Editor's Desk: Bizav by the Numbers

I'm a numbers guy, always have been. I can remember studying the stock quotes in The Wall Street Journal when I was a kid, scanning for companies I recognized and trying to recall what my father had said about the importance of each column of tiny figures. Later, as a teenager learning to fly, I was just as interested in power settings, instrument navigation and weight-and-balance calculations as seat-of-the-pants flying skills. When playing chess, I use a point-value system that tells me whether I have a mathematical advantage over an opponent. In poker, I prefer to calculate my pot odds rather than rely on a gut feeling of whether to call, fold or raise a bet.

So you'll understand when I say I love our annual Buyers' Guide issue. For me, the tables on ('Aircraft Guide') listing the range, speed, prices and other attributes of competing business aircraft models are especially fascinating. They provide a trove of information that's essential to the decision-making process. Armed with these figures, you can determine which airplanes best meet your needs and then dig deeper to compare the attributes of each side by side. In this second annual Buyers' Guide, we've expanded our list to include more than 160 jet, turboprop and helicopter models representing the most popular business aircraft built today and going back through the last 30-plus years.

Just as important as the raw numbers are the how-to articles we've included, which serve to highlight various travel options and purchasing strategies. These are required reading if you're new to business aviation, but the information can help you make better decisions even if you're a seasoned business jet traveler. Economists and strategists are predicting a slow economic recovery, and that means it's of paramount importance to squeeze as much value as possible from your purchasing choices if you want to avoid joining the ranks of former business aircraft passengers. I particularly recommend you read the articles on travel options by R. Randall Padfield ('Exploring Your Options') and aircraft financing by Jeff Wieand ('Financing A Business Jet in Today's Market').

No doubt, it's a good time to be on the buyer's side of the table. There are some fantastic deals to be had on new and preowned airplanes, if you have the financial wherewithal and can secure the financing. But that's a big question mark for many. The stock market's sharp drop after the financial crisis started last September put a clamp on financing that has continued through the first half of this year. Many would-be buyers who had been making progress payments toward their new airplanes suddenly found they no longer qualified for financing at the time of delivery. Making matters worse, public outrage over what was perceived as arrant corporate excess forced others to put their jets up for sale or delay delivery. As a result, "white tails" (airplanes that have been built but have no buyer) have been lining up on ramps at manufacturers' factories. 

The situation faced by sellers of used aircraft is just as stark. Typically, about 12 percent of the total population of business jets is available for sale at any given time. At the height of the market boom two years ago, the number dropped below 10 percent. In some cases, buyers were willing to pay more for a used airplane just so they wouldn't have to wait for a new one to be built. Today, the number of business jets available for sale has risen to more than 3,000 out of a population of around 16,000, representing 19 percent of the total. Not surprisingly, prices of used airplanes have plummeted.

That's great news if you're in the market to buy a business jet. On the other hand, if you've been thinking about selling yours, you may want to hold off a while and opt for a cabin makeover instead. Our guide has an article covering that option as well ('Give Your Cabin a Facelift'). If you can't afford to own an airplane outright, fractional ownership programs, jet cards and charter firms can be your ticket to ride. In a down economy, many of these companies are offering deals of their own. Whatever option you choose, having access to a business jet can put you at a practical advantage to your non-jet-setting competitors and in a position to make some serious headway when the economy rebounds.    

It's been said that thinking about buying something-an airplane, vacation home, boat, car or whatever-is almost as much fun as actually buying it. BJT readers get to do both. Whether you charter an airplane a few times a year, are contemplating buying a fractional share or plan to add your fourth or fifth jet to the company fleet, this guide has something for you. And if you've yet to discover the satisfaction that comes from getting deeply involved in your travel choices, here's your chance.

Enjoy the ride.

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