Co-Founder and CEO, Charlie Bravo Aviation
President, Par Avion
President and COO,
Freestream Aircraft US
Demand for pre-owned business jets has been strong in the US for the last 12 months, but can it continue this run?
What is the biggest threat to your business?
The US market is active right now. People are optimistic about the economy in the US and are getting used to the ups and downs of the political scene, which has been in turmoil since the 2016 presidential election.
The government shutdown in January this year slowed our business for the first quarter, as we serve a lot of small and mid-size companies. But there is an uptick now in activity with similar businesses. Demand for larger-cabin aircraft fluctuates less on economic and political factors, as they typically are part of a pre-determined five to sevenyear fleet plan.
The first quarter was rather quiet, regardless of the sector of the market we were working in. It seems that buyers had a hangover from 2018. Everyone was so active then and there was a lot of trade going on, irrespective of the make or model of airplane. There were also some issues which tempered enthusiasm in the United States. These included the government shut-down and the trade war with China – which I think is still an unresolved issue. But I am starting to receive more enquiries, and acquisitions are coming back on line.
As for as the global perspective, I think it's same old, same old. I have not seen a marked increase in business, but there is a steady level of enquiry from around the globe. The market to talk about is the market in the United States.
Despite the great amount of transactions we are completing, the expectation was that the market would be more robust here in the US, based on the elections results. I will never write off the US. With so many billionaires based here, it’s the best place to be a broker. China is creating two billionaires per week.
Are you seeing the momentum from 2018 continue?
We are seeing momentum in our business – which is primarily light and mid-size aircraft. I think that a proaviation, pro-business and pro-economic growth president who has high approval ratings right now is good for private aviation.
It’s not so much momentum as more activity. It's not a snowball rolling down a hill. This is because no project is a slam-dunk anymore. They're all deeply intricate. They require quite a bit of oversight and a greater investment of time to accomplish than they did in prior years. In part the slow start to the year can be attributed to the diminished confidence at the time. But the US government restarted, and I feel we are slowly coming back to business as usual. In two years’, time we'll have presidential elections, but we know what we have got to work with for now.
Buyers are strategically looking for new inventory and the highest serial numbers. The pricing for new aircraft is quite attractive at present. Also, the cabin design and new technology simply blows away the 10-years-and-older, used market.
What is your biggest worry at the moment?
Overall, the cost of maintenance for the pre-owned market worries me, ADS-B included. The Citation X and XLS see a lot of activity and we are looking at astronomical engine overhaul prices for these aircraft. Even if it is on an engine programme like partial JSSI, engine overhaul prices may exceed half the cost of the aircraft. We are going to see some great airplanes going away because of maintenance costs. And then that increases the barrier to entry for first time buyers.
The economic experts say that the US is due for a recession. There has to be a downturn and it's coming. So, my concern is: “What does 2020 look like as a result?” And I also believe that we can talk ourselves into a recession if the press and the financial experts keep talking about it.
The market will change drastically, if not at the end of 2019, then certainly in 2020. And this will be worse than anything we experienced in 2008. I am not concerned personally, but the aircraft brokerage business will be altered. That said, one should never write off corporate aviation, it will continue to grow despite any setbacks or market changes. The high net worth individuals (HNWIs) will remain rock solid and continue to travel privately as 100% owners and fractional share owners.
What is your forecast for 2019?
As trade agreements settle with the US and other countries, I think we will see some of the international market picking up again. In the meantime, the US market will remain strong and other markets will hold steady.
Well, if we are just talking from a
business perspective, I think 2019 will pan out to be as good as 2018. It will be steady. That said, given the recent positive economic news in the States, perhaps the market will defy all the sceptics and turn out to be a bit more exciting. In terms of disruptors, the real disruptor today is the space program.
Freestream will remain busy throughout 2019. I believe companies such as WheelsUp, VistaJet and Planet 9 create a lifestyle within the private travel space that becomes contagious. While I do not know where shared trips will go into 2019, I’m intrigued, as it brings a wider audience to our space.