Jurassic Jets

Are older business aircraft even sellable? And how old is OLD?

At the recent NBAA convention in Las Vegas, I sat in on several briefings about the state of aircraft sales and residual values. It was unanimous that older aircraft are not selling. No news there. It's been that way since 2008. What was interesting is the speakers' definition of "old."

I've been going with older than 15 years as "old" in terms of the ability to sell at a reasonable price within a reasonable amount of time. Age 15 also works with getting financing: The Aircraft Age + Length of Lease/Loan should not exceed 20 years. Age 15 allows for a five year financial deal. It seems like the new "old" is younger than that. And no, we can blame it on the Millennials. Blame it on the economic booms of the late 1990s and again in the mid-2000s.

An "old" business airplane is now older than age 10 in terms of maintaining a residual value and being sellable.

Glancing through the GAMA shipment database by year, business aviation saw significant increases in sales and deliveries during the past 15 years. Many manufacturers saw their sales double, peaking in delivery backlog in about 2008. Thus, there are a large number of relatively recent vintage airplanes available that are in the 5 to 15 year group, and especially aged 5 to 10.

The future air navigation systems that have been developing are in place or will be in the next decade. New or nearly new aircraft are either capable of using the full airspace, or can be easily upgraded. Older aircraft may not be so easily updated, especially older business jets that need the upper altitudes for efficient flight.

Older business aircraft, especially jets, have operating costs significantly higher than their new equivalents. A second or third overhaul on most turbine engines will be very costly due to retirement components within the engine. Unscheduled maintenance is also much higher for these older aircraft.

Lastly, emerging markets outside the US can, and do, purchase mostly new or newer aircraft. Developing nations are adopting the EASA regulations as it relates to aircraft aging issues. Some even place an age limit on imported aircraft.

So we have a large number of recently produced aircraft, many with updated avionic systems, that can be purchased for quite reasonable prices. Financial institutions have the money to lend, provided the credit is excellent. The 20 or 30-year old airplane costly to maintain, and sending them to a developing nation to sell isn't viable. These aircraft are just not selling. Let’s take a look at an example.

Jet Years produced Percent Fleet For Sale Average Days Listed For Sale
Gulfstream GIII 1979-1987 18% 828
Gulfstream GIVSP 1992-2002 13.56% 375
Gulfstream G450 2005-current 7% 239

You can buy a used GIII for under $1 million. But almost no one wants one even at that price. Newer GIVSPs and especially the G450 have a market.

One of the speakers referred to the oldest business aircraft as "Jurassic Jets." They are from a bygone era of cheap gas. They are not selling and the financial institutions do not want them on their books. From what the speakers say, and I agree, this is not going to change. Many of these aircraft are with their last owner.