Owners not dumping business jets


Bombardier Learjet 75 photographed on May 1, 2019 at KTRM

Brian Foley, founder, Brian Foley Associates sees opportunities for business aviation as lock-downs end

So far, you can’t pry private jets from owners’ hands despite crazy economic gyrations that would normally spook them into selling, and a business jet fleet that’s essentially been sitting idle awaiting lockdown orders to be lifted.

This is in stunning contrast to the financial crisis of 2007-2008 when business aircraft owners stampeded for the exits.  Before that, 10%-12% of the fleet was typically for sale at any given time. As the floor of financial markets fell out, it quickly ballooned to 18%, meaning that nearly 1 in 5 of all the world’s jets had a for sale sign taped in their windshield.

Not so this time around. Thus far, despite stock markets again plunging due to the worldwide pandemic, the number of business jets on the used market have remained remarkably steady.  According to private aircraft fleet statistic provider AMSTAT, roughly 9.8% of the world fleet was for sale pre-virus.  Today, after more than a month of economic whipsawing and uncertainty, that number has blipped up to just 10.3% – effectively unchanged and still on the low end of used aircraft supply even in normal times.

This stark contrast in the number of aircraft for sale in each downturn comes with a few plausible explanations.  First, the 2007-08 dip revealed a fragile financial system that sent irreparable shockwaves through markets, corporate balance sheets and personal portfolios.  This was coupled with loose lending terms allowing aircraft to be purchased by those without solid finances to keep making payments.  The infamous event of auto executives flying their private jets to Washington hat in hand for a bailout had other evil owners running for PR cover.  Add to that an economy that was already on a downward trajectory and owners could no longer afford or justify keeping the corporate jet. 

This time around the situation is markedly different. The economy was going strong prior to the pandemic, lending standards were stricter, the stock market hasn’t continually free falled and there isn’t the fear of a banking collapse. This has given owners the fortitude to stand pat and look beyond the current environment to a presumably brighter financial future, at least so far. But that’s not their only reason for not selling.

As air travel begins to more widely resume, those who can afford to avoid the public airport crowds and fly privately will do so. One typically travels on a private jet at most with a couple of people they know, handily beating the alternative of being trapped for hours in an airliner with multitudes of strangers of unknown health pedigrees. 

For this reason, it’s assumed that the business aviation industry will recover more quickly than the airlines since those travelling on private aircraft will feel safer taking to the skies sooner. While new business jet sales aren’t expected to surge due to the large capital commitment, it’s likely charter and other non-ownership business models will see an uptick from well-heeled newcomers willing to pay a premium to avoid the airliner petri dish experience. While many will eventually return to scheduled airlines once the hysteria subsides, a few will remain in the folds of private aviation having sampled the wares.

Those who own jets now have the ability to travel in a proverbial plastic bubble, less exposed to airborne nasties to be endured by public air travelers for the foreseeable future. Aircraft owners will find a way to justify keeping these once discretionary assets for as long as they can, as they now view them to be just as valuable and coveted as that last package of toilet paper at the grocery store.


Brian Foley

Brian Foley Associates