If you’re shopping the used aircraft marketplace, should older jets automatically be ruled out of your search? Aircraft appraiser Jeremy Cox highlights five older business aircraft that could be worth a second look, and why…
It’s apparent to me that the current state of the business jet marketplace can be divided into three separate segments:
- Large Cabin/Heavy Jets: This is a strong market, but late models suffer from significant depreciation in value during the first five years of service.
- Aircraft younger than 2005 (Mid-size and Smaller): There is a lack of inventory at present, therefore values within this segment are increasing.
- Everything else: Values continue to drop and some will struggle to find any buyer, now or in the future. Worse, still, the part-out market for these aircraft is rapidly diminishing. Many of the jet aircraft in this segment are what I would term ‘Jurassic’ jets.
So what, in my opinion, defines a Jurassic jet? I tend to use the following criteria:
- Is the aircraft older than 25 years?
- Does it have Cathode Ray Tube EFIS (if at all)?
- Does it have analog systems instead of digital?
- Does it lack the efficiency of winglets (a few exceptions apply here)?
- Is it lacking Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC)?
- Does it operate with lower engine core by-pass air?
- Does it lack efficient/optimized exhaust mixing?
- Are there few (if any) composite engine parts?
- Does it have lower Inter Turbine Temperatures (ITT)?
- Is there a lack of turbine gearing?
- Is the aircraft on hard-time engine overhaul intervals (i.e. unqualified for MSG 3/on-condition)?
The average year of manufacture for the entire business jet fleet (which consists of over 21,000 aircraft) is 1991, putting the average age at 28 years. Almost 20% (>4,100 aircraft) of all business jets manufactured have since been written-off for various reasons, with obsolescence being the primary cause.
For the more than 4,100 aircraft that have been written-off over time, the average total-hours since new is a mere 5,500 hours, which – viewed through the lens of the airline industry – is less than two years’ worth of operations for an aircraft like a Boeing 737 or 757.
Table A (below) illustrates this transition by listing the Fleet Depletion, by Model, where more than 75% of the model’s fleet has been retired/written-off.
Older Aircraft That are Worth a Second Look
With this in mind, are older business jets ever worth considering in the used jet market? In some cases, the answer is a definite ‘yes’ as we’ll illustrate here…
The financial qualifications to own a business jet (as opposed to utilizing shares, jet cards or charter) are more than $25m net worth if you’re an individual, or over $120m annual sales as a corporation. If a potential business jet owner has less wealth or sales, they may well find that covering the annual operating cost (as well as debt service) on a new, or nearly new aircraft is very tight.
In today’s divided marketplace, however, potential buyers could choose to focus on the ‘Everything Else’ market segment I identified, and there are several great buys that could be considered here.
More than 10 years ago, before the Great Recession struck, I would often hear potential buyers say, “I can buy lots of gas for a couple of million dollars”, when they were in the market for a used jet and didn’t care that older aircraft had less fuel efficient engines.
Today’s fuel prices are stable and low, and for prospective buyers who are willing to be the last owner of a jet before it either ‘times-out’ on its engines, or completing a future airframe inspection is no longer fiscally viable, there are some excellent deals available that are well worth considering. These include:
- Bombardier Learjet 35A (equipped with Honeywell TFE731-2-2B)
- Bombardier Learjet 55 (equipped with Honeywell TFE731-3A-2B)
- Mitsubishi Diamond 1A (equipped with Pratt & Whitney JT15D-4D)
- Sabreliner 65 (equipped with Honeywell TFE731-3DR-1D)
- IAI Westwind I/II (equipped with Honeywell TFE731-3-1G).
The criteria used to select the above list of aircraft included:
- A purchase price below US$300k (which is less than the down-payment on a new aircraft);
- If Honeywell TFE731 powered, FAA AD 2012-17-05 for the first stage low-pressure turbine rotor discs (due by October 2020) cannot apply. The compliance cost is likely to exceed the value of the aircraft. (This includes the 731-4 and 731-5 series engines);
- An airframe maintenance schedule predominantly governed by flight hours, rather than a calendar date;
- Landing gear overhauls (if applicable) cost less than $100k to accomplish;
- Parts and Components are readily available and relatively inexpensive from multiple ‘third-party’ sources.
You’ll also note that none of the above aircraft feature a stand-up cabin. That’s because most (if not all) of the larger cabin aircraft are economically challenged due to any one of the following reasons:
- ADS-B compliance will cost too much;
- Engines are subject to a calendar interval mid-life inspection/overhaul due to corrosion;
- Calendar inspection/checks may exceed the value of the aircraft;
- A landing gear overhaul may exceed the value of the aircraft.
Therefore, using one of today’s leading Light Jets (‘Sample New Jet’), Table B, below, provides a comparison with the five older used jets we’ve identified as being worth a second look.
Note: The Direct Operating Cost (DOC) used is from the JetBrokers aircraft comparison tables (www.jetbrokers.com) and assumes a fuel cost of $4.25/gal, engine reserves (either MSP or overhaul agency estimates), and maintenance costs using information gathered from operators. All inspection estimates are based upon operating 400 hours per year, averaging 1.5hr legs.
Establishing an Aircraft’s Efficiency Rating
We summarize our review of older jets worth a second look using a formula provided by Robin Higham, whose comprehensive book ‘100 Years of Air Power and Aviation’ includes an ‘Efficiency Rating Scale’ that can be applied to all aircraft.
The three parameters used in creating an efficiency rating are:
- (X) Maximum Gross Take Off Weight (MGTOW)
- (Y) Maximum Level Speed (Max VNO)
- (Z) Design Range
‘Z’, multiplied by ‘Y’, multiplied by ‘X’, divided by 50,000,000 equals the aircraft’s Efficiency rating. Table C (below) presents the results using the Higham scale for our older aircraft and the same ‘Sample New Jet’. The results leave plenty of food for thought…