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Right Sizing: Choosing the Right Aircraft

by David Wyndham 1. August 2008 00:00
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It seems like everything is Super-sized. Go to the movies and the "small" drink is 24 ounces. Order the large and you'd better hope for an intermission. It has been the same with cars: each new model year the car gets bigger, has more horsepower, or whatever. We connect bigger with better value. The same holds with aircraft.

One issue with aircraft is that as they get bigger, the engines get bigger and the fuel burn goes up along with other operating costs. It is almost a natural tendency to get as much aircraft as you can rather than to effectively match the aircraft with the mission. Now with the cost of fuel over $7 per gallon in many places, "green" thinking hitting aviation, and profits down for many, maybe it is time to look at the rationale for selecting or replacing an aircraft.

I like to call this "right-sizing." This simply means matching the aircraft's capabilities with the mission requirements.

Too often, whether it is an individual or a large flight department, the decision maker gets big kid eyes when they look upon the aircraft and tend to let rational thought be overridden by wants rather than needs. Later on down the road when the economy cycles down as it always does the costs of "super-sizing" become apparent (just as with the waistline after too many Jumbo Burgers and Mega Fries).

The first and most important step is to understand just what are the missions assigned to the aircraft and/or flight department. Make sure you understand those required criteria and those desired criteria that are nice to have. Required means needed to accomplish the mission while desired means expands or enhances accomplishment of the mission. Look at the majority of your trips, not the 1% that drive up the requirements.

We just looked at a client's travel profile where about 95% of their trips were with six or fewer passengers and 1,500 NM or shorter. The other trips had up to eight passengers and went as far as 2,200 NM. It was far more cost effective for them to have a light business jet for 95% of the trips and get the larger jet via supplemental lift (charter, jet card, fractional).

The next step is to understand the costs of the options. This includes acquisition cost, operating costs, and market values at the end of the ownership. This also includes different forms of ownership, or non-ownership if looking at charter and jet cards.

The third step is to use measurable criteria to (try and) keep emotions out of the analysis. It doesn't always work, but you need to try.

Right-sizing requires doing your homework, planning ahead, and re-evaluating as times and situations change. Sometimes it takes a cash crunch to remind us of that.

How many of you are familiar with the impact on the acquisition decision emotions play? Click reply and let me know. Remember; change the names to protect the innocent, and guilty!


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