Pre-owned Update: Market for Older Aircraft Makes Slower Recovery

 - December 11, 2007, 6:38 AM

Some markets that have refused to pick up thus far, despite attractive pricing, might finally spark buyer interest this year. The Gulfstream II and GIII as well as the Challenger 600 may have felt all the pain they are going to. Some buyers have described the GII as a throwaway aircraft, meaning simply that if they buy one, they will do so with the intent of parking it once the engines have no more useful life. Some finance companies have thumbed their noses at the GII, barring the old battle-ax from their portfolio. No wonder prices have wandered into the sub-$2 million territory, and buyers with big-aircraft envy may view this as a great time to buy. Two years ago GIIs peaked at 61 for sale, and that number has slowly drifted to the current level of 47. This is the lowest level it has reached since peaking, and one it has held for the last few months, and represents 23 percent of the 189 GIIs in service.

The GIII, which visited a few more peaks and valleys than its predecessor as it departed its September 2002 high of 49 aircraft for sale, has unwound to 35 currently. That’s still a lot of GIIIs–17 percent of its active fleet, in fact–but a recovery from the 25 percent during the peak. This market, more so than that for the GII, could tighten further this year. Offerings from the mid-$4 million to $7 million range seem to offer good bang for the buck, and buyers may be awakening to this fact, especially those who remember this is half of what these airplanes were fetching five and six years ago.

Similarly, the earliest Challenger, the Lycoming-powered 600, is trading at price levels of 10 years ago, before buyers began to recognize the attractive dollar-to-size ratio. Like many aircraft, including the GII and GIII, the Challenger 600 hit an inventory peak of 32 in the middle of 2002, but unlike the GII and GIII it hasn’t budged much since. By the middle of last year it started to place some distance between that peak number by reducing its pre-owned offerings to 23, but then reversed course only to reclaim its perch atop 30, where it currently resides. That places it at 37-percent availability, or twice as soft as the GIII market and considerably softer even than the GII market.

So as this year unfolds the pre-owned market seems poised to begin much as last year ended, with late-model and current production aircraft leading the charge, but with perhaps more momentum in the 10- to 20-year-old aircraft segment, as lowered prices have begun to make buyers take a second look. While maintenance costs will surely be higher in this group than for nearly new aircraft, a seven-figure price variance can go a long way toward offsetting higher operating costs. With regard to some of the most senior aircraft in the fleet, this year might even begin to answer the old industry adage that “Any aircraft will sell. The question is, ‘At what price?’”