AINsight: Aircraft Buying Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

 - November 5, 2021, 1:03 PM

It is a funny thing, trust and confidence. Neither happens by accident and if they do, they're usually not sustainable.

I sometimes hear from a prospective business aircraft buyer, “Bring me an airplane, and if I buy it I will pay you.” A seller might say, “I don’t want to lock my airplane up, whomever brings me a buyer I will pay.”

Now remember, those who can afford a private jet typically are very astute people. Yet when I hear the above comments about a lack of commitment to an industry professional, it makes me wonder.

It is so much smarter to have someone in a transaction who is on your side working for you and not being driven to work for themselves instead. After all, if you are not committed to the partner, they will not be committed to you. That lack of commitment can be very costly.

Back-to-back transactions can be filled with extra hands and little or no transparency. Full disclosure is imperative in a complicated transaction. In fact, given the number of first-time buyers entering the market, the idea of extra communication is vital to the buyer. The buyer should be involved at every level. Surprises are so problematic.

As prospective aircraft buyers scramble to get to a year-end finish line, I see great minds begin to work with a bit of mushiness. Worse still, I see some aviation professionals even support the weaker due diligence. Deadlines can sometimes be drivers for failure rather than success.

If the only measure of success is making a transaction have an in-service target for bonus depreciation, then the next year could prove really bad as maintenance and paperwork issues that should have been fleshed out well in advance of the sale come to light.

This could turn a new generation of buyers into thinking this is how our industry works. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Imagine buying an airplane, taking it post-closing to a Part 135 operator to add to their certificate only to find out the flight data recorder or the fire-blocking is not correct and there are no FAA 8130 part tags for traceability. The cost could be prohibitive. These are the types of missed due diligence we are hearing about as buyers focus with their sales professionals only on an in-service date.

Personally, I am not taking on new clients who want that guarantee of bonus depreciation as a mandate. Instead, I am coaching new clients to be willing to wait until the first of the year when the buying frenzy will no doubt slow some and the pricing might be more logical. I am not saying that much of the prices for preowned business aircraft will not stay higher than they have been, but the horse races might be over.

After all, once the corporate buying and selling begin again, there will no doubt be a few more of each type of aircraft available for sale. Without the lure of a certain closing date to capture a tax play and with just a slight shift in supply, the world of buying could a bit easier and smarter.

I am working hard to not just capture tax plays but buy and sell great aircraft. My sense is that the amount extra someone is willing to pay for an opportunity to capture that tax consideration will not remain as a value-add on the worth of the aircraft. Aircraft brokers need to be good stewards and maintain high due diligence standards, as well as guide our clients to make smart, strategic acquisitions. Aircraft acquisitions are a marathon, not a sprint.