““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
If it ain’t brokered, fix it
Here’s why it makes sense to enlist professional representation when buying or selling a jet.
Given the complexity of the deal and the money at stake, making a business aircraft change hands can seem almost like an act of magic. And as in Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, acts of this sort are best left to professionals—specifically, aircraft brokers and their teams.
Nonetheless, 14 percent of airplane owners don’t enlist a broker to handle their sales, according to the National Aircraft Resale Association (NARA), and many buyers opt to go it alone as well. Some are corporate flight departments or other entities with transactional experience, but a considerable number are simply headstrong individuals.
“Aircraft owners tend to be masters of the universe,” says attorney Ed Kammerer, an aircraft transaction specialist in Rhode Island. “They think that they can do anything better and are smarter than other people.” Meanwhile, on the buyers’ side, listings of for-sale aircraft on the Web make some shoppers believe the Internet has leveled the playing field, which is among the reasons they go into the market solo, according to sales professionals. And of course both buyers and sellers want to “save” the commissions brokers charge.
If you recognize yourself among these would-be savvy wheeler-dealers, now may be a good time to reconsider your ways, because after years of downward drift, the preowned market is stabilizing, with some sectors showing a rebound. That’s starting to create a sense of urgency, some brokers say, that could cause buyers and sellers to act impulsively in the absence of professional guidance. The usual results include missed opportunities, wasted time and dead-end leads; and typically, when transactions do occur, unrepresented buyers pay more and unrepresented sellers get less than they should.
“There are buyers and sellers who don’t work with brokers,” allows Steve Varsano, founder and owner of the Jet Store, a high-tech, retail-store-styled brokerage in London. “The ones I know realize they made a mistake.” Before you succumb to the market’s call on your own, understand the services brokers can provide.
Today’s aircraft brokers act as point persons in a transaction team that can include escrow and title agents, attorneys, accountants, tax specialists, bankers, import/export expediters and, of course, aircraft experts. Some prefer to call themselves “consultants,” arguing that “broker” doesn’t convey the full range of services they provide. Any suggestion that brokers simply bring buyer and seller together or are little more than an aviation equivalent of used-car salesmen is patently false.
Establishing the value of an aircraft is the broker’s most critical function in a purchase or sale. Owners often have an inflated view of their airplane’s value, particularly if they haven’t been in the market since preowned prices tanked in 2008. Brokers establish a realistic valuation based on their own experience, recent sales history and proprietary data and analysis. “We are dealing with a new sales paradigm since the global meltdown,” says Andrew Bradley, president at Burbank, California-based brokerage Avjet. “Market values change quickly, sometimes in a matter of days. Pricing an aircraft for sale incorrectly could potentially cost an owner millions.”
On the buy side, brokers can recognize opportunity and use their knowledge to negotiate aggressively for clients. Brokers make bids that get deals started, whereas unschooled buyers often make unreasonably low offers that suggest a lack of serious intent.
For sellers, brokers create a marketing campaign and sales strategy. Brokers typically know sales prospects for a variety of aircraft, and some also buy airplanes for their own inventory from clients who are trading up, simplifying the upgrade.
If you’re buying an aircraft, the broker will perform a comprehensive analysis of your travel patterns to determine the models that can fulfill your mission and will provide information on the operating costs of each and the best candidates currently for sale. Conversely, it’s not unusual for unrepresented buyers to come to market fixated on a particular model aircraft because, for example, someone they know said it’s a good one, though it may be poorly suited to their needs.
Brokers can be particularly helpful with international transactions. Many business jets on the market today are based outside the U.S., some in countries without a formal database for recording liens or other documents that can affect aircraft title. Moreover, re-registering an airplane in the U.S., or importing and registering it for the first time in the U.S., as in other countries, is fraught with complex regulatory requirements that can impede registration and subsequent use of the aircraft unless properly addressed. “Anybody who buys an offshore aircraft without a broker is a fool,” says aviation attorney Stewart Pearl, an airplane transaction specialist in Connecticut. “So many things can go wrong.”
One thing that can go wrong on any aircraft transaction is the prepurchase inspection. This crucial inspection will reveal the airplane’s condition and whether it matches the seller’s description. On either side of the transaction, you want a representative that knows the aircraft make and model intimately. Brokers determine where the inspection will be done, and when it’s complete, they negotiate to decide who is responsible for any needed repairs or adjustment to the cost of the aircraft. Without expert representation, if selling you may be stuck paying for repairs that the buyer should shoulder, and if buying you may miss important squawks that will leave you with unforeseen repair bills.
The services discussed above add up to a compelling argument for both buyers and sellers to use a broker, aviation professionals believe. Indeed, attorney Pearl says good brokers earn their fee two or three times over. Successful ownership is about buying right, operating right and selling right, and a skilled broker helps you do all three. James Wynbrandt is a private pilot, a freelance writer and a regular contributor to BJT.
FINDING A GOOD BROKER
The best way to find a quality aircraft broker is through colleagues and associates who use business aviation. Ask them for recommendations, and ask the brokers themselves for references. Talk to the brokerage about the purchase process, and how it deals with aircraft valuations and identifies the right aircraft for purchase, advises Mike Nichols, the National Business Aviation Association’s vice president of operational excellence and professional development. The NBAA itself has a listing of aircraft brokers under its Products & Services listings on its Website. –J.W.
HOW BROKERS ARE PAID
Today, virtually all sales and purchase commissions are paid on a fee rather than percentage basis, says Brad Harris, president of the National Aircraft Resale Association, and founder and CEO of brokerage Dallas Jet International. Sales commissions were previously almost exclusively percentage-based, but when aircraft prices dropped precipitously after 2008, brokers sought stability in their earnings, hence the switch to fees on the sales side. Harris says NARA member brokers may go back to a points- or percentage-based commission at some time. –J.W.
NOTABLE AIRCRAFT BROKERAGES
The National Aircraft Resale Association counts some 2,269 brokerages and dealerships around the globe. Below are a few that have distinguished themselves by their scale, history and reputation.
Avjet Corporation. The brokerage arm of this Burbank, California-based aviation services company, founded 30 years ago, specializes in ultra-long-range, large-cabin aircraft, with a focus on Gulfstreams, Bombardier Globals and Boeing BBJs. The company conducts some $500 million in transactions annually from offices in Washington, D.C.; Palm Beach, Florida; Abu Dhabi, UAE.; Moscow; and Seoul, South Korea.
Freestream Aircraft. A leading presence in international aircraft sales and acquisitions since 1990, Freestream is headquartered in London and has offices in Teterboro, New Jersey; Beijing; and Bermuda.
Guardian Jet. Founded in 2002, this Guildford, Connecticut-based company takes an asset-management approach to aircraft transactions, helping clients develop long-term purchase, operation and sales plans, and counts 30 percent of Fortune 100 companies among its clients. More than half a dozen of the brokerage team have graduate business degrees.
The Jet Business. This ultra-high-tech retail store in London’s fashionable Hyde Park Corner trades in large-cabin, long-range business jets and executive airliners. The store’s flash is complemented by its technology infrastructure and data library, which provide buyers and sellers with information and analysis.
Jetcraft Corporation. Founded half a century ago, this Raleigh, North Carolina-based company pioneered innovations such as business aircraft leasing. Jetcraft has half a dozen locations across the U.S. and, with its recent acquisition of the aircraft brokerage activities of ExecuJet Aircraft Trading, now also has offices in a dozen cities across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Jeteffect. Formed in 2001, Jeteffect has half a dozen locations across the U.S., so its brokers “can be anywhere in the world in 12 hours,” according to the company, whose president, Bryan Comstock, is a longtime BJT contributor. Team members have backgrounds ranging from banking to aeronautical engineering.
Leading Edge Aviation Solutions. With roots dating to 1987, Leading Edge Aviation Solutions has been a party to $10 billion in aircraft transactions. Based in Parsippany, New Jersey, and focused on midsize and larger business aircraft, the company maintains relationships with manufacturers and often negotiates purchases and oversees completions of new aircraft for clients.
Mesinger Jet Sales. Founded in 1982, this Boulder, Colorado-based family-owned company handles completions and refurbishment, in addition to asset-management decisions and all facets of aircraft sales, purchases and operations. —J.W.
What our readers had to say
"If It Ain't Brokered, Fix It" incorrectly states that Jetcraft has acquired ExecuJet. In fact, Jetcraft has taken over ExecuJet Aircraft Trading, which was the sales arm of the ExecuJet Aviation Group. ExecuJet still offers all its other services, such as FBO, maintenance, charter, aircraft management and completions consulting.
—Juliane von Heimendahl, group marketing and communications manager, ExecuJet Aviation Group, Zurich, Switzerland
The online version of the article has been revised to reflect this correction.—Ed.