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Selling Your Airplane in an Era of Remanufactured Aircraft

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New aircraft are crazy expensive. When a new Skyhawk costs $300K, why does anyone want to buy a new airplane? A recent article by John Zimmerman over at Air Facts recaps the situation nicely and explores the new, or maybe not so new, world of aircraft remanufacturing. The good news is that the high cost of new airplanes helps the used market.

We are starting to see companies specialize in remanufacturing but projects like this have been taken on by owners for years. Making a major investment in your airplane right before you sell is a money losing proposition. But what if you could get some of the benefits of an aircraft remanufacturing project without actually making the financial investment?

You can. By investing some time and presenting a vision of what your airplane can be, you do some of the work for potential buyers and may even entice someone to buy that had not even considered a project.

What Makes a Good Potential "Reman" Airplane?

A good potential "reman" airplane has a solid airframe. Everything else is optional. If your plane fits any 3 or more of the items below this may apply to you.

  • High time engine(s) that are still have good cores for trade in
  • Full set of antiquated avionics (360 channel radios, LORAN, ADF)
  • Peeling and/or cracked and faded paint
  • Heavily worn or dated interior

Finding a "Reman" Buyer

Finding a buyer to take on a project is all about showing them the potential of your airplane. For those who follow the blog here you know the importance of pictures in marketing your aircraft. For a project plane, it's the same but with a twist. For a "reman" target you have to show a buyer the potential of your airplane. Yuck... Old AirplaneSome buyers know what they are looking for and want to find a good project but others may not have even considered it. We have to paint a picture so everyone can  see the possibilities of your airplane. Begin by imagining a project to rebuild your airplane from the ground up.

  • What engine will you install?
  • How will your airplane look with a modern paint scheme?
  • What panel and avionics will be installed?
  • What will the interior look like?

Put together some rough numbers and a plan for this work. Who will do the work, how much will it cost and how long will it take?

  • Check engine prices at Pan Yan Aero
  • Maybe include a local major overhaul price too, if you have a less expensive aircraft
  • Most light single and twin paint jobs run $5K - $7K but get an estimate from Tejas Aero or a local shop, if you have one
  • Think about including the cost of a custom paint scheme from Scheme Designers, $1,400 for singles, $1,600 for twins
  • Contact Sarasota Avionics, or your favorite local shop, to work up a plan for an airplane like yours
  • Maybe a custom tail number for $10

You might be able to reuse work from someone else if you have a common aircraft where there has been a documented rebuild project  The AOPA sweepstakes are perfect examples of this. They have done a Cardinal, Cherokee Six and many more. See the full list here. Use Google to research your make and model to see what others have done.

Invest a few hours on this effort. Consider putting together a spreadsheet or other plan documentation. Anything you can do to show potential buyers the plan is real and feasible.

Present a Vision in Your Ad and Spec Sheet

Take all this information and put together three plans:

  1. All out, no expense spared, like new airplane
  2. Value, 80% like new, maybe an overhaul rather than reman engine, sensible avionics
  3. Refresh, overhaul if needed, fresh paint and interior, minimum cost-effective panel and avionics

In your online ads (if you have room) and your spec sheet lay out the options. If possible get images to show potential paint and panel configurations. Describe the plan, how long it might take and a cost range. Speculate on the aircraft performance. Be ready to discuss the options with possible buyers and what a plan to implement them will look like. Emphasize the joy of making an airplane their own.

Bottom line, it doesn't make financial sense to do all this work before trying to sell your airplane, but with a little investment of time you might be able to find, or make, a project buyer.

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Go Pro and Get Great Pictures

Getting a professional photographer for your aircraft sale is not very expensive and can make all the difference in your photos.

Here's your A, B, C guide to getting a pro for $50 or less:

  • Go to Craigslist and search "Services" for "Photographer"
  • Browse the photographers and see who has the best looking sample photos
  • Send at least 3 photographers an email and see who wants the business

C172RIn your email, tell them you want pictures of your airplane and that you will give them a detailed list of photos that you need (get my Ultimate Photo Guide by signing up for email tips). The shoot shouldn't take more than 30 minutes and, if you take the photos on a nice sunny day, there should be very little or no post-production work for the photographer. Let the photographer know that you expect the pictures not to be "watermarked" and that you will need a copyright release as the photos are works for hire.

Finally, make sure the photographer will provide you the photos on-line or a usb/cd.

Getting a photographer like this will take some of the uncertainty out of your picture taking. If you are good with a camera and digital images you probably don't need this service. But if your airplane pictures are dull, fuzzy or unappealing spend a few bucks. Great pictures make all the difference.

Get the Right Pictures

Want to make sure your photographer gets all the right pictures. See the Sell That Plan Ultimate Photo Guide. It's FREE when you sign up for our newsletter and tips.

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Want a stronger aircraft market? Eliminate the third class medical!

Aviation organizations have been trying for years to coax the FAA into reducing, or eliminating the 3rd class medical. There's been some success, sport pilot for example.

But generally we're no closer to this goal than before. There's talk every now and again about the FAA reconsidering, there was a recent petition effort by AOPA and EAA but it always seems that the FAA pretty much ignores all the data, expert testimony and public comments.

I'd venture to guess that the vast majority of pilots would support eliminating the third class medical. There's the time and expense of the exam but worse the pain, suffering and expense you have to go through for any number of medical conditions that you report. High blood pressure, extra testing, and maybe your AME will sign-off. Visited the doctor in the last three years, you are supposed to keep records of every visit. Had preventative treatment for heart disese? Get ready to pay thousands of dollars for tests every year so you can keep flying.

The risk that you will die in the cockpit? No higher than any other pilot, truck driver or old guy driving a 6000 pound RV. The risk to the non-flying public if you do happen to die in the cockpit, again the same as a guy driving an RV. Don't believe me? Check out all the data published by AOPA and others.

AOPA and EAA have a rule making request out to the FAA about self-certification. Consider proving a public comment there too. I'm less than hopeful that the FAA will actually change based on this rule making request, I think it will take an act of Congress, but who knows. 

Anyway, that's not what this post is about. One factor continually depressing aircraft prices over the last decade is the continually dwindeling number of pilots in the US. Of course, there are a lot of reasons for this, the expense of flight and flight training being top of the list but there are a large group of pilots out there that have to sell because they can't afford to keep a medical anymore.

Getting rid of the useless, from a safety perspective, third class medical goes directly to the cost of flying and the number of pilots that are out there. More people, older people who can afford it, might be able to take up flight without a months long fight with the FAA over their medical. These people might even buy airplanes.

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Single Engine Piston Market Looks Stable into 2012

Amid continued economic pressure and anemic numbers of student pilots the single engine piston market looks to remain stable into 2012.

After falling for almost 9 years, prices for single engine piston aircraft bottomed out starting in 2009, according to data from Aircraft Bluebook, and have slowly been climbing since, now having recovered about 2.5%. Transactions for singles are increasing too, up 25% in 2011.

Continued growth of the market however, will likely be dependent on continued US GDP growth, general economic recovery (i.e. jobs) and fuel prices remaining in check. This is supported by data and analysis from Jetnet. General Aviation will also need to continue to work on increasing the student pilot population that was looking stronger in 2010 but again took a dip in 2011.

With any luck, increased transactions and continued price stability will get more buyers into the market. Buyers who have been waiting for rock bottom bargains may start to get off the fence before prices begin to recover significantly. If the US does see continued economic recovery in 2012 more pilots may be in a position to afford an aircraft and start to search. Other regulatory factors, such as user fees, may have a negative impact, though the likelihood of such fees is low. Additionally it will be interesting to see 2012 registration data now that the FAA has implemented mandatory  re-registration. An unknown number of aircraft may be removed from the market.

Although new aircraft shipments are down for 2011 the used aircraft market will not see significant price increases as demand remains flat and supply is steady. The overall market factors have not changed in this regard since 2000.

What this means for most sellers is simple: We are still in a buyers market but it is at least stable. Sellers have to be smart about pricing their aircraft and good at marketing. As always if you have a well priced aircraft that looks great there will likely be a buyer for your airplane.

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Top 10 Airplane Selling Tips… From a Car Salesman

Airplanes and cars are, obviously, different. But selling is selling and, make no mistake, you need to sell your airplane not just put it out there.

I was talking with a car salesman, and fellow pilot, friend of mine the other day and we started talking about selling. A lot of people have low opinions of car salesman but, to a certain degree, when you are selling your own airplane it would be helpful to have a the mindset of a salesman. To that end, here are his top ten tips when you are trying to sell your airplane.

1. Don’t lie to potential buyers. I didn’t say you have to tell them everything you know, but don’t lie to them. If you don’t have the answer to their question, tell them you don’t know and that you will get them an answer. The only possible exception to this rule is the story you tell on why you are selling the airplane.

2. Know what you are selling. Knowing every detail about your airplane won't make the sale on it’s own, but a potential buyer needs to feel comfortable about spending a large amount of money. If they feel that they are working with someone that doesn’t know what they are talking about they are likely to walk away from a deal.

3. A buyer can smell desperation. When you are desperate to sell your airplane the buyer will sense it like an angry dog can smell fear. Even if you desperately need to sell your airplane don't show it. Desperation will turn them off so quick you will wonder what you did or said. This goes back to the exception to tip number 1, have a good story for why you are selling.

4. People like to talk about themselves. Yes, even the shy and introverted people like to talk about themselves. If you can get them to trust you and find some common ground you can get even the shyest people to talk your ear off and provide you with everything you need to sell them your airplane.

5. Every buyer wants to FEEL like they are getting a deal. This a very important sales tip, whether they are getting a good deal or not they need to FEEL like they made a good choice. They want to feel like they got a good deal. Almost all buying decisions are made with emotion, so the way they feel about you, the airplane, the price or the deal is critical to closing the sale.

6. Leave your problems on the ground. Just like when you are flying, selling requires you to have your head in the game at all times. Don't burdon a buyer with your problem. You need to have the answers, ask the questions and be a step ahead of your buyer at all times.

7. Shut up and listen. You have two ears and one mouth so listen twice as much as you talk. Uncomfortable silences are a useful tool. They either get the buyer to make a decision or lead you to their real objections.

8. Look them in the eye. If you have a tendency to look away when people look you in the eye you better get over it. Most people do, but when you look a buyer in the eye as you speak it gives you trust and creditability. You can also pick up on their level of commitment and sincerity when you look them in the eye.

9. Follow Up. Follow up on everything whether it is a quick email question, a short voicemail or a full aircraft demo. Sometimes you just have to ask for the sale.

10. Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm sells more than almost anything. Make potential buyers feel like you are happy to talk to them. Don’t be phony or they will sense it, but you should be genuinely excited to talk about your airplane, aren't you?

There is a lot that goes into selling something but these tips are good all around advice. You may not want to think of yourself as a salesman when you are trying to sell your airplane but, to a degree, that's what you are. Pay attention to these tips... They come from someone who makes their living selling everyday.


Photo Credit: chimothy27 (Flicker CC)

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Get Rid of Cabin Odor and Save Your Sale

When you are selling an airplane sometimes the little things matter the most.

It's likely that any buyer in this market has lots of options when it comes to aircraft. Even within a particular make and model there are several hundred aircraft on the market at any given time. Once they narrow down the options buyers will often go and see their final choices. This is when decisions will be made. If they are taking the time to come and see your airplane take that opportunity to make the best impression possible.

That brings me to the focus of this article: cabin odor.

What's That Smell

Let's face it most airplanes could smell a bit better. It's just that no one seems to want to talk about it.

Without air conditioning we sweat in those seats, be it from summer heat or the winter IFR approach down to minimums. If you are the typical male pilot I'm willing to bet that you occasionally let out a bit of gas as you continue to climb in that un-pressurized cabin. Then there are those who fly with us. No matter how smooth you fly there will be someone who has the unfortunate experience of loosing their lunch at 5500 feet. If you have kids you can also expect all the smells that go with your typical mini-van, sans fast food maybe.

If your airplane cabin smells like your first Skyhawk trainer it's time to take action. That old airplane smell could kill your sale.

What to Do About Aircraft Odor

Fortunately there are some very easy fixes to this problem.

As you may know, unpleasant smells typically linger in fabrics or are the result of dust and foreign matter. In most aircraft this means carpet and seats. If the odor is relatively minor, try this simple one-two hit. First, get some Fabreze and spray down those seats. Make sure to use the most mild scented Fabreze. Second, buy a can of Ozium and spray it in that smelly cabin, closing the door behind you. After sitting overnight with some Fabreze and Ozium stewing in the cabin, your airplane's odor problem will be history.

If you have some more time or, perhaps, a more severe smell issue, try this step by step:

  • Wipe down cabin surfaces removing any dust, dirt or oil
  • Clean out door and seat pockets
  • Vacum carpets and remove any crumbs from anywhere
  • Steam clean the carpets (professional or rental machine)
  • Steam clean the seats (professional or rental machine)
  • Fill the cabin with good amount of Ozium and let it sit for a while

About an hour before you show your airplane to a perspective buyer give the cabin a little refresh of Ozium just to naturalize any last minute smells.

Big Difference, Small Cost

The great thing about getting rid of odors is that it can make a big impact on your sale but cost you very little. Even if you get a professional to come out and clean the carpets and seats that shouldn't run you more than $75. The Fabreze and Ozium are $20 tops. Imagine spending less than $100 to make sure your sale doesn't get scuttled by a funny smell in the cabin. Or better yet, having a super clean cabin smell may even be the thing that makes your airplane the one a buyer wants when compared to another one that just doesn't smell as good.

Don't risk putting off a buyer with a cabin that doesn't smell great. Take 30 minutes, spend $20 and make sure you have the best smelling airplane out there.

UPDATE: Recently I was cruzing Amazon and found a new, very highly rated, unsented Fabreze alternative that you might want to consider. Zero Odor 16-Ounce General Household Odor Eliminator

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Go With a Broker or Do It Yourself?

One of the first decisions you need to make when deciding to sell your airplane is whether or not to use an aircraft broker. Your decision on using a broker or not will depend a lot on how much time you have and if you have the budget to pay 10% of your sales price to them.

There is no doubt that using a broker saves you time and effort. Once you sign an agreement with one they take care of almost everything. But, before you give up 10% of your sale price, you should ask yourself this:

How much time and money will it take me to do what the broker does?

If you talk to an aircraft broker or check out one of their websites they will be more than happy to make a very big deal about how hard it is to sell an airplane. They will tell you buyer horror stories and make it sound like it is the most painful thing in the world to sell an airplane yourself.

I can tell you from experience, it's not that painful. Before you sign up with a broker read the rest of this article to get a sense of how much time and effort is really involved in selling an airplane yourself. At least then you can make an informed decision.

How Much Do Brokers Cost and What Do They Do?

Similar to a real estate agent an aircraft broker will handle your sale from start to finish.

To start a broker will help you to evaluate the value of your airplane and determine an asking price. Then they will oversee the preparation of your airplane for sale and take pictures. They might engage other service providers which you will pay, like Wing-Waxers, to detail your airplane.

Once an airplane is ready to show they will handle any advertising, typically listing the airplane on their own website and putting ads in major online/offline resources like Controller and Trade-a-Plane. They will also typically share the listing with a  network of affiliated brokers in hopes of finding a quick buyer who is looking for exactly your airplane.

Perhaps most importantly, the broker will take all the phone calls and answer emails about your airplane. They will handle the questions from potential buyers and deal with any "tire kickers." When it comes time to actually show or fly your airplane for a potential buyer they will do the work for you. Again like a real estate agent they will handle negotiations to get to a final deal with a buyer.

Finally when a deal is ready to be done they will handle all the final details like the sales agreement, getting the sale through a pre-buy inspection and coordinating escrow services.

At the end of the process you get a check for the sales price minus 6%-10%.

Most brokers use a sliding scale for their feels like this:

  • Less than $100K = 10%
  • $100K - $150K = 8%
  • $150K - $500K = 6%
  • $500K - $1M = 5%
  • $1M+ = 4%

This is just an example. Broker fees vary, sometimes widely. You may find one that is more like 11%-12% at the top end or that have different thresholds for their discounts. Often they will add 1% if your aircraft has any damage history or is being sold without being airworthy.

How Much Work Is It Really To Sell An Airplane?

Now that you have an idea of what a broker does and what they will charge you to do that work let's figure out how much time is really involved in selling your airplane.

If you properly price your airplane and take the time to make sure it is airworthy and clean you should have it sold within 3 months. Let's assume a 12 week sales cycle. I'm going to exclude any time that you would otherwise have to spend on the airplane if you use a broker or not. We'll also make some basic assumption on how many calls you can expect on average and how many people will actually want to come and see your airplane.

  • 4 HR - Prep Time, Research, Pictures, Washing
  • 2 HR - Placing Ads
  • 2 HR - Prepare an Internet Spec Sheet (or pay someone $50)
  • 24 HR - 2 HR per week on phone calls and emails
  • 12 HR - 2 HR every 2 weeks showing your airplane
  • 4 HR - Time spent on closing, working with escrow service

Grand Total: 48 Hours

Even if the time spend on showing and calls is underestimated by 50% you're still only looking at about maybe 72 hours total... Spent over 3 months. Once you get the airplane listed we're talking about 2-3 hours per week.

But how much money will you have to spend?

That is a good question. A broker will pay for the advertising so you should factor that into your decision. Again let's assume a 3 month sales cycle.

If you list on the top three sites out there, Controller, Trade-a-Plane, Barnstormers you can expect to pay about $150 per month for a piston single/twin.

Total Cost: $450

So how much is your time worth? Let's say you have a $75,000 airplane. Can you squeeze in 48 hours over 3 months to save $7,000? If you are a lawyer who bills out at $400 an hour maybe not. If you are a doctor or business owner who absolutely does not have the time to deal with calls and show your plane then a broker is worth it. Can you afford that $7,000 or are you counting on that money to buy your next airplane?

My guess is that if you are the average light aircraft owner there's a good chance you have 3 hours a week you can spend on selling your airplane. Plus don't forget that selling your airplane can actually be fun! You will get to talk about your airplane and flying with other pilots, something that you probably do more than 3 hours a week already.

To go with a broker or not may be a simple choice for you but if you are on the fence hopefully the info here will help you make a more informed decision.

Photo Credit: amagill (Flicker CC) (Money Roll)



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The Secret to Selling Your Airplane in Half the Time

Pictures sell airplanes. Plain and simple.

Forgive me if this is obvious to you but it is amazing the number of aircraft ads I see online with no pictures at all. Don't believe me? Go take a look at or Trade-a-Plane. Would you try to sell your car or house without showing potential buyers any pictures? No way.

When selling your airplane putting up great pictures is critical to your online ad performance. has said that ads with pictures get viewed 120% more often than ads without and generate 70% more says that aircraft with pictures sell five times faster.

Minimum Picture List

For your ad you need at least 3-4 quality exterior pictures of your airplane and 2-3 interior pictures. Get good pictures of the outside from the 10 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock positions. Mix in a further back picture and a closer ones. Then get an interior picture of the overall cabin and, of course, the panel. Do your best to make these pictures look great, they can make a huge difference when selling your airplane.

Of course, you actually should take a lot more pictures than these but consider this your "Minimum Picture List:"

Minimum Picture List for Ads

  • Exterior @ 10 o'clock position, 20 feet back
  • Exterior @ 2 o'clock, 10-12 feet back
  • Exterior @ 5 o'clock, 20 feet back
  • Exterior @ 7' o'clock, 10-12 feet back
  • Interior overview from pilot side looking back into cabin
  • Interior panel overview

Making the Difference

Pictures make the difference when it comes to finding a buyer.  Without these pictures you are just wasting your ad money as most buyers skip over ads without pictures.

If you have a good looking airplane show it off. Even if your plane has seen better days buyers will want to see it. No matter what your airplane looks like, buyers want pictures. Take the time to make your plane look its best but don't get worried about it. Airplanes seem to be naturally photogenic, even a plane in less than perfect condition can photograph well.

Remember, selling your airplane is about finding the one buyer who wants your airplane more than any other airplane out there. Pictures quickly weed out the folks who don't want your airplane and save you lots of time answering requests for pictures. When a picture is put in front of the buyer who wants your airplane it can really make them fall in love. For a lot of buyers owning an airplane is the fulfillment of a dream. You're not just selling an airplane, you are selling the dream of aircraft ownership.

Pictures get more potential buyers looking at your ads and help you sell your airplane faster. Don't make the mistake of not including quality pictures in your ad.



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