4 Simple Strategies to Get the Most out of your Aircraft when You're Ready to Sell PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Kirk   
Friday, 15 February 2013 09:21


Potential buyers get lots of advice about how to buy the right plane—AND, about buying a plane the right way. After all, no one wants to pay too much, nor do they want their “screaming deal” to turn into a screaming nightmare. But, what advice is available to plane owners looking to sell, upgrade, or otherwise opt out of their current craft?

Unfortunately, the time has long since past when most planes could be expected to retain, if not increase, their value over time. Forget about selling your plane for more than you paid for it, especially if you’ve owned it for more than a few years. Your goal should be to minimize loss. There are, however, four crucial steps you can take right now to get the most out of your asset (I hesitate to use the word “investment”) when you’re ready to sell.

  1. 1. Have the right frame of mind.

First and foremost, do yourself a favor and get rid of any notions you have about your plane being the “nicest of its type.” I’ve found that once someone tells me about their one-of-a-kind “cream puff” I can predictably expect original paint and interior, sporadic maintenance, and an RNAV system that “still works…so why spend the money on a GPS?” You get the picture.

Another facet of the right mindset is to keep yourself educated about your make and model, airworthiness issues, modifications, and resale history, but don’t assume people will want to use your plane as you do. You need to get comfortable with the idea that a new owner may actually want to upgrade your “baby.” You’ll be paid in dividends by simply putting yourself in their shoes. Buyers look at planes much the same way home buyers shop for a new home. They want to dream about their future in the plane; not be reminded of your ownership tenure.


  1. 2. Stay up-to-date.

No, this doesn’t mean you have to install the latest Garmin flat panel display system. On the other hand, it does mean buyers place no value in ADFs, RNAVs, and VORs. It doesn’t matter how well they work or that you “still use them.” In fact, the Garmin 430 is quickly becoming the KX-170B of the 21st century. If you want buyers to be attracted to your plane – and remember, the shorter the sales time, the less you’re paying in fixed costs – update the tweed interior, install a late-model GPS with WAAS, and keep your paint in good shape.


  1. 3. Cleanliness (and maintenance) IS a virtue.

It’s really hard to go overboard here—wipe the bugs off after every flight to prevent their once-flowing juices from eating into your paint finish, vacuum the potato chip crumbs and candy wrappers to keep your interior clean, and, if at all possible, keep your plane hangared. Pampering your plane goes well beyond cosmetic care too. Spend time and money on quality maintenance. This doesn’t mean you have to use a big name shop, but it does mean you should use a shop with a good reputation. If you have a nearly-new plane and you expect to sell soon, use a factory authorized shop that can perform warranty work. Once warranties expire, owners too often resort to using the cheapest mechanic they can find. This may work if you plan to keep the plane for a long time, but if you envision yourself moving into something else, don’t do anything to raise the eyebrows of potential buyers.


  1. 4. Proactively protect your plane and documents.

The father of a friend of mine had a Cessna 195 he kept tied down in Florida. Instead of being proactive about an approaching hurricane, he chose to gamble that the storm would miss his location. Of course, the storm hit the airport dead-on and the plane was mangled beyond any hope. A little advance planning could have easily prevented this tragedy.

Sometimes damage happens simply because someone wasn’t paying attention to the task at hand. FBO line personnel are notorious for dinging airplanes. I’ve had to deal with planes that have had prop strikes because a line guy threw a safety cone into the moving props. I’ve, also seen nose gear damage caused by careless line personnel during towing operations, not to mention hangar rash caused by misplaced – and falling – ladders. A little foresight can go a long way here.

Likewise, beware of other pilots who fail to realize that their prop or jet-wash can (and will) damage other airplanes in the vicinity. Several years ago while dining at one of my favorite airport restaurants (a location with no tie-downs), an old Seneca on a training mission decided to do an engine run up with his tail pointed directly at the line of restaurant patrons’ airplanes. I managed to make a mad dash out of the restaurant before the mindless pilot started his runup, but not before he got the engines up to sufficient speed to push the tail of my 172 down and rotate the nose 45 degrees from its original position. Fortunately nothing disastrous happened, but if I could have run fast enough I would have chased that guy all the way down the runway!

Be sure to protect your documents and keep your logs safe and secure too. Unfortunately, I’ve had to counsel aircraft owners who’s logs have recently been stolen out of their cars or airplanes, burned in fires, held hostage during payment disputes, or otherwise gone missing. A big chunk of your plane’s value is wrapped up in those books – keep them protected, well-organized, and in a dry location. I also highly recommend getting them backed up electronically.

If you’re on the other side of the coin and looking to buy an airplane (especially your first), be careful to not put yourself in a situation where you can’t afford to keep the plane updated and in great shape. Owner’s that stretch their budget to get the most airplane they possibly can often find themselves in a position where there is no extra cash to take care of their plane the way they should. Then, when it comes time to sell, they often end up having the market ugly-duckling that cost them far more than they bargained for.

Buying a plane is only half the story. What you do after you buy will have a big impact on your ownership experience. If you take a bath when you sell, chances are General Aviation just lost another supporter. But, if you have an experience that you can fondly look back upon, you’ll likely be back in the game soon. That’s where I hope to meet you!


Chris Kirk owns WildBlue, an aircraft sales firm based at Kansas City’s Downtown Airport. His firm works with clients all over the country to help them sell their high-quality, single-pilot aircraft to buyers world-wide. Having worked with owners’ young and old, experience levels from high to low, and with airplanes used for business and personal use, Chris has closely observed which behaviors result in the most successful sales.


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 January 2014 13:47 )