How to Sell an Airplane, Part 1 of 5

Beechcraft Bonanza (photo credit: WikiWings)
Beechcraft Bonanza (photo credit: wikiWings)

Looking to sell your airplane in this post Great Recession economy?  Then consider preflighting your marketing strategy.  You’ll need to check three things: customers, competition and capabilities.

First, understand your customers.  Most of us will only sell 1 or 2 planes in a lifetime and for many the sales plan never goes beyond “I’ll just post an advertisement” or hand it off to a broker.

But to obtain the best price, you’ll want to market the plane to attract your target customer.  What are the market segments for your aircraft?  I recently sold a Piper Archer.  Pilots shopping for either a high or low wing airplane were in a broad market segment.  I found, prospective callers who wanted a low wing plane were usually more qualified.  Callers who knew they wanted the Piper tapered wing instead of the Hershey bar wing were immediately more qualified buyers for my 1976 Piper Archer.

Think back, what motivated you to buy your plane?  Why would your plane interest one pilot more than another?  I purchased my Piper Archer because it had a very capable instrument flight rules (IFR) Bendix/King panel with a STEC-55 autopilot.  I appreciated the avionics.  I had flow many hours with much less.  So items like a horizontal situation indicator (HSI) differentiated my plane but not so much to all pilots.

Sales calls for my Piper Archer included all the above market segments and callers that inquired could be categorized by their type of flying: low time students, $100 hamburger flyers, VFR only flyers, cross-country IFR flyers, etc.  Which group would have a higher perceived value for a plane with extra IFR capability?  You’re right, the IFR flyers.

So not all buyers are the same.  If every caller is your potential customer then no one is your customer.  Understanding your customer’s needs and perceptions is fundamental to marketing your plane and to managing your expectations with prospective callers.  Don’t be disappointed if the first dozen callers are not ready or a match to buy your airplane.

Second, understand your competition. From the comfort of your home you can search the internet to see almost every competing aircraft for sale.  Begin by reviewing the sales market for your type and model aircraft.  Take notes on model years, condition, features, avionics, engine time, price, and location.  How many competing planes are on the market?  Just like customers, competing aircraft fall into market segments.  Which planes are most like yours?  Are they geographically close?

Aircraft for sale most like yours should be on your short list to research.  Call and talk to the sellers. You’ll learn more about the market.  Find out when their aircraft went on the market.  Watch to see which ones sell over the next 90 days.  Plan on making a follow-up call.  Some will tell you the sales price.

Third, understand your capability.  Do you have the resources, time, and temperament to sell the airplane yourself?

Resource check: Do you have basic skills with Excel, Word, digital cameras and photography?  Can you upload pictures to the web?  How much are you willing to spend on advertising?  I budgeted an average of $45 per month.  It got the job done.  Spending more might bring a faster sale.

Time check: Plan on spending 1-2 hours a month reviewing the market and updating your advertising.  And, expect 2-3 hours per month answering phone and email inquiries.

Have you waited until the last-minute to sell your plane?  Are you under pressure with expenses on another aircraft already purchased?  These factors may affect your ability to negotiate effectively and willingness to wait on the right offer.

Temperament check:  You need to decide whether to sell the plane yourself or have a broker handle the transaction.  Be honest with yourself.  Do you want to talk with prospective buyers and respond to their requests for information? Is the deal size of your aircraft sale one you want to handle?  Owner sales of a piston single engine Bonanza, Cessna or Piper are relatively easy.  But selling a high-end complex aircraft can be more demanding.

Words of caution if you go the route of a broker, deal only with reputable companies.  You’ll need to do due diligence when selecting a firm.  Either way, devote some time to studying the current market to make sure you’re getting the best price possible.

Selling a general aviation aircraft today is easier with the Internet but this crosswind economy makes landing a deal challenging.  If you’re looking for “top dollar,” allow yourself about 150 days to sell your aircraft.  That timeline includes:

  • Getting your advertising content complete
  • Taking pictures in right setting on right day
  • Preparing your airplane for sale
  • Not taking the first offer

How to Sell an Airplane, Part 2” Marketing basics to support your goal of selling a plane

How to Sell an Airplane, Part 3” Explains one tip that doubled qualified leads and netted a sale within 90 days

How to Sell an Airplane, Part 4” Several marketing approaches to selling an airplane

How to Sell an Airplane, Part 5” Steps in preparation for the day of sale


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