Business Aviation Market Overview - May 2021

With the vanishing supply of pre-owned business jets for sale in the early part of 2021, a new record has been set for the ‘smallest available fleet percentage’. Brian Foley reviews the situation…

Brian Foley  |  13th May 2021
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Brian Foley
Brian Foley

Brian Foley formed Brian Foley Associates (BRiFO) in 2006 to assist aerospace firms and investors with...

Private jet nose cones overlap on airport ramp

The supply of pre-owned jets for sale has steadily declined to the lowest known point in history, to the chagrin of airplane brokers and buyers alike.

Subjectively, brokers have noticed slim pickings of inventory when engaged by their clients on ‘buy-side’ assignments, and that obtaining a listing from a seller is becoming akin to finding one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets.

Objective, the data firmly supports these field observations. According to AMSTAT, the number of used jets for sale as a fleet percentage dipped to an all-time low of 5.4%. This is just half of the historical average of 10-12% of the fleet being for sale at any given time.

The Causes Behind the Record

A number of factors could help to explain how this perfect storm came together to decimate the supply of used business jets for sale.

First, the pandemic encouraged existing aircraft owners to hold onto their coveted asset to allow safer travel and avoid exposure at public airports. First time buyers came into the market for these same reasons.

Interest rates have been near zero and, when coupled with years of declining aircraft prices, have made aircraft ownership more achievable. Qualifying became easier and put aircraft ownership within reach of a larger pool of prospects.

In the United States, there were also some sales driven by those trying to lock in a favorable tax benefit as they feared it could eventually be discontinued by a newly elected administration.

Contrary to Popular Belief…

Oddly, there are some metrics accompanying this all-time-low percentage of inventory for sale that may seem contrary to popular belief.

First, the remaining supply of aircraft are not the high-time leftovers one would expect. Instead, the average airframe time on business jets listed for sale today is 6,330 hours, but as recently as 2005 that figure was 8,352 hours.

This can perhaps be explained by the huge slug of new business jets that began entering the market throughout the 2000s as fractional ownership and emerging markets drove sales, effectively lowering the average age and airframe times of today’s fleet.

Another contradiction is that even though there’s a record-low inventory of airplanes for sale from a percentage of the current fleet perspective, today’s absolute number of units for sale is well above many previous years.

For example, today’s 1,304 units for sale is triple what was on the market back in 1988 when the total business jet fleet size was just a quarter of what it is today. Using the percentage of fleet for sale (instead of units) is the more meaningful metric, since it adjusts for the greatly expanded market since the 1980s.

What are the Ramifications?

There will certainly be ramifications from this lull in pre-owned inventory. Pre-owned sales momentum will slow somewhat in 2021, due to both the pace of 2020 sales being arguably unsustainable, and the current limited supply of aircraft for sale.

The continued situation of short supply and high demand would be expected to produce firming prices for all cabin classes until the percentage of the fleet for sale rises to more traditional levels.

It’s believed that the lack of choice on the pre-owned market could drive more buyers to the new airplane showroom, causing a welcome – and unexpected – flurry of sales for the OEMs this year.

The dearth of used airplanes for sale is not a time for amateurs, and will require the deep Rolodexes and extensive industry business relationships of the veteran brokers. This collective industry talent is sufficient to make 2021 another great year for pre-owned transactions despite the ‘pre-owned scarcity’ obstacle.


Global BizAv Flying Trends – Easter

Unsurprisingly, WINGX reports global BizAv activity for Easter 2021 showed significant improvements over Easter 2020, with 11,992 sectors recorded in 2021, versus under 4,000 in 2020. Easter day activity in 2021 still lagged Easter 2019 activity, though.

The global picture for Business Aviation, coming into Q2 2021, is much healthier than for the commercial airlines (with scheduled sectors up 140% on Easter 2020, but still more than 40% behind Easter 2019).

Since the start of 2021, global Business Aviation traffic was up by 5% compared to same period in 2020. In terms of business jet movements, a new post-pandemic peak was recorded on March 27, with 8,571 daily sectors, close to last year’s pre-pandemic peak of 8,669 sectors, but substantially lower than the 8,900 daily peak back in April 2019.

The US recovery has been the most impressive, with daily activity trends above 6,100 sectors in the final week of March, compared to 4,500 during the initial phase of the recovery in the second half of last year.

Europe showed a completely different picture, with this Easter’s 1,000 daily sectors far above the trough of 260 sectors at Easter 2020 – but well short of the 1,300 sectors flown on Easter Sunday 2019.

US Driving the Demand

The comparative 2021, 2020 and 2019 data confirms that the US has been driving the global rebound in flight demand. Business jet hours in the US were up 15% YTD in 2021, versus the same period 2020.

Branded charter flights were up 20% this year, and even Private and Corporate Flight Departments were 11% busier in the first 14 weeks of 2021.

  • Teterboro had yet to regain top spot, but (at the time of writing) trends for the year were down 21%, versus 50% declines last year.
  • West Palm Beach occupied first place, seeing nearly 30,000 movements YTD, up 56% over the same period in 2020.
  • Texas was the second-busiest US State so far in 2021, recovering from ‘the big freeze’ and lockdowns to post a 22% increase on 2020. In fact, business jet usage in Texas was as high as it’s been since 2018.

European Insights

In Europe, the United Kingdom continued to see the worst declines in flight activity this year.

  • The UK ranked seventh busiest in Europe, posting 55% fewer business jet flights than in the same period 2020.
  • Both Spain and Italy were seeing ~5% gains in flight activity this year.
  • France and Germany were still down 10%.

Overall, Europe was seeing 10% fewer business jet flights this year than last (YTD), but there were several countries already ahead of their 2020 trends, including Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine.

Beyond the core European area, several countries have been seeing a full rebound from the pandemic, sustaining new, higher levels of business jet activity. Movements in Russia were trending 10% higher than in 2019, and Turkey had 27% more flight activity this Easter than at Easter in 2019.

Rest of the World

Elsewhere in the world, business jet activity was at 94% of comparative 2019 levels by Easter time.

  • The UAE saw double the number of business jet flights during the Easter break in 2021 than in 2019.
  • Overall, the Middle East saw approximately 30% more traffic this spring than in spring 2019.
  • By contrast, Canada saw 25% less business jet activity YTD in 2021 compared to 2020 (and Easter activity was 40% down, versus Easter 2019).

In Summary

“Through the lens of the US market, Business Aviation has rebounded faster and more fully than most optimistic predictions last year, with activity fast approaching 2019 levels, and matching the frenetic pace of business jet transactions,” Richard Koe, Managing Director of WINGX summarized.

“By contrast, the European market was sluggish, with the UK’s inactivity suggesting that regional recovery in travel demand will not automatically result from successful vaccination programs.”


Gulfstream Pre-Owned Market Overview

Q4 2020 witnessed the highest amount of pre-owned Gulfstream transactions in recent history, reports Hagerty Jet Group, with buyers attracted by significant price reductions - up to 20% in some cases.

Most of the transactions involved high net worth individuals who were upgrading from smaller, or older models. North America took the lead with regards to transactions, but Asia was also strong.

The larger Gulfstream models (such as the G650 and G550) took the hardest hit with regards to residual values in 2020, but reduced supply and increased demand has demonstrated that these markets are now in recovery mode.

Indeed, it could be argued that in a few months prices have already increased by 5-10%. Relating to specific Gulfstream markets:

  • The lack of late-model pre-owned inventory will send prospective Gulfstream G650ER buyers back to the OEM for new positions that will deliver in approximately 12 months.
  • Models like the Gulfstream G280 saw a spike in supply in 2020 that pushed prices down in Q4, but this market seems to have stabilized in terms of values for the moment.
  • The Gulfstream GIV-SP market has been trading steadily over the past nine months; the supply of good GIV-SP’s is low and values are expected to remain firm. The GIV-SP held its value better than any other Gulfstream model over the past 12 months at -7%.
  • The Gulfstream GV residual values dropped the most (-19%) in the last 12 months. There are some good GV’s currently for sale for less than $10m.
  • The G200 model has fared well with regards to residual values. This model lost 10% value in the last year.

The G200 offers a lot of cabin and range for first-time aircraft owners. 

The Sales Pendulum

Overall, Hagerty Jet Group feels the pendulum has swung from a Buyer’s market to a Seller’s market in the past 90-120 days, with many owners removing their aircraft from the market and keeping them.

The average supply of pre-owned jets is lower at 8%, and the supply of aircraft under five years old is almost non-existent, the company notes. “Aircraft that have come to market in the recent weeks are arguably asking 5- 10% more than they would have asked 6 months ago in some cases.”

Tack of inventory is proving to be very frustrating for buyers entering the market, the company notes. Though the large corporations have not yet returned to buying new aircraft, there are signs of hope they will do so later in the year, which should increase backlogs at the OEM, firm up pricing, and eventually add more pre-owned aircraft to the market in 2022-23.


Helicopter Market Trends for Q1 2021

Aero Asset has released data on the helicopter market trends for Q1 2021. Among the findings were the following highlights…

Transaction Volume Shrinks in Q1, As Does Supply…

  • After two strong quarters, the Q1 2021 retail sales volume dropped, compared to Q4 2020.
  • Supply of for sale turbine helicopters decreased to pre-pandemic levels.
  • The absorption rate regressed in Q1 2021, after two quarters of improvement.

Weight Class Performance

  • The Light twin-engine turbine helicopter retail sales volume contracted slightly quarter over quarter (Q/Q) in Q1 2021, following two consecutive strong quarters.
  • Medium turbine helicopter retail sales shrunk by half, Q/Q, after a very strong uptick in Q4 2020.
  • The Heavy turbine helicopter market rebounded slightly Q/Q in Q1 2021.

Liquidity Line-Up

  • The most liquid pre-owned turbine helicopter market in Q1 2021 was the Airbus H145. The Airbus H135 (which tied in first place in Q4 2020) slipped to 4th place.
  • Five of 13 markets in the line-up saw no pre-owned trades during Q1. Most were in the Medium-weight turbine helicopter class.

Deal Pipeline Bounces Back

  • After four consecutive quarters of decline in the number of deals pending at various stages of transaction, the deal pipeline grew in Q4 2020, and again in Q1 2021.
  • The deal pipeline increased 10% Q/Q and is now at pre-pandemic levels.

Read the full report here:

In-Service Aircraft Values & Maintenance Condition

A review of Q1 2021 aircraft sales data exposed strong activity, with Asset Insight’s tracked fleet posting another hefty inventory reduction. Tony Kioussis explores….

Based on Asset Insight’s March 31, 2021 market analysis, the 134 fixed-wing models and 1,661 aircraft listed for sale revealed a 4.0% inventory fleet decrease during the month, with inventory down by 13.1% YTD.

All four groups were impacted, with Large Jet inventory decreasing 2.5%, Mid-Size Jets 4.4%, Light Jets 4.9%, and Turboprops 3.9%.

Aircraft Values

The tracked fleet’s average Ask Price dropped 0.8% in March, 1.5% for the quarter, and was down 5.9% year-over-year (YoY). This represented the fourth reduction in the past five months, and was completely driven by the 4.3% decrease posted by Light Jets (with the group also recording an 8.7% loss during Q1, and 10.2% YoY).

The Large Jet category’s average Ask Price remained unchanged for the month, remaining at the group’s 12-month low, but losing 3.3% during Q1 and 12.6% YoY.

Meanwhile, Mid-Size Jets rose a slight 0.1% during March and Q1, but the average Ask Price was down YoY by 4.0%. And, the Turboprop group’s average Ask Price gained 0.5% for the month (and 1.0% during Q1), but was down 2.1% YoY.

Inventory Fleet Maintenance Condition

Change in the overall inventory fleet mix during March decreased both the Quality Rating and Maintenance Exposure figures, with available aircraft recording the following:

  • Quality Rating decreased by 0.8% to 5.312 (0.7% during Q1, and 0.3% YoY) but remained within the ‘Excellent’ range, on Asset Insight’s scale of -2.5 to 10.
  • Maintenance Exposure, defined as the aircraft’s accumulated/embedded maintenance expense, worsened (increased) by 3.2% to $1.492m during March and Q1 (6.7% YoY), signaling that upcoming maintenance events for the listed fleet will be more expensive.

Maintenance Exposure to Ask Price (ETP) Ratio

The ETP Ratio is a useful indicator of an aircraft’s marketability. It is computed by dividing the asset's Maintenance Exposure (the financial liability accrued with respect to future scheduled maintenance events) by its Ask Price.

‘Days on Market’ (DoM) analysis has shown that when the ETP Ratio is greater than 40%, a listed aircraft’s time on the market increases, usually by more than 30%. During Q1 2021, assets whose ETP Ratio was 40% or higher were listed for sale 69% longer (on average) than aircraft whose Ratio was below 40% (285 versus 482 Days on Market).

March’s market review revealed that nearly 51% of Asset Insight’s tracked models, and almost 60% of the tracked fleet, posted an ETP Ratio greater than 40%.

The 74.4% ETP Ratio for the tracked fleet represented a record high (worst) figure in March.

  • Turboprops continued to post the best (lowest) ETP Ratio, but March’s 41.5% was above the ‘excessive exposure’ point, following three consecutive months below 40%.
  • Large Jets posted a substantive improvement at 61.3%, a figure only slightly above (worse than) the group’s 12- month low.
  • Mid-Size Jets worsened to 70.5%, a figure lower (better) than the group’s 12-month average.
  • Regrettably, Light Jets established yet another record-high (worst ever) figure, this time at 113.6%, indicating most sellers will likely have very little negotiating room when it comes to price.

Market Summary

The percentage of tracked models listed for sale ended Q1 13.1% below December’s inventory, with 8.1% of Asset Insight’s tracked fleet listed for sale. Surprisingly, Turboprop and Mid-Size Jet inventories rose to 6.4% and 9.8%, respectively. Large Jet availability remained steady at 7.1%, while Light Jets listed for sale decreased to 8.2% of the active fleet.

Steady sales figures starting in Q4 2020 have led to an inventory pool that has been thoroughly picked over. While Ask Prices rose during February, they receded in March and will probably fall further as we move forward, albeit at a slow rate. Remember, at its core an aircraft is a depreciating asset, whether through its use or simply the passage of time.

Large Jets: Inventory decreased by 10% during Q1, while sales preference for higher-quality assets in March lowered the group’s Quality Rating to a 12-month low, and raised Maintenance Exposure to a 12-month high (worst) figure. At 5.589, Quality did manage to stay within ‘Outstanding’ range, but Maintenance Exposure increased 3.8% for the month, 4.1% for the quarter, and was up 1.5% YoY.

Although Ask Prices remained unchanged, the posted figure equated to the 12-month low. As we pointed out last month, with inventory down to 7.1% for our tracked models, and Quality still in ‘Outstanding’ territory, value levels should favour sellers.

Mid-Size Jets: As was the case with Large Jets, the Mid-Size Jet group’s Quality Rating and Maintenance Exposure worsened as a result of higher quality assets exiting inventory. 

While maintaining a Quality Rating within the ‘Excellent’ range, the group’s figure fell 1.5% to slightly below the 12- month average, and also lost 0.8% during Q1. It did, however, improve 0.7% YoY.

Maintenance Exposure rose (worsened) 2.0% to post a 12- month high (worst) figure. It also rose 1.0% in Q1, and 1.17% YoY. Inventory has decreased by 13.8% YTD, and with current availability at 9.8% of the tracked fleet, we believe buyers and sellers have ample room to structure mutually-beneficial transaction values.

Light Jets: Posting a Quality Rating of 5.172 (a 0.1% improvement in March, 0.5% for Q1, but 0.8% worse YoY), this antique-laden group’s rating falls within the “Very Good’ range. However, Maintenance Exposure increased 1.7% in March, even though the figure was 3.1% better/lower for Q1, and 16.0% YoY (no, that’s not a misprint).

Add to this the fact that the average Ask Price fell 4.3% in March (8.7% during Q1 and 10.2% YoY) to post a new record low value, and one can understand why the ETP Ratio surged to a record high 113.6%. On a positive note, availability has dropped 15.2% YTD and 32.0% YoY, and now stands at 8.2% of the active, tracked fleet.

Sellers of younger assets probably hold the stronger negotiating position when it comes to price. Antiques dealers must identify a buyer willing to risk becoming their asset’s final owner.

Turboprops: With the Quality Rating and Ask Price at near 12-month high values, Maintenance Exposure and ETP Ratio at better than average figures, not to mention a steadily shrinking inventory level over the past nine months, it is truly difficult to identify anything that could impede a seller’s desire to obtain good value for their turboprop asset.

By the numbers, the Quality Rating did worsen 0.5% in March and 1.3% during Q1, but it is 0.9% higher/better YoY and, at 5.182, places the group within ‘Very Good’ territory. The average Ask Price is up 0.5% for the month (just below the 12-month high figure) and 1.0% during Q1, although it is 2.1% lower YoY.

Maintenance Exposure rose 2.6% in March (1.6% during Q1), but is 5.3% lower/better YoY. The ETP Ratio has barely edged passed the 40% excessive point, and the figure is a bit better than the 12-month average. Add an inventory drop of 12.8% YTD (8.6% Y/Y) into the equation, and only 6.4% of the active fleet being listed for sale, and transactions between reasonable buyers and sellers are easily achievable.


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Brian Foley

Brian Foley

Editor, Market Intelligence

Brian Foley formed Brian Foley Associates (BRiFO) in 2006 to assist aerospace firms and investors with strategic research. In addition to his work as Market Intelligence Editor, AvBuyer, he is a regular contributor for and his views are published in the media worldwide.

Currently, Brian serves the Transportation Research Board as a member of the Business Aviation, helicopter, commercial airline and UAV system subcommittees, and he previously served on the Wall Street financial firm Board.

Before starting his consultancy business, Brian was marketing director at Dassault Falcon Jet for 20 years, and started his career at Boeing. He is an instrument-rated private pilot.



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