Does Cabin Wi-Fi Provide a Direct Connection to Higher Aircraft Resale Value?

May 2018

This piece was researched and written by AIN's content marketing department with final approval by Gogo Business Aviation.

Wi-Fi value: What’s the ROI?

Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to be flying an airplane with a modern Wi-Fi system and you’re thinking of selling. What return can you expect on that investment?

“There is a relationship to what that system originally costs,” explains Jay Mesinger, CEO and president of Mesinger Jet Sales. “You can expect a return of 0 to 25 percent for a legacy system; about 40 percent for a newer system that may not deliver the exact capabilities the next owner wants; and 75 to 80 percent of hardware value for a modern Gogo system.”

Notes Dennis Rousseau, president and founder of AircraftPost: “The biggest mistake I see owners make is over-equipping their aircraft compared with others on the market. As with anything in an airplane, you can easily go overboard and add too many capabilities. The smart thing is to install a package that will fit your needs until the airplane sells.

“Every system has some drawbacks,” he adds. “If you try to eliminate all the possible technical problems, you’ll end up installing a system that the next owner may not want to pay to use. That will negatively impact its value.”

Says Jim Becker, an accredited senior appraiser for Elliott Jets: “I just did an appraisal on a 2015 Falcon 7X that belonged to a bond trader. It has Wi-Fi, satellite TV, and all the rest. In his business, he could not afford to be out of touch with the bond market. It was a unique installation that was created for his needs. The next owner may not want to pay for that.

“In this case,” Becker continues, “I appraised the system’s value retention at 80 percent and added nothing for the satellite TV system. Most prospects in this segment don’t care much for TV, so there isn’t any retention value in it.”

Becker says early-generation Wi-Fi systems don’t tend to add value, either, because technology has changed so fast. Saying an airplane is “Wi-Fi equipped” may get a prospect’s attention, but an educated buyer won’t pay a premium for an out-of-date system.

“Today, without a doubt, any aircraft with a Gogo Biz system will sell faster,” Mesinger says. “How much more it will sell for depends totally on the aircraft and the needs of the buyer.”

Says Doug Roth, who handles aircraft marketing and acquisitions at Duncan Aviation: “If you have two aircraft that are exactly the same except one has Wi-Fi, I think the majority of buyers today would prefer the one with Wi-Fi. It eliminates the need for additional cost and downtime to install it afterwards. That alone helps make it more valuable. Downtime is something all owners want to avoid.”

Wi-Fi value: Install to sell?

Would it pay to invest in Wi-Fi in your airplane just prior to sale?

“It depends on who you think is the best candidate to buy the airplane,” Roth says. “If you think it’s a company or an individual, then I would not install the system prior to selling. But if you think your airplane will be attractive to the charter market, then adding Wi-Fi may be well worth considering. I would at least have equipment and installation quotes ready and available for the next owner.”

Mesinger says that he would not advise an owner to upgrade an aircraft just as a resale tool unless it’s a safety- or FAA-mandated change. “I wouldn’t spend money trying to anticipate what the next owner may want in a system,” he explains. “It may help the aircraft sell faster, but it normally won’t help it sell for that much more money—unless the prospect really wants Wi-Fi.

“However, if the aircraft is going in for major maintenance that will have the interior disassembled prior to sale, then you should consider installing a system,” Mesinger adds. “It will save much of the installation cost.”

Notes Roth: “If you don’t want to spend the money for a full installation, you can take advantage of the C-check inspection to have the MRO make provisions for a Wi-Fi system later on. Once all the headliners and bulkheads are out, running the wire for the antenna and components is easy.”

Wi-Fi Value: The Part 91 versus 135 perspective

“I think the resale value of a Wi-Fi system is much higher with some buyers than with others,” says Becker. “If the aircraft will be used for Part 135 charter operations, then Wi-Fi is a must-have today. Most charter customers will ask the Wi-Fi-on-board question first when they consider an aircraft.

“You can get Wi-Fi on practically any airliner for under $10,” Becker adds. “So if you’re spending tens of thousands chartering a jet, you expect the best high-speed connectivity. If an airplane doesn’t have it, you just move on to the next one.

If the aircraft won’t be used for charter, Becker says, the importance of Wi-Fi depends on the airplane model and the owner’s needs. “Larger-cabin aircraft usually fly greater distances and that means more time for passengers to be disconnected if they lack Wi-Fi,” he explains. “Those aircraft typically benefit more from having it.”

As Rousseau states, “Buyers of larger- cabin aircraft today say they need connectivity. They’re going to be in the air for 10 to 12 hours, and they can’t afford to be out of touch,” he says. “For business operators, $100,000 for a system is affordable when compared with the cost and value of moving their executives around.

“Efficiency is why they operate an airplane in the first place,” Rousseau continues, “so the cost of Wi-Fi is inconsequential compared with the cost of lost productivity if you don’t have it. To be most productive and efficient, you need to be connected.”

Wi-Fi value: Does cabin size matter?

A decade ago, Wi-Fi connectivity was still the domain of the big satellite systems found on heavy-iron Globals, Gulfstreams, and BBJs. But today, thanks to the shrinking size of hardware and fees, high-speed broadband capabilities are finding their way onto smaller and smaller aircraft.

“I have a bank client in Montana that recently purchased a Pilatus PC12 single-engine turboprop to move executives all over the north-central area of the United States,” explains aircraft appraiser Pat Duggins. “The executives have to stay in touch, so they wouldn’t even look at an airplane that did not have Wi-Fi in the cabin.

“In today’s market, whether it’s a single turboprop or a larger business jet, people buy airplanes to save time and increase efficiency,” Duggins says. “Cabin connectivity is a critical piece of that efficiency equation.”

While cabin size may not be a limiting factor to the added value that Wi-Fi brings to an aircraft, the type of system providing that connectivity may well have an impact.

“If an aircraft has been internationally based and is being imported into the U.S. for sale, it may well be equipped with a more internationally based system like SwiftBroadband,” explains Mesinger. “So its value to a buyer won't be as high as that of a U.S. system like Gogo Biz. The SwiftBroadband system is just much more expensive to use per minute than Gogo.”

If a new owner wants to fly internationally or offer the aircraft for international charter, adds Mesinger, “then a system like SwiftBroadband or BBML—even though they have high subscription costs—may be desirable. The buyer may want to be able to take advantage of the international connectivity capabilities.  

“If you have a newer U.S.-based Phenom 300,” says Mesinger, “you probably wouldn’t invest in a satellite system if all you’re after is movies or programming. But would you invest $100,000 or so in a Gogo Biz system? Certainly.”

Another factor to consider regarding on-board Wi-Fi as a value add is how many users the system can connect at once. “You have to be able to connect all the seats on the airplane simultaneously for the system to have value to the typical owner,” Roth says. “Some lesser-priced systems or packages are limited in that respect. If everyone on the aircraft can’t connect when they want to, the system doesn’t offer much value.”

Aircraft owner/operators and passengers are quickly moving cabin connectivity higher and higher up on their “got-to-have” list of amenities. So does having Wi-Fi boost an aircraft’s resale value? Today the answer is most likely yes, especially for a newer system. But like much in the world of business aviation, it depends on the exact situation.