Private aircraft sales are soaring again, as the economy rebounds and busy top executives and talent realize that more than ever, the old adage is true: Time is money.
A top-of-the-line Gulfstream G650 is capable of whisking you from Los Angeles to Tokyo in under 10 hours, several hours less than it would take you to fly out of a commercial hub with its long lines, flight delays and long lines for security checks. Private jets also allow the convenience of landing at smaller airports closer to your financial destination.
While an aircraft purchase may seem hard to justify on an initial dollars and cents basis alone, the ease of use and control of schedule is priceless to top executives and entertainers over time.
“People using private aircraft for business are usually at the top of their fields," said Bill Verhelle, founder and CEO of First American Equipment Finance, a Fairport, N.Y.-based company acquired by City National Bank in 2012. "They're either busy celebrities or they're leading large companies, and their time is very valuable.”
“Private jets mean speed and convenience, but arranging the financing for them is often just the opposite – laborious and difficult,” Verhelle said. “A small-cabin plane used mainly for short hops is likely to cost $2 million or more while that new Gulfstream G650 can set you back $60 million. The money involved, along with questions of maintenance, registration and flying time, make the transactions far more complex than taking out a loan to buy a house or a car,” Verhelle said. The paperwork is voluminous, and the terms tend to vary with every deal.
"Each financing is unique," the experienced lender said. "When you get a car loan, they might say, 'Do you want four or five years?' With aircraft, it's 'What does the client need?' There's much more customization involved."
“The first question would-be buyers must ask is whether buying is really the best option,” said John Unchester, a senior vice-president who serves as aviation expert for First American Equipment Finance. “Chartered jets are readily available – top-tier planes go for $3,000 to $8,000 or more per hour, according to Forbes magazine – and leasing also makes sense for many travelers.”
However, there is a certain cachet associated with having your own aircraft. There are practical considerations, too, in particular, ease of movement. “Private jets can take advantage of small general-aviation airports, which are far more numerous than major commercial airports and generally far less crowded,” Unchester said. “Many smaller airports also tend to be less constricted by freeway traffic.”
"You don't have to get to the airport two hours early," Unchester said. "If you get there even two minutes early, you're on time."
Anyone shopping for a jet should carefully consider how big a plane to buy. International travel requires greater range and cabin space. "If you only travel within the United States, you want to avoid over-buying an aircraft," Unchester said. The higher initial price of a larger plane usually comes with greater annual costs for insurance, maintenance and hangar fees. Those easily can total more than $1 million a year.
“Finding an experienced lender is also important,” Unchester said. Consummating a purchase can take weeks and a myriad of documents need to be in proper order. Aircraft owners must register their jets with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in Oklahoma City. Large aircraft must also be registered with the International Registry. The lenders interest in the financed aircraft is also recorded at the U.S and International Registry. “Failure to begin wading through those bureaucracies may prevent a deal from closing on time and cost money in the form of lost opportunities to use the aircraft”, Unchester said.
If the jet happens to be pre-owned, a qualified appraiser is vital. "You want to make sure the aircraft is thoroughly inspected,” he said. Aircraft appraisal services will look at the maintenance records, the aircraft logbooks, and they will inspect the aircraft physically. They'll even take some of the components apart and visually inspect them. “The appraiser will also check comparable aircraft on the market to make sure that the purchase price is appropriate,” Unchester said.
Before a deal closes, the lender must see a valid certificate of air-worthiness; a document issued by the FAA to show that a plane is sound and has undergone any mandated special maintenance upgrades.
“Typical buyers keep their plane for only four or five years before selling it, usually to move up to a larger plane,” Unchester said. Small-cabin planes, used for domestic flights of a few hundred miles, may seat four people. Medium-cabin planes might fly comfortably from New York to Los Angeles and hold a few more passengers. Large-cabin jets can be configured with as many as 20 seats, though most devote some of that space to lounges or small conference rooms. That sleek Gulfstream G650 can reach nearly the speed of sound and go more than 7,000 miles without refueling.
Depending on how much flying time they accrue, a private jet can last 25 years. “Smart buyers hire specialized management companies to take care of the aircraft,” Unchester said. “Not only do management services handle routine maintenance and compile necessary records, they also will rent out the jets for chartered flights, generating income that partially offsets the cost of ownership.”