As I returned from the annual Oshkosh show, where enthusiasm for aircraft new and old seemed alive and well, it occurred to me that what’s old may indeed be new again.
Recent news, and proudly advertised at this year’s aviation mecca, included the development of a new jet that can land on unimproved fields. Imagine that –– an off-road jet. After all, not every place one wants to go has a former air force base to land on.
Of course, we’ve been enjoying the versatility of turboprops, particularly Commanders, for many years. They continue to serve as our airborne Swiss Army Knife, capable of a variety of missions, affordable, and conveniently packaged. Having enough speed and range to make cross-country flights enjoyable is pretty good, too. The fact remains that used aircraft represent good overall value in a market that continues to favor buyers who see an inventory of good-quality aircraft at prices very near recent market lows.
Some interesting trends may be emerging. The current market across the turbine fleet, including both jets and turboprops, shows a steady decrease in inventory levels. Some makes and models are at their lowest inventory level in four years. Prices continue to bounce along the bottom in many –– but not all –– markets. While late-model jets (less than 10 years old) for sale are becoming scarcer, market information provider Jetnet also reports a double-digit increase (13.4 percent) in asking prices for used business turboprops for mid-2013 verses a year earlier. Transactions, however, have slipped 3.9 percent over the same period.
Commander JetProp advertised inventory, including total for sale worldwide, has decreased approximately 10 percent year-to-date with fewer than 50 shown for sale today. Model 900 and 1000 Commanders are particularly hot with only two or three currently advertised for sale, with as many transactions within 30 days.
International buyers continue to obtain aircraft from the U.S. fleet, a phenomenon that has persisted for at least the last five years. NationAir Aviation Insurance reports that of the 902 Commander turboprop models that were built, 720 remain active with 302 on the U.S. registry.
Contributing to the popularity of turboprops among buyers is the price of fuel, which currently is at record levels. From a 2009 post-bubble low of about $4.50 per gallon, Jet A is well over $7.00 a gallon today.
Legacy jets may appear to be good values at today’s low asking prices, but with fuel being the largest component of operating costs, the nod for efficiency clearly goes to turboprops. With its fuel-sipping twin TPE331 powerplants, a typical cross-country trip in a Commander requires about half the fuel of a typical smaller legacy jet.
Leaving Oshkosh flying the new Garmin 1000-equipped Commander, I can definitely say that it flies even better than it looks and is a great way to combine the best of legacy performance with the newest technology available.
Bruce Byerly is vice president at Naples Jet Center and a long-time Twin Commander sales professional.