By: Matt Thurber
Aviation International News - September 2012
What one expert calls an “overhang of unsold aircraft” is afflicting the business jet ecosystem. “These old business jets are not going to sell,” says Rollie Vincent, president of Rolland Vincent Associates. “Take a Hawker 700 with mega hours… There appears to be no market for it and it’s time to say goodbye.” This overhang, he adds, “is like a freight train coming.”
The glut of old jets is a problem for many reasons, according to Vincent. At some point these jets have zero trade-in value. As jets age, the supply chain that formed to manufacture all the parts, avionics and complex components is gone. Another factor is the jets’ engines: “If the engines are getting close to overhaul, you’re looking at very little value,” says Vincent. “I’ve seen Falcon 20s with no engines. Those aircraft will never fly again, and at some point they get scrapped.”
It used to be that third-world countries welcomed old business jets, but that is no longer the case. Many countries now limit the age of imported used jets. And, says Vincent, “emerging markets bring in new aircraft; they’ve been able to afford it.” Financing is elusive for buyers of older jets. “Most bankers won’t touch them anymore,” says Vincent. It’s also getting harder to find maintainers who know how to troubleshoot and repair old jets and who have the necessary equipment and parts. Vincent expects to see about 2,200 business jets taken out of service in the next 10 years.
JetNet pulled some statistics on older business jets from its database for AIN. (See pie chart below.) Some models, stubbornly remaining unsold, are headed for the scrap heap. Lear 24s, for example, have no pulse, languishing on the market for an average of 2,605 average days– more than seven years.
According to JetNet, 1,818 business jets have been retired from service since 1957. (These numbers include some aircraft that were likely registered with the FAA as preproduction prototypes, such as three Adam A700s–an airplane was never certified.)
Logically enough, the majority of retired jets hail from earlier eras (see bar chart at right). Many aircraft delivered in the 1960s have been retired, as well as 1970s-delivered jets. Retirements of jets delivered in the 1980s taper down, and aircraft delivered in the 1990s have seen few retirements, according to JetNet. The bottom line is that in the next 10 years, if Vincent’s prediction is correct, the aviation industry will see about 2,200 business jets retiring from the fleet, which is 400 more than the number that retired during the first five decades of business jet manufacturing. Two thousand two hundred is a lot of jets to dispose of, especially when compressed into a period of 10 years rather than 50.
Where Do They Go?
The high number of soon-to-beretired and already-retired jets poses a challenge for manufacturers of new jets. A Gulfstream III, for example, could be gold-plated with new avionics, paint, interior and a digital-age entertainment system, for less than the cost of a used GIV and far less than the cost of a new Gulfstream. The GIII is a perfectly good airplane, other than the fact that it faces a Stage III noise ban beginning Dec. 31, 2015. Two Stage III noise-reduction kits– from Hubbard Aviation and Quiet Technology Aerospace–are available for the GII and GIII, so the types may yet have some life left. Conversely, GIVs selling for around $5 million could swiftly kill off the GII/III market.
Would it make sense for manufacturers simply to buy old jets and recycle them? Vincent doesn’t expect this to happen: “They have other fish to fry, including active research and development plans and new product development. They’re going to wait for somebody else to do it.”
As for what owners should do with jets that no longer have any value, Vincent advises, “People need to know what they’re looking at. They’re looking at nothing. Just write it off.”
Jeff Carrithers used to be an aircraft broker, but in 1995 the brand new World Wide Web beckoned and he launched Globalair.com, an aircraft sales listing service that includes airport and fuel pricing information and a proprietary system for aircraft brokers called BrokerNet. From his perspective, many older jets linger on the market because the owner can’t afford to sell at today’s lower prices and because there simply isn’t any demand. He sees Citation IIs, Falcon 10s and Westwinds as examples of types that are dying in the marketplace. “A lot of the problem for these owners is that they bought aircraft in the 2007-2008 heyday, and we’ll never see that kind of activity ever again. With the economic conditions today, operators will just park the aircraft.”