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Evaluating New Aircraft

by David Wyndham 1. February 2006 00:00
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Personal relationships develop not because of a pre-determined set of conditions has been consciously met, but because you just "hit it off." We tend to go into our aircraft relationship in much the same way. However aircraft are not people (or pets), but machines with a set of qualities that can be measured and evaluated.

You need to be aware of what your true requirements are, and be brutally honest in what the benefits are to you of those requirements. So many times I hear "we want a jet to fly coast to coast non stop." However, 95% of the time their trips are two or three hours in length. My job is to then guide the discussion into what the true needs are, and to acknowledge the coast to coast capability. But, when the discussion gets around to costs, I am usually able to help folks realize that you get what you pay for in terms of capabilities – more capabilities cost more to acquire.

Be realistic in your expectations. All aircraft are a complex set of trade-offs. No one aircraft can do 100% of your trips 100% of the time. What do you truly need in order to successfully complete your primary mission? If you need to carry three to five passengers then a six-passenger aircraft will do the job. Yes, eight seats or more is nice, but when you get to the costs, what will you be willing to pay to get that two extra (empty) seats?

Keep the discussion in terms of quantifiable criteria. Six seats, 1,200 NM range, able to operate from a 4,500 foot runway are all measurable. Big and fast is not. Quantifiable criteria helps remove emotions from the analysis and you are much more likely to find success in selecting an aircraft based on measurable facts.

If you routinely fly trips that are a certain distance, do you really need to fly twice as far non-stop? If your requirement is a 1,000 NM trip with four passengers, then an aircraft that can fly 1,110 NM can be just as successful in completing your mission as one that can fly 2,000 NM. It all comes down to this, capability costs and excess capability costs extra.

Don't forget to plan ahead in your requirements. You may need to fly different trips next year than you currently fly today. Again, be realistic and don't over estimate what those needs will be. I rarely find people underestimating their requirements. Must be the "bigger is better" syndrome.

Separate required and desired criteria. Your required criteria may be six passengers, 1,200 NM, from a 4,500 foot runway. Desired may be eight seats and 2,000 NM from the same runway. You need the former, but the latter is "nice to have." This enables you to not only compare costs, but value as well.

It all ties into costs. More range requires more fuel which requires a bigger, heavier structure to carry the fuel which requires more powerful engines to propel the heavier aircraft. Bigger engines burn more fuel and so forth.

We recently finished a report for a client who had a variety of needs which resulted in aircraft ranging from mid-size business jets to the super mid-size category. We also included one large cabin jet as well. Guess what? The smaller jet met all their needs at the lowest cost. It didn't offer much excess capability and didn't meet the "nice to have" criteria. The large cabin business jet met all their needs, including their "nice to have" ones. It was also the most expensive to own and operate. The super mid-size jets again met all their needs but were lacking in some of the nice to have features. They also ranked in the middle in terms of costs. So their decision was going to involve value – was the extra capability in meeting their "nice to have" criteria worth the additional monies?

Value is the final determinant. What cost is the extra capability? Will you really use the extra capability? If you may want the extra capability but only infrequently, are their other alternatives (like charter or fractional time-sharing)? Be realistic in defining your needs, separate out required from desired (or "nice to have") criteria and then look at what each option costs you in terms of ownership and operations.

You are much more likely to have long term success with your aircraft if you focus in on the requirements first.


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