While my primary job was to be an observer at the Avantair bankruptcy auction–which was held in a warehouse just a mile from the company’s former Clearwater (Fla.) Airport on Friday, January 10–I was also a participating bidder. Bidder number 156 to be exact.
My main objectives at the auction were to observe the auction process, examine what was for sale, snap some pictures and talk to bidders and other attendees. But my side mission was to walk away with some memorabilia from the bankrupt fractional provider, and for this AIN allowed me to spend up to $100.
This was the first auction I’ve ever attended, and it was nothing like those I’ve seen on TV where people sit in rows of chairs and bid on items as they come across the stage. The Avantair auction was conducted more like a walking tour of the company’s assets, while a very quick-talking auctioneer took bids from among the crowd wedged into the narrow aisles. This went on for 12.5 hours, nonstop. To be sure, my feet were killing me at the end of the day.
The four auctioneers from Starman Bros. rotated throughout the day so they wouldn’t lose their voices–and I’m really surprised they still didn’t. There were 899 lots, and each one took between one and two minutes to sell. It was very fast-paced, and I often had trouble trying to figure out what the current bid was. Auctioneer speak is almost a different language, and the learning curve was pretty steep. (If you live in the U.S. Southwest, you too can experience an aviation auction–Starman Bros. will be conducting two such auctions over the coming weeks in Mesa, Ariz.–a helicopter consignment sale on January 24 and 25, and an aircraft consignment auction from February 21 to 23.)
I was hoping to win the bid for a Piaggio Avanti elevator, an appropriate item given that the FAA’s spotlight turned to Avantair after one of its Avantis shed an elevator in flight in July 2012. This incident led the FAA to pore over the operator’s maintenance records and thus discover the company’s lax recordkeeping of life-limited parts. In turn, this led to fleet groundings in November 2012 and June 2013 and the eventual collapse of the company in July last year. But, alas, I found that even aircraft parts with questionable maintenance histories are still pricey. The elevator still sold at auction for $800–far above what I was allowed to spend.
But I still wanted a “piece” of Avantair, and I did in fact walk away with several things. For $60, not including a 5-percent sellers fee charged by Starman Bros. Auctions and 7-percent Florida state tax, I actually came away with a car trunk full.
In my first winning bid, I got a lot of eight laptop bags. Since they were behind a rack covered by plastic shrink wrap, I wasn’t able to examine them beforehand. I was hoping that they’d have Avantair logos on them, but was disappointed when I discovered after winning them that they were just ordinary bags. Or so I thought–one of them was used by ex-Avantair CEO Steve Santo, as it still contained one of his business cards, a photocopy of his National Aeronautic Association membership card and a half pack of Orbit gum. Nothing of any real value, but a smoking gun that he in fact had used the bag at one time.
My second winning bid was for two Italian-made, leather handbags–complete with an Avantair logo and a Piaggio Avanti charm hanging from a zipper–for a total of $20. These stylish (code for just hideous enough to be considered fashionable) and probably pretty expensive handbags, which were most likely promotional giveaways to new Avantair share owners, will find a nice home with my work colleague Jennifer English, the editor director of AIN sister publication Business Jet Traveler.
But by far my best purchase was the lot of 10 framed Avantair company posters for $10–total. I remember seeing many of these posters hanging on the walls at Avantair’s Clearwater, Fla. headquarters when I visited over the years. I’m still having a hard time deciding which one is my personal favorite–it’s literally a toss up between the one that says “Welcome to Avantair” and another that asks “Where can we take you today?” (to which my wife quipped, “Nowhere.”).
When I decide, I’ll hang that one in my office. Then I’ll have to figure out what to do with the rest of the posters. Maybe I’ll send them to the company’s management to remind them of the huge mess they left behind, including a long list of creditors who are owed tens of millions of dollars, unpaid employees and a fleet of broken airplanes.