Photo by Terry Shepherd
Used Jets: Real Airplanes or Spare-Part Repositories?
Perusing the for-sale sections of used-jet websites turns up some intriguing listings for older Citations, Learjets, Falcons and Gulfstreams, many of which are selling for less than the price of a typical high-performance piston single. When you can pick up a Cessna Citation I/SP for around the same price as a used Cirrus SR22, something’s seriously amiss.
Obviously, if you see a $350,000 price tag on a 1970s-era private jet, you know there’s likely to be a catch. Cheap jets usually need expensive engine overhauls, are due for major inspections or both. They’ll almost certainly have a high number of takeoff and landing cycles on them as well, meaning the courageous would-be buyer will probably end up spending well above the original purchase price to get the airplane in airworthy condition and keep it flying.
Aside from the sky-high costs of maintenance and repairs, older jets also burn lots of fuel. While a Falcon 200 or Learjet 24 is plenty fast, these jets require close to 300 gallons of jet-A per hour, depending on how high you climb. You’ll also need a second pilot and recurrent training to fly them, and these days you’re unlikely to be able to sign up for an all-important maintenance service plan with a provider such as JSSI without doling out exorbitant hourly fees.
Add it all up, and that bargain price for the used jet doesn’t look like such a good deal after all. And that’s before we even get into a discussion of insurance and financing. Chances are you’ll have a tough time finding an insurer who’s willing to write you a policy and about zero chance of getting a loan to buy that 30- or 40-year-old jet with the run-out engines. Better bring cash instead.
More often these days, buyers are scooping up low-cost jets not to fly them but to use them for spare parts on the airplanes they already own. Right now, in fact, there’s a 1976 Citation 500 for sale in Trade-a-Plane for the low price of $75,000 (sans engines, of course). Chances are, somebody who already owns a Citation 500 will buy that jet and salvage anything worth saving and reusing.
“The market for older business jets has really taken a considerable hit in the last couple of years,” says Eric Eckardt, president of Flight Source International, a Florida-based pre-owned aircraft sales outfit. “We have an owner right now who just can’t sell his Gulfstream II, and so he’s made the decision to part it out.”
That’s not to say there aren’t buyers out there who are willing to put in the time, effort and money to resurrect an aging bizjet. Large maintenance outfits like Duncan Aviation, Midcoast Aviation, Jet Aviation and others have entire departments dedicated to the business of bizjet refurbishment. An older Falcon or Hawker can be upgraded with an entirely new glass cockpit, fresh paint and modern interior to make it nearly as good as new, for a price. The question is, even if you had the money, would you have the stomach to go through the months-long ordeal needed to make an old jet like new again?