How to Buy a Pre-Owned Business Jet

There's an old English saying that suggests that you're not grateful if you look a gift horse in the mouth. After all, when you look into a horse's mouth, you learn the finer details, including the age and the health of the animal. 

That may be fine for gift horses, but when buying a pre-owned business jet, you really need to be diligent, looking it straight in the mouth and leaving no stone unturned. That means examining all the fine details - perhaps even more so when the price seems too good to be true. Digging beneath the surface is the only way to discover what it is that you're buying, and how truly expensive it is going to be to keep in the air.

A while back, I got a call from a maintenance facility asking me if I'd be interested in following an upcoming C-Check. I don't often get calls from the MRO, and try as I might to learn the specifics of this aircraft, they were correct, protecting their customer and being diplomatic about the circumstances. I needed to do some research before deciding if I could take on the project or not.

What I discovered was the C-Check was for this aircraft's second owner. And he was freaking out.

The owner had just bought the business jet a couple of months before, and he got a really good price for it - a bargain basement deal. We're still talking in the $40 million dollar range, so by no means was this pocket change. Of course, he was excited about how he was going to use this aircraft and had already pre-planned his year ahead.

That's until he found out that his business jet was due for a major check. And that C-Check would keep it on the ground for at least the following month, or two. And it would probably cost him around a million dollars.

Unfortunately, there were gaps in the owner's understanding of what buying a pre-owned business jet would entail. He had no idea what the major checks are, when they were due, as well as the cost and down time required.

He'd gone into the purchase blind.

Of course, not everything about the purchase was blind. He certainly knew what the aircraft type, capacity, range and price was. He had flown in it and felt comfortable in its environment with the polished wood cabinetry, the delicate silk/wool carpets underfoot, and he'd sat in the luxurious swivel seats made from fine Italian leather that had been double-stitched to perfection. He liked what he saw for the money being asked, and made the buy.

Without understanding all the fine details of what owning a business jet entails, an owner can be in for some nasty expenses soon, or down the road. Those details include specifics including how the registration process works to what structured maintenance agreements are, what they cost and what they mean. And the history of the aircraft cannot be overlooked, including an overview of the routes where the business jet has been flown before and whether it had been consistently hangared or left out in the cold -- because corrosion has a huge impact on the cost of maintaining an aircraft.

If you're thinking about buying a pre-owned business jet, here are my recommendations:

1. Try to get the seller to agree to a pre-evaluation before you even think about signing an Letter of Intent (LOI). The pre-evaluation is a review of the documentation of the aircraft, and a quick walk-around to gauge if there may be major work needed post-possession. 

The pre-evaluation should be done by someone knowledgeable on that particular type of aircraft, with delivery and maintenance experience. The pre-evaluation should be done by someone who is independent, without any interest in the sale. That means no sales reps, or any sales reps' delegates.

What a pre-evaluation can give you is a cost-effective indiction right away as to whether the maintenance has been performed as it should, if the service bulletins have been adhered to -- and whether it's been struck by lightning.

2. After you sign the LOI, have someone with delivery and maintenance experience supervise the Pre-Buy Inspection on your behalf. Again, get someone with delivery and maintenance experience who is independent of the sale, to make sure that every aspect of the pre-buy is performed as it should be.

3. Decide beforehand where your aircraft will be registered and if that it can be registered there "as-is", without modifications.  If the aircraft is registered in a different country than where you want it registered, question all modifications that have been made. A modification that has been approved at one registry may not be acceptable at another, and you may have to get an STC approved before you can even get your aircraft registered.

4. Find out where it's been. Corrosion is expensive and is caused by different kinds of hostile environments, including pollution, snow, salt and sand.

5. Examine the fine print: know what the maintenance schedule is for this particular aircraft and get an idea beforehand of how much it will probably cost and how much time it will probably take.

Are you considering buying a pre-owned business jet? I specialize in a variety of business jets including products from Bombardier, Dassault-Falcon, Gulfstream and Hawker-Beechcraft. Contact me for your pre-evaluation or pre-buy supervision needs at +1-418-557-4422