Selling an Airplane

Irresistible forces cause unexpected pain.

The author, Dick Karl. [Credit: Stephen Yeates]

Until now, selling an airplane for me has been a matter of making hangar room to accommodate and getting money to pay for a newer, faster, cooler airplane. Not this time. The insurance industry and the FAA’s good doctors of Oklahoma City have seen to that. I hope they are pleased with their work.

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Since single-pilot jet operations in our Cessna Citation CJ1 were no longer doable, my wife Cathy and I decided we had to sell our best airplane. Fortunately, our good friend Mike Shafer of JetVx agreed to broker this surrender and oversee our misery. Soon glamour shots were taken, blast emails were sent, and advertisements in multiple outlets were placed. The hot market was cooling by the time I finally faced facts and consented to sell.

At first, things were eerily quiet. A few offers came in, but they were risible. Low-ballers appeared quickly and disappeared almost as fast. Some didn’t even wait for a counteroffer. Mike kept at it. A potential buyer arrived in his Eclipse, but disappeared soon after. Another couple, whom I liked instantly, came to inspect it. I arrived at the airport just as Mike was showing the airplane. All the hatches were open and the flaps were extended. It looked as if the airplane was being carefully probed and felt like when your AME starts feeling your abdomen. “Hey! What are you doing??” Airplane ownership and pride are personal matters.

Our airplane has been maintained by Tampa Jets’ inestimable Hector Flores. Hector is that rare find: He’s a true professional of vast experience and connections, possessed of an easy and reassuring countenance, and knows jets. My relationship with him is so warm that any possible shortcomings found by potential buyers were bound to elicit strong defensive feelings on my part.

As I was beginning to wonder about our timing and pricing, things heated up. A buyer from California made a reasonable counter to my counter offer, and a price was agreed upon. That left the matter of the pre-buy inspection and terms of closing. The buyer wanted an impartial inspection done by Banyan Air Service in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I knew Banyan, located at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE), to have a good reputation for fair and expert work. Corrosion was the major concern. If the inspection went well, the buyer wanted to avoid Florida sales taxes by closing in Charleston, South Carolina. I was to pay for any discrepancies found by Banyan that required repair for the airplane to be “airworthy by manufacturer’s specifications.” 

I went to lunch with Mike and Hector. “What should I expect to pay for ‘discrepancies?’ I asked. “Might be as much as a Doc 10,” they answered, implying tens of thousands of dollars. Okay, I thought, at this selling price, I can manage that, I guess.

The buyer’s representative (I’ll call him Brian, not his real name) arrived on a Monday afternoon. Hector and Mike stayed late to show the airplane and the maintenance logbooks. I got a text stating that things looked good—the only complaint was that the standby gyro battery was not testing as it should.

Because the airplane was still mine and under my insurance coverage, the test flight would be flown on the way to KFXE, and I would be the PIC. The buyer was typed and current in the Cessna CE-525 model and had been added to my insurance policy. 

The next morning I awoke to dense fog, delaying our morning. I met Brian. He was a nice, knowledgeable, agreeable pilot kinda guy. We checked the oxygen and nitrogen bottles. Hector checked the tires. The airplane had not flown in almost a month, a travesty in its own right. Airplanes belong in the air. On the ground, they look awkward and forlorn.

The weather lifted to a 4,000-foot overcast. We taxied out using my old Part 135 CJ checklist. We had an easy rapport; I felt like I’d flown with Brian before. There was a short kerfuffle as two airplanes tried to land in opposite directions at our non-towered field. After taking off, we cleaned up and were cleared up to 12,000 feet. I selected heading and flight level change on the mode control panel to keep our airspeed at 200 knots until we were safely in Class B airspace. Brian said, “I like the way you fly. I have a hard time getting guys to use FLC [flight level change, an autopilot mode].” I felt better, even if just a little. We burst out on top, and both agreed that it is a sight that never gets to a sell-by date.

Brian wanted to climb to Flight Level 290 to see if the airplane would attain maximum pressure differential (it did). He wanted to see engine and wing deice heat and tail deice boot function. This was not his first rodeo. All was good. By then, it was time to head down on the arrival into KFXE. I made a smooth landing.

Brian met with the maintenance folks at Banyan, and Iran to catch an Uber to get to the Fort Lauderdale airport (KFLL) to take Silver Airways back to Tampa. This never happened—the flight was five hours late, so I rented a car and drove home. On the drive I was silent. I did not listen to music. I did not phone anybody. I just wallowed in my loss. This was the one. The airplane of my life—gone.

The pre-buy went quickly. The corrosion was minimal. A new standby battery was $6,804, and there was a chance for rebate once the core was inspected. All told the damage to the sale price was way less than expected—a testimony to Hector’s meticulous care of this 23-year-old sylph of the skies. The owner’s accountant and tax people agreed to take possession the next day.

On that Thursday morning, Cathy and I sat at home and signed various “DocuSign” documents. An escrow agent at an Oklahoma agency (but actually sitting in Montana) had the funds in hand. When they had been transferred to our bank, Brian could start back to California. So, we waited.

Once we corrected the account numbers, the money showed up in our ledger. It was the largest amount I had ever seen—even for a house closing. Everybody said I should be happy with it, but I wasn’t. No amount would make up for my forced exit from single-pilot jet flying. I was rich and poor at the same time. There was money in the bank and a hole in the hangar, not to mention my heart.

This article was originally published in the May 2023, Issue 937 of  FLYING.

Dick Karl
Dick KarlAuthor
Dick Karl is a cancer surgeon who appreciates the beauty and science involved in both surgery and flying. Dick’s monthly Gear Up celebrates the human side of flying. He writes about his enthusiasm for both the machines and the people who fly and maintain them.

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