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When to replace an aircraft is more than just simple math

by David Wyndham 2. September 2016 11:22
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Our company co-founder, Bill de Decker, and I recently finished a major aircraft review for a government entity. They had several missions and several types of aircraft that were necessary for the mission. We looked at the missions and their current aircraft. We identified shortfalls in capability and desired utilization. We looked at the current costs, the reliability, and projected out future costs. We identified future mission changes as best we could. We did look at whether it was cost effective for the government or a contractor to own and or operate the aircraft. At the end was a series of business cases for each aircraft and an overall acquisition plan for their aviation operation. None of the missions were simple passenger-carrying missions and, given their requirement to look out 20 years, a lot of long term assumptions had to be inferred. What they now have is a plan with dates and actions that are needed, along with mission and financial justification. All this work was fun and the folks we worked with were a joy. It all came down to this:

There are two major reasons to replace your current aircraft. One reason is the mission has changed and the current aircraft is no longer capable of effectively supporting that mission. The second reason is the economics of owning and operating the aircraft render it too costly as compared to the alternatives. Both can combine to demonstrate and support the value of a business aircraft. 

Both reasons are simple but involve a lot of complexities. 

With respect to missions of a business aircraft, changes tend to fall into sub sets

1. Passenger loads change requiring a different aircraft. If you need nine seats, six won't do. Or perhaps decreasing passenger loads make the idea of a smaller aircraft appealing.

2. Trips change requiring either longer range aircraft or aircraft with different capabilities such as operations from shorter runways or flights into and out of high altitude airports.

3. Utilization also factors into the equation. Either the need for more hours or simultaneous aircraft can drive the decision to add additional aircraft.

Upsizing in capability tends to have an upsizing in budget. What needs to be considered is the added value the aircraft change will bring. Will more passengers enable greater benefits to the company? Does avoiding that fuel stop, and the time avoided, add enough value to make the acquisition and operational costs of the larger aircraft worthwhile? 

I did one analysis that showed Jet B with greater range than the current Jet A. To meet the non-stop range Jet B had to fly at long range cruise. Allowing an hour for a fuel stop, Jet A can fly the two legs at high speed cruise and still arrive within 20 minutes of Jet B. We looked for another option as the value of replacing Jet A with Jet B didn't deliver enough value. 

When looking at costs, make sure to look at all the costs: acquisition, operating costs, fixed costs, taxes, and depreciation (tax and market). Balance that against the mission for a "best value." 

Age is a factor, too. As aircraft age, their maintenance requirements, and costs tend to increase. With that comes decreased availability as the aircraft spend more days in maintenance. What makes this difficult to analyze is the cyclical nature of maintenance can hide this long term increase. 

Many operators when they do a major event like an engine overhaul or heavy airframe maintenance do paint, interior and even avionics upgrades. The costs are significant and not seen again for many years. One decision point here is whether to sell the aircraft a few years before those costs occur, or incur those costs and operate the aircraft for a few more years. This is because most buyers prefer not to have significant costs for the first few years when the acquire a pre-owned aircraft. But if you do the overhaul, etc. the market is not likely to award you with 100% of the cost in an increased value. See, not so easy to decide?

Having a plan in place makes the process easier. Then every year, review the plan, and when appropriate, update it. When to replace is not a simple equation, and it can involve qualitative and quantitative measures. Be proactive and work with the owners/stakeholders in the aircraft to be ready with the justification well in advance of any issues arising. 

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Aircraft Sales | David Wyndham

Budgeting - Tracking Costs Makes This Easier

by David Wyndham 3. August 2016 12:04
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My wife and I just made some changes in our investments for retirement. As part of the review was looking at all our expenses and estimated what we'll need to budget in our later years. Good news - I don't own a boat/airplane/antique car. Bad news, I do like my personal technology products and high-speed internet.  My new iPad is cheaper than a Waco UPF-7, even if less fun!

So with my recent financial planning exercise fresh in my mind, I'm visiting budgeting again. 

As a reminder: A budget is a best estimate looking forward at what you think expenses will be. At the corporate level, the aviation department budget may be buried deep within the Corporate HQ budget, or if attached to a group like Human Resources or Legal (I've seen both), then it is further down the visibility chain. One Fortune 100 company flight department reports their budget in three categories: Transportation, Facilities, Personnel. While that my be sufficient for a CFO to manage, you can't manage your flight operations on such broad data. You need to have more detail.

The key thing to having a usable budget from the point of view of the aviation manager is to track and report your costs in detail.  You need sufficient details in your costing and budgeting so that small variances in the budget versus actuals get your attentions before they become major financial issues. Tracking, reporting and understanding your costs are necessary to avoid financial surprises.

Many costs in your budget are outside your direct control.  While you can join fuel discount programs and negotiate a discount at home base, neither you nor the FBO can accurately state that the price per barrel of oil will remain at current levels for the next year. You can query your users to estimate how much flying there will be next year, but you can't control the Board's decision to aggressively pursue a merger opportunity that pops up. You need to make a number of assumptions regarding things like utilization, fuel costs, etc that factor into those costs. While guaranteed hourly maintenance programs make maintenance budgeting easier, the annual cost of those programs varies with utilization. 

Document these assumptions so that if fuel goes up $1 per gallon during the next year, our your utilization goes up 10%, that you can revise the budget accordingly.  Your budget should be reviewed and updated as the year progresses. Planned versus actual should be a standard metric. A Revising the budget with clear explanations should be allowed. If not, do it internally so that at least you maintain some sense of control.

As an example, take fuel. Just tracking a single fuel amount for costs and budgeting leave you with little insight as to what is going on. At a minimum, what is fuel at home verse fuel purchased on the road? Usage and cost per gallon, and gallons per hour per aircraft  type versus trip length are much more helpful. If a fuel farm is involved, does the cost of the facility fall under fuel or another account, such as facilities or hangar? 

Budgets should be a financial tool that you use to manage the fiscal resources of your operation. It should not be a once and done exercise. Used appropriately, a budget should provide you with operating cost metrics that you can use to measure and manage your aircraft throughout the year.

Start the budgeting process early, or better yet, keep track and keep a running budget that gets updated periodically. While the formal budget presented to management may be fixed for 12-months, your management budget for running the aviation department needs to change with your operational changes. 


 

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Aviation Fuel | David Wyndham | Flight Department

What does it cost, really?

by David Wyndham 5. July 2016 10:24
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I had a call from a customer who's flight department flies a popular mid-size business jet. He was looking at the variable cost we publish and comparing it with his own. After adjusting for fuel cost, his variable cost was almost double what we publish. He called me to try and figure out the cause of the diffrence.

My company specializes in understanding and explaining the costs associated with owning and operating an aircraft. One of our published databases calculates an average hourly operating cost. Many in our industry and in Government use these numbers as benchmarks or as should-cost figures. We do publish an explanation of terms defining the ground rules we use, and I've spent many a phone call like the one above  discussing and explaining what we did it that way, or how to adjust them for your situation. 

My call that day led to a fruitful discussion that identified the discrepancy in costs as the maintenance costs. After a couple questions, we figured it out. His aircraft has predominantly calendar based inspections. Much of the scheduled maintenance inspections were based on the number of days since last accomplished and not the hours flown. For our costs, we were showing about 380 flight hours per year. His utilization was about 130 to 175 hours per year - less than half of our assumption. A quick bit of math showed his maintenance cost average per flight hour were more than double what we published. He was also on a parts by the hour program that also had hourly billing minimums. Knowing how much he flew and the fact the jet's maintenance was calendar based  led us to understand that there can be significant variability is the cost to operate that aircraft.

When did you last ask the question, “How much does our aircraft cost to operate?” The answer will vary in relation to where you are between scheduled inspection and maintenance work. Sometimes significantly.

Required maintenance schedules vary, but a typical one might look like this:

- Routine airframe & engine checks every 500 hours or 12 months.

- More complicated airframe checks every 1,500 hours or three years. 

- Engine mid-life inspection every 2,500 hours. 

- Airframe heavy maintenance every eight years. Often, while undergoing heavy maintenance, the aircraft gets paint and interior refurbishment, maybe some new avionics and cabin upgrades. Costs can be $500,000 to $1.5 million depending on the “extras” added.

- Engine overhaul at 5,000 hours. Cost could be $500,000 per engine unless engines are on a guaranteed maintenance program.

- Aging aircraft inspections once the aircraft reached 12 years of age or older.

If you fly the above aircraft under 500 annual hours, much of your scheduled inspections will be determined by the calendar. Fly 500 or more annual hours and the hours flown drive the maintenance.  Where the aircraft is in age and hours will also impact its costs.  What if at age eight the aircraft just had a major maintenance inspection, avionics upgrades, and refurbished paint and interior adding to the cost of an additional $1.0 million? Due to the downtime to accomplish all that, the hours flown that year might have been only 250 hours. That cost for this one year will have just consequently ballooned to $2.25 million, or $9,000 per hour! If the CFO were doing a cursory review of your aviation costs with an eye to reduces expenses, you'd better be prepared to explain all this!

Answering To answer the question "How much does the aircraft cost" really depends on who you ask and when you ask. Give someone a very broad question and you will get a wide range of answers depending on the individual's perspective and timeframe.  You need to track these costs at a level of detail that leads to understanding. You need to be able to communicate these costs, in plain words, to the management or financial executive.

None of the answers are "wrong" or "right," only they are merely different. Knowing this, when you are talking about aviation costs with various professionals, you should keep in mind who you're talking with (and their unique perspective) so that you can understand their needs when they ask "What does the aircraft cost to operate?"


 

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David Wyndham | Flight Department | Maintenance

There Must Be A Pony In Here Somewhere

by David Wyndham 31. May 2016 16:35
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A parent had twin boys. One was a pessimist and the other, an optimist. For their birthdays, dad gave the pessimist-twin a room filled with toys. The pessimist-twin was sad. When asked why, he replied that if he played with the toys, he'd surely break them all. For the optimist-twin, dad gave him a big pile of horse manure. The optimist grabbed a shovel and dove right into the pile exclaiming, "With all this manure, there has to be a pony in here somewhere!"  

Ronald Reagan was fond of this joke. And for the 2016 state of business aviation, I think it might be apropos. Three major new aircraft forecasts, two of which were related in the past month, all point to a healthy business aircraft market for new aircraft over the next decade. The forecasts expect from 7,900 to 8,300 new aircraft deliveries. Growth is expected to be solid in North America as it retains its title as the dominant business aircraft market fro at least 10 more years. But, still there are cracks.

Brian Foley recently released his look at the pre-owned business jet aircraft market. His prediction is for declining activity in the pre-owned market for the next five years. He thinks we have entered a slowdown in the pre-owned market. He's developing a pre-owned forecast model to get to the model and cabin-class level of detail. Lest you forget, Brian's firm, BRIFO, predicted a severe and lengthy downturn in the business jet market in September 2008. He has the input of some significant players in global business investing, so heed his call. 

In two recent events, at one of our Conklin & de Decker seminars, and again at the National Aircraft Finance Association annual meeting, forecasters and financiers were pretty flat on the state of the global economy.  A quarterly survey of leading CFO's by Duke University said these individuals think there is a 31percent chance of a recession in the US by year end 2016. Interestingly, 61% of the firms in the survey expect to increase employment in 2016. Top concerns in the U.S. include economic uncertainty, the cost of benefits, difficulty finding qualified employees and regulatory requirements. Don't forget, every four years, we worry with the uncertainty about the outcome of the Presidential election. Other concerns in the global economy include the price of energy and oil markets, China's slowing economic growth and currency problems,  terrorism in the Middle East, and economic and political turmoil in Brazil. 

Regardless of the forecast and opinions, aircraft will remain a vital tool for communicating and conducting business. You ned to have a plan, and a budget, and keep both up to date. Control what you can: your costs, your mission, your skills. Never miss an opportunity to market the effectiveness of the business aircraft. Buy now if you are in the market to do so. New aircraft manufacturers will be looking to make the year-end targets. As Brian Foley surmised, the pre-owned market will remain soft.  If you are selling, you are fine if you are upgrading. What you may "loose" in the value of your current aircraft will be made up in the value of a larger aircraft. If you are selling, and downgrading, might as well do it sooner rather than later. Don't walk away from qualified offers. Pick your broker carefully. Find one who is making deals and knows the market for your aircraft.  Communicate and listed to your customers. For the flight department, every person on your aircraft is a customer. And everyone in your company is important to your success.  Consider upgrading your aircraft if you are keeping it. Is your aircraft ready for ADS-B?

Last item, got a shovel?

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David Wyndham | Flight Department | Press Release

Keep Your Banker Happy

by David Wyndham 4. May 2016 13:19
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Financing rates for loans and leases are very low. Yet it isn't easy to get financing and the paperwork can be daunting. If you are looking for a lease or a loan for an aircraft, here are a few tips to help you help your financier.

Educate your financier as to how your lease or loan is a great risk. There is plenty of money to lend and financial institutions want and need to do business. They need to do transactions, but they also need to carefully manage their risk. It is up to you to provide them the information they need demonstrating you are a good credit risk. That means lots of financials of course. But is also means that the individual you are working with needs to understand your business.  Much of the decision is based on analytics, but there is room for judgment.

Your local banker with whom you have had a long term business relationship may be more likely to support your need for financing, even if they don't know much about aviation. Educate them on the lower depreciation that aircraft have relative to other transportation forms. Yes, since 2008 aircraft resale values have not fared well, but relative to trucks, they are a much better risk with a much longer life. That may not be obvious to your banker.

Pick your aircraft like a banker or risk manager. New aircraft are easier to finance, but older aircraft do get financing. Turbine financing rule of thumb: aircraft age at the start of the lease/loan plus the length of the term should not exceed 15 years. Example: your should be able to get a five year term on a 10-year old aircraft. Don't expect the five-year term on the age 20 aircraft. Also expect to put 20% down on the loan - more if the aircraft is older. That down payment is the cushion the banker needs to keep what is owed well under what the outstanding debt is at any time.

Reducing financial risk also means that the banker will favor, or even require, a guaranteed hourly maintenance program on at least the engines. This is routine with leases. Lease return conditions generally require all components have at least 50% of their useful life remaining or you pay a detriment adjustment. The engine guaranteed hourly maintenance program both covers the time to overhaul adjustment plus makes the returned aircraft at lease-end more popular in the resale market, either in another lease or as a sale.

Plan on time to research and secure your financing. Talk to your banker early in the acquisition process and see what information they will need. You may need to check out several sources. One banker that deals with turbine equipment up to $5 million in value isn't likely to want to do a deal on a new mid-size business jet. Know who and what your options are.

There are a lot of financial uncertainties in any time. Right now the oil/energy markets, China, the Middle-East, and the US election are in the front of their anxieties. When looking for financing or a lease, don't add to them! And yes, cash is and always will be King. 


 

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David Wyndham | Leasing



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