Home Aircraft Sales & Acquisition Time for a New Aircraft – or Not?

Time for a New Aircraft – or Not?

Consider Three Options When Your Needs Change

Perhaps your travel mission recently has changed, and you’ll be flying to new destinations. Or you’re interested in having more cabin space, amenities, and upgrades. Maybe the lease on your current aircraft is coming up for renewal and you want to be sure you’re using the most appropriate aircraft. Or your aircraft is fully depreciated and there are tax considerations to your continued ownership.

Is buying a new aircraft your only – or the best – option for you? Today’s business aviation market offers current aircraft owners a broad range of options to meet those evolving needs. Here are three different avenues to consider:

ONE: Upgrade or Refurbish Your Existing Aircraft

The first option is to refurbish the interior and exterior of your current aircraft while also considering upgrades to meet your new mission or regulatory requirements (see “Time Flies …Will Your Aircraft? BAA January/February 2018). This option offers the obvious benefits of not having to go through the search, inspection, and purchase process inherent in buying a new aircraft. It also reduces the unknowns, since you are familiar with and know the history of the aircraft you currently own. The downside is that you will have to take your aircraft out of service while the refurbishment and/or upgrades are completed. You’ll have to weigh the costs of the refurbishment and/or upgrades coupled with the costs to use alternative lift while the work is being completed.

Depending on your mission requirements, typical upgrades to consider would include but are not limited to:

  • Avionics upgrades
  • FANS/ADS-B Compliance
  • Enhanced Vision Systems
  • Cabin Management Systems
  • In-Flight Connectivity and Entertainment Systems
  • Galley Layout and Equipment

Interior and exterior aircraft refurbishment can involve all or some of the following:

  • Exterior Paint
  • Floorplan Modifications
  • Seating Design and Upholstery
  • Cabinetry Veneer
  • Carpet
  • Headliner and Sidewall Covering
  • Improved Lighting

Upgrading and/or refurbishing your existing aircraft is usually recommended if you plan to keep your aircraft for at least four or five more years. If you’re thinking of selling sooner than that, work with your aviation advisor to consider which upgrades will help with the aircraft’s resale value and marketability, and which probably would not provide a substantial return.

TWO: Supplement Your Existing Aircraft

Another option is to keep your current aircraft and supplement it with an additional asset — such as charter, fractional ownership, or a membership or card program. This option can be an ideal combination if you enjoy your current aircraft but have encountered additional travel requirements that it is not best suited to support.

For example, perhaps you currently own a large cabin aircraft and need to make regular short trips throughout the Northeast, to Long Island, or to one of the several island destinations during the summer months. That may be much more aircraft than is needed and not cost effective given the short distances to be flown. In many cases, using a fractional share, charter, or membership/card program for these trips can be more efficient, and frees up your aircraft for other travel. Some options for supplemental, alternative lift are:


When you charter an aircraft, you are essentially renting the aircraft for a certain mission and period of time. Charter is best for quick trips since you’ll keep the plane with you for the duration of the trip, and the aircraft is exclusively available to you. If you are traveling for a two-week vacation and plan only to use the plane to get you there and back, retaining the chartered aircraft can be expensive compared to other options. One of the benefits of chartering is schedule flexibility, which normally allows you to change your travel plans as needed.

Fractional Ownership

With fractional ownership, you are either purchasing or leasing a share and percentage of allotted flight time in a specific aircraft type. Typically, fractional programs require a minimum of 50 hours per year to participate. Fractional ownership does not offer as much flexibility in terms of scheduling change as does charter. Fractional shares can be beneficial if you plan to stay at your destination for a longer period of time, since you pay only for the occupied flight time you use, albeit at a higher per hour cost than for occupied round trip charter.

Membership/Card Programs

Membership/Card Programs are ideal if you don’t need to fly frequently during the year, and if you appreciate flexibility in the aircraft available for each trip. On these programs, you typically will be required to use a minimum of 25 hours per year. When evaluating these programs, it is critical to understand how each provider sources its aircraft and the safety ratings of the operators they use, as well as the terms and conditions of the funds being put on the account.

THREE: Replace Your Existing Aircraft

You also may choose to replace your existing aircraft altogether. For example, if your destinations have changed and you need an aircraft capable of landing on shorter runways, you need a larger aircraft to travel internationally, you want to stop less frequently to refuel on longer flights, or you just need more room for more passengers.

As you think about replacement, you will need to consider several questions, including but not limited to:

  • How will you be using the aircraft? For business or personal use, or a combination of both?
  • How many trips do you take annually? What is the average duration?
  • Do you travel to airports with runway restrictions or that are limited to certain size/performance aircraft?
  • For how many passengers do you need seating?
  • Is international travel anticipated? If so, where and how often?
  • Do you want a cabin with stand-up headroom?
  • How many and what type of sleeping locations do you desire?
  • Do you carry a lot of baggage or other equipment when you travel?

You also will have to decide whether you want to buy a new or pre-owned aircraft. Purchasing a new aircraft will allow you to fully customize it, but will require a longer time for final delivery. Or you could acquire a “white tail,” which is an aircraft that has already been built and completed, but whose original purchaser failed to take delivery. While you don’t have the same ability to customize, you’ll benefit from a much quicker final delivery and entry into service. A pre-owned aircraft also offers you the option, if desired, to refurbish or upgrade the aircraft to meet your needs.

If your mission requirements have changed or you anticipate a near term change, consider all the options. An unbiased aviation consultant or advisor, not affiliated with a specific operator or third-party provider, can help you evaluate your options and offer recommendations based on your current and future travel needs. BAA

Lee Rohde
H. Lee Rohde, founder, President, and CEO of Essex Aviation, a business and private aviation aircraft acquisition and consulting firm, has 30+ years experience in financial and operational analysis, manufacturing, distribution, and corporate business development.


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