Jet For Sale: Carts, Horses and the Rest of It

One of the challenges I face as an advisor to the Jet Owner Group, is that I don’t actually fly up front that much. Sure I’ve got type ratings and stories on what I’ve done, where I’ve been etc., but the fact is that when I show up at CAE or Flight Safety, well… let’s just say it is challenging.

If you don’t exercise your flying muscles they get weak. For me it is the general situational awareness, knowing how to “play the piano” and other pilot guy chit chat about being comfortable in the nest we call the cockpit. But one thing that stuck out on my last visit was loud barking from an instructor: I was exhibiting a recurring pattern of bad behavior and he didn’t like it.

“Man, you’ve got to stop doing that… just fly the airplane.”

He was commenting on my constant futurizing of events in my head – before they happened. I was preparing for the next calamity that was likely to happen, and he wasn’t miffed that I couldn’t just be a good student and enjoy a surprise, he was miffed that my mind was somewhere else. The good news is that I’m not alone and this episode in the simulator brought to light not only parallels for life and business, but how you buy, operate and manage your jet.

From the great meditative teachings, to your yoga instructor or just that person that reminds you to be more in the moment, there’s a lesson: When you aren’t in the moment, you tend to skip steps. And when you skip steps you make big mistakes.

Skipping ahead to the next crisis when you have not really fully digested the present one is something that I am prone to do in the sim mainly due to my insecurity of not being a regular pilot – I don’t do it for work. But despite the fact that I don’t fly professionally for a living full time, my pilot ego requires that I do as good a job as the everyday pilots who attend the torment of the simulator regularly.

Then I saw the obvious: Not only did I do it in the sim, but it happened in my life, business. Extending the analogy further I saw that it was a major theme with clients, often after they had called me in for assistance: They had already skipped some steps, were now in a jam and needed a solution. It could happen in an acquisition, a charter management agreement, or just how they are going to select the right shop for a major interior job, paint or just a routine B or C or big D check.

The risk to the jet owner that skips steps is that they operate in a vacuum where the marketing machine of Bombardier, Embraer or Cessna has their way with you and your emotions and gets you signed up for something that deliberately had you skip steps. The primal goal of every jet owner is to be smart and do it right. You don’t get to be “a jet owner”, if you’ve gleefully thrown logic out the window with the rest of your life, so why be any different with your jet?

First Steps

Examples of primacy in aircraft acquisition are simple, but require a bit of digging, manufacture validation and actual apples to apples comparison of what the sales team is selling vs. what your actual needs are. The most classic example faced by current and past clients is pressure from the manufacturer – you need a new jet. Here are some questions and anecdotes about first steps to jet ownership and what cues and clues you can pick up on:

Do you need a new one? Convention, marketing and fear drive your first acquisition the wrong way from the simple fact that you didn’t spend enough time thinking about this question. What does “new” mean to an airplane anyway? Isn’t the stuff overhauled all the time? When I’m paying for new, was it built this year? Or three years ago? Does the serial number match the year it got pushed out the factory door? The fact is that unless you have the need for massive depreciation – you almost never need a new one. And while buying one on your own seems scary, it isn’t if you also employ a proper set of steps in vetting the pool you are interested in.

What is my realistic 85% of the time mission profile? The sales team, pilot agenda, and aircraft manager agenda (in short, your Magus’ agenda) often drives this and it may have nothing to do with what you actually need. If you like to go to Maine for the weekend, but need to be in Denver sometimes in the week, then you have some options that will make a significant difference in cost and capabilities. You also have additional savings options if you spend time asking: Is it worth an extra $4MM to *not* stop for fuel on the way out West when you launch out of Bar Harbor? Sure Martha and Oprah can, but do you need to?

What do I actually want to spend? This question is most interesting if only how fast it changes once the buyer is able to see the broad range of wholesale pricing displayed in databases such as AMSTAT or JetNet. While these services are rudimentary tools – they offer a great first step to properly digest the sheer amount of options: “How many of these friggen’ things are there?” If the question is King Airs, you’d be surprised. There are a lot. And they are still making them. Imagine working with a realtor, but having the same access to the MLS service that they do. First step? Remove the secrecy, opacity and any hint of special sauce – it is just a database, and all the turbine aircraft in the world are in it. Purchase the data directly or through your advisor – either way, use it as the benchmark, find out who the actual owner is and work with net numbers.

What is ADS-B, NextGen and CRM? Acronyms are always a great place for those needing to sprinkle their fairy dust on their process to shine. Machine gun like recitation of abbreviations only confuses the issue. If they actually matter, get your advisor to explain what they are and then call them something else until you’ve fully understood and learned the appropriate dictionary for your mission.

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