Remember the old TV show called the A-Team? A rag-tag bunch of former soldiers travel around fighting criminals and righting wrongs. The A-Team was borderline psychopathic (especially their pilot), but they were always on the side of good. Regarding an aircraft acquisition, it takes your own A-Team: an Acquisition Team. You need to know these people and, if they are not within your organization, know where to find them!
As the leader of this team, you are responsible for defining the mission. What is the key mission of the aircraft? What defines success for the aviation operation? Does everyone on your team know what this mission is? Most importantly, will the decision maker agree to the definition of this mission. This is used to define the minimum deliverable product in terms of capability and performance.
The next team member is the technical analysis person. This person is responsible for developing the measurable criteria for judging the ability of the aircraft to perform its key mission. If you are the pilot, this will be you. That person should be familiar with aircraft performance measures, and have available information that enables them to predict passenger loads, trip lengths, etc. There may need to be runway analyses, equipment needs, and for helicopters, the vertical performance measures necessary for the operation. The technical person needs to be able to have the data needed for this comparison. This person will help to identify candidate aircraft and then to analyze the aircraft against the mission.
Part of the technical analysis deals with maintenance requiorements. If purchasing a pre-owned aircraft, what may be required in terms of upcoming maintenance or upgrades? Where and who can do the pre-buy? If you have in-house maintenance, they are the best as they already know your operation.
The next person to get on the team is the financial analysis person. That individual needs access to what it costs to own and operate aircraft. There are different ways to finance an aircraft, and if it is for business use, different tax ramifications. This person needs to understand Life Cycle
Costing and be able to look at the total cost of owning and operating the aircraft. If leasing, what are the return and buy-out options? Many leases have significant penalties for early returns, and most have specific return conditions that can add cost. Leases can be a great way to acquire an aircraft, but they aren’t for everyone. This person needs to understand the nature of operating costs and be able to communicate with the maintenance professionals regarding the costs of upcoming maintenance as well as then communicate and understand the costs as looked at by the Chief Financial Office or accountant.
A close ally of the financial analysis person is the tax/ownership advisor. Tax planning should begin well before the purchase, not after the closing. Aircraft, by the nature of their mobility, may be exposed to taxes in multiple states. You need someone familiar with taxes as they apply to aviation. How do you plan to structure the ownership of the aircraft? Things to plan for are where and when will you take delivery? Are there sales or use taxes due and if so, who is responsible for collecting and remitting them?
With the aviation tax person should be an aviation attorney. This person will need to be consulted to ensure that the contracts are appropriate and that the various regulatory issues are addressed. Are there leases, timeshare agreements, charter? A document that looks good from a basic business perspective may not be legal in the eyes of the FAA or other aviation authority. The FAA can be strict in enforcing the regulations regarding "for-hire" operators and you need to make sure that you are operating legally.
Don't forget your insurance broker. They need to be kept informed as to what, when and how the aircraft is to be used. If you don't mention all the uses for the aircraft you may not be insured. What are your insurance company's requirements for the training and currency? Will it be different if you acquire a different aircraft? If the aircraft is to be on a management agreement, who and how are each of the parties to that agreement covered?
Next is the aircraft sales professional. This individual needs to know the state of the aircraft sales market, what the availability and lead times are for various models, who to contact about pre-buy inspections and appraisals, and what sort of time it could take to dispose of your current aircraft. Anyone with Internet access can "find" aircraft for sale. The aircraft sales professional needs to act in an advisory role and as a facilitator to make sure the deal closes with all parties happy as a result.
Lastly, don’t forget the a title search for used aircraft. They can also provide title insurance and provide the escrow entity for the closing as well as register the aircraft. The minor cost of this is well worth the piece of mind.
If your are looking at large cabin jets, you may have requirements for crew rest, galley equipment, and internal baggage. If you have a cabin attendant, they need to be on the team. Same with the scheduler or dispatcher. Anyone with an interest in the successful outcome of the acquisition needs to be at least informed as to what is happening. Everyone has a different perspective and will see things that others may miss.
Acquiring an aircraft should never be done in a hurry. There are many issues to cover and remember the PPPPPP rule! (Prior Planning Prevents Pitifully Poor Performance).