A Dassault Falcon 7X private jet aircraft. Mike Fuchslocher / Shutterstock.com

Aircraft values have depreciated since the pandemic began in March resulting in a buyer’s market but the sales process has been made increasingly difficult due to travel restrictions. 

Firms are investing resources by bringing planes to buyers instead of having buyers come to the aircraft. 

When it comes time to close, sellers have to navigate travel restrictions and, in some cases, work with authorities to obtain special permissions when delivering aircraft.

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The coronavirus pandemic has emptied the airline terminals only to fill the private terminals as the wealthy shift their travel habits around health and safety. Private aircraft operators are rejoicing as it means more flights for their fleets but an even smaller segment of wealthy flyers are viewing the pandemic as a reason to make the jump into aircraft ownership.

Acquiring an aircraft comes with unique perks such as unrestricted aircraft availability but comes at a substantially higher cost. Industry veterans say buying an aircraft shouldn’t be considered unless a person is spending $500,000 or more on private charter each year. 

Purchasing an aircraft, unlike buying a car, is an intimate process not only because of the financial commitment but largely due to the fact that an aircraft often serves as a home away from home. Textron Aviation’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Flight Operations, Rob Scholl, told Business Insider that his salespeople will travel to prospective buyers and get a sense of their flying needs before recommending an aircraft. 

Manufacturers like Textron Aviation and aircraft sales firms are once again seeing normal transaction levels but the pandemic has changed the buying process. The cancellation of air shows and industry networking events is making it difficult for firms to get their aircraft in front of potential buyers and travel restrictions are delaying the process when it comes time to close.

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Here’s how they’re navigating the pandemic to close deals.

The right time to buyA Gulfstream G650ER private jet aircraft. REUTERS/Aly Song

The immediate aftermath of the pandemic saw aircraft values drop as global travel restrictions largely hindered where people could fly. In some countries, citizens couldn’t travel between states, let alone to the other side of the world on a vacation.

It’s created a buyer’s market for potential aircraft owners and encouraging the wealthy to purchase aircraft in preparation for when the borders do open. 

“There has been some price depreciation since COVID,” Chad Anderson, president of aircraft sales and acquisition firm Jetcraft, told Business Insider. “And depending on the model of aircraft, you’re looking at probably 10% to 15%, maybe 20% on an older product.” 

As the pandemic enters its sixth month and travel restrictions begin to ease, prices are likely the lowest they’ll get with Anderson saying the demand is catching up to the supply. Not only is Jetcraft seeing greater than normal number of transactions for this time of year – a typically slow season for aircraft sales – but charter operators are seeing an uptick in their business, indicating a desire to travel.

“The best signal we have is that charter market,” Anderson said. “When charter market starts to return to business, that’s a very healthy, starting point for us”

International travel restrictions have not stopped sales for ultra-long-haul aircraft as the pandemic has incurred pent up demand for cross-border travel. Customers want to be able to jet off to distant locales now more than ever and are making their purchases now so that they don’t have to wait even longer for the right aircraft once restrictions do lift. 

Long-range aircraft from Gulfstream, Dassault, Bombardier are still as popular as ever since they can fly further without stopping compared to smaller jets. 

Bringing the plane to the buyerA Dassault Falcon 7X private jet aircraft. Fasttailwind / Shutterstock.com

Pre-pandemic buyers often journey to the aircraft they’re seeking to purchase. Though it may seem counterintuitive since the latter is built to travel, flying an aircraft to a customer can negatively impact its value since it incurs more hours on the aircraft, similar to adding miles on a car.

But travel restrictions have forced sales firms to adapt and bring the product directly to the passengers, at a costly rate. “We’re spending a lot of time and money with airplanes on the road right now,” said Anderson.

With even a half-hour flight costing thousands of dollars, firms have to be strategic with to whom they bring the plane for a showing. And much like charter operators, Jetcraft is investing in disinfectants like MicroShield 360 so potential buyers feel comfortable when touring an aircraft. 

Textron Aviation uses demonstrations flights as a selling point for its buyers, including owners who are also pilots, and has had to revise its procedure for each flight to ensure a safe experience. Personal protective equipment is available to passengers and aircraft are sanitized before and after every flight, Scholl said.  

Salespeople are also changing their pitches by familiarizing themselves with the safety features of an aircraft rather than just the onboard luxuries or cost benefits for some owners that come with flying private. 

“It was very interesting about how quickly my sales team learned about how quickly the air circulates, how often it’s refreshed, and where specifically it goes through the airplane,” Scholl said, noting that it takes two minutes for the air to recycle on all of Textron’s aircraft. 

Navigating lockdowns when it’s time to buyA Textron Aviation Cessna Citation CJ3 private jet aircraft. Mike Fuchslocher / Shutterstock.com

Both Jetcraft and Textron Aviation have multiple international offices so navigating travel restrictions isn’t difficult for salespeople and flight crews, the latter of which are normally exempt from most restrictions, but closing the deal can often be a more time-intensive process. 

A recent Jetcraft transaction in Europe required the company to convince authorities to open airports that had been closed, waive quarantine restrictions for flight crews, and circumvent international travel restrictions to access a plane at Geneva Airport.

“You just have to find a way,” Pascal Bachmann, Jetcraft’s senior vice president of sales in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, told Business Insider.

It’s often not impossible to close the deals but clearing each new obstacle that the pandemic has put in the way of international commerce often takes longer for deals to be completed. And it’s not for lack of cooperation as authorities are often willing to help, according to Bachmann.

“I like to say that for the impossible, we need 24 hours delay,” Bachmann said. “For miracles, we might need a bit longer.”

But the new style of doing business virtually likely won’t last in this sector, according to Scholl, as his experience during the pandemic hasn’t been too different from normal.

“Customers are still coming in here to Wichita to meet with us and go on factory tours,” Scholl said. “And I have been out to meet with customers in their homes so I think people still seem to be comfortable with those one-on-one interactions.”

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