The Cutting Edge

A New Normal for Preowned Business Aircraft

There are signs that the used aircraft market has hit bottom

As Originally Published in Aviation International News AINsight

Anyone who makes their profession within the business aviation industry is well aware of what happened to seemingly everything we touch relative to business aircraft as a result of the pandemic. During that time of uncertainty, everything became scarce and expensive.

Now, nearly four years later, we all can likely agree that things have loosened up for a vast majority of us who work in and around business aircraft—to a certain degree. I cannot speak to all sectors of the industry, but I can speak to the aircraft resale market. Let’s look back and also forward to see where it puts us now.

Depending on the source of the data chosen, it will show in approximate terms that the supply of for-sale preowned business aircraft was at an all-time low in early 2022, at approximately 2 percent of the fleet. It hit a high of about 6 percent four months ago and, at present, it is just off that high. What we have defined as “normal” in years past is approximately 7 to 8 percent of the fleet for sale at any given time. But it makes me wonder: is 6 percent the “new normal”?

Here is where I think it gets more interesting. Other than the last two months of 2023 (driven by the usual year-end, tax-driven sales behavior), inventory of aircraft coming on the market versus those that have sold has been at a pretty consistent rate for approximately one year. It has been anywhere from 2:1 to 2.5:1. It is a good case that all that the market lost in supply at the end of 2023 due to year-end purchasing has nearly been replaced over the first quarter.

The Vref price book holding firm now for one quarter tells us, in my opinion, that we may be getting close to “normal” and that the Covid pricing correction has slowed and may have bottomed out or perhaps flattened out. Most models have fallen between approximately 10 to 30 percent from their highest values posted in late 2022.

What does all of this mean? I’m of the mindset that the market has either come close to finishing or has finished its correction from the spike in prices and decrease in supply that occurred. I also believe it is a fair bet that corporate aircraft will continue to incrementally increase in supply at a slower pace and get back to “average” supply of approximately 7 to 8 percent over 2024. In most cases, aircraft prices are still higher than they were pre-Covid, but the demand for business aircraft is stronger. As a result, pricing may settle out a bit higher from where it was in 2019.

In general, backlogs for most new models of aircraft have not been getting longer each quarter like they did when values were peaking in late 2022 and early 2023. But the number of people who wish to fly in a business aircraft—whether it be in the form of charter, fractional ownership, or full ownership—is still greater than it was in 2019.

It will be easier to define what is normal when we can estimate that inventory levels are at their new, sustainable levels and pricing has flattened. Then we can know how large the audience is for the product we all touch in some way—the business aircraft. It is a fair estimation, in my opinion, that we may actually be at or near the new normal right now. Back to a “normal” rate of market depreciation, back to “normal” pricing levels, and going to work every day is back to…normal.