a single pilot with the SP Waiver.

    Obtaining the SP Waiver requires a minimum of 1,000 hours of total flight time and 500 hours of turbine flying time. You should factor that there are additional costs for the initial type rating and re-certification, and it's also crucial to consult with your insurance company beforehand, as some carriers may have specific restrictions for owners/operators who prefer to fly their Citation single-pilot.

    Legacy Citation models also create a unique pilot community thanks to the fact this ‘family’ of jets share common type ratings. Pilots with a type rating in one model can often fly others through a process called ‘difference training’, meaning that if you buy a Citation 560, for example, the Captain of a Citation 550 is likely to also be familiar with your jet, and could take the reins of your operation with minimal effort.

    In fact, the legacy Citation pilot pool is one of the largest contract pilot pools in the industry, precisely because of this shared type rating system.

    Legacy Citation Due Diligence Tips

    As a savvy jet buyer, you will know that the least expensive element of owning one is the purchase price. When it comes to older Citation jet models, some of which have been operational for more than 40 years, a thorough pre-buy inspection should be an absolute must, helping avoid unexpected, expensive surprises later. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

    • Look for continuous and complete logbooks.
    • Insist on a borescope inspection of the engines, verifying the engine maintenance status and the due dates of any major upcoming inspections or overhauls.
    • If you plan on running an engine until it needs to be overhauled, double check the life limited parts have enough time on them to reach the next major scheduled event.
    • Take a test flight – pressurization issues can blight these older jets, so make sure the one you’re buying is not affected.

    Ultimately, if you take all the care to do your homework and due diligence, the legacy Cessna Citation 500 series jets are classics, exuding elegance and reliability, and are very well supported in terms of service and support from the industry.

    If you buy a high-quality example, it will provide you with an exceptional flying experience without compromising style or performance. With a touch of vintage class and a dash of modern adventure, one of these flying machines could be the perfect low-cost companion for your high-flying dreams.

    Read more tips on shopping for older Cessna Citation jets

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    All Photos by Ally Dale, Instagram

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