“I thought 2021 was the recovery year when everybody got over Covid, which they largely did,” he said. “The 100 percent accelerated depreciation in the U.S. was driving the market toward the end of last year. The rest of the world was also pretty active; a few trillions of dollars had been put into economies to try and float them again after Covid and some of that money certainly ended up in business jets, and so there was a huge boom last year.”
He had not expected such favorable market conditions to continue this year. “Prices have carried on up even further as available aircraft of most types become fewer and fewer,” he said.
According to Harding, first-time buyers have been common during the pandemic. “They are buying late-model Globals and Gulfstreams; it’s quite a change from before Covid when this was much rarer for a first jet,” he said. “Internationally, we feel that there are fewer business jet buyers using traditional financing these days. Many purchase using their own money, and maybe re-finance later or maybe not at all.”
He said sales of Gulfstream G650s and Bombardier Global 7500s were also “very much on fire.” Action Aviation was involved in a couple of preowned Global 7500 transactions recently, each valued at more than $70 million.
“Fewer aircraft seem to go on market these days,” he said. “The well-connected brokers often know what’s coming to market beforehand and will usually know of a few buyers already looking for such a type. In a market with a lot more buyers than sellers, worldwide connections are proving more important than ever, especially as some types are really only being found at sensible prices in the more out-of-the-way places worldwide.”
Due to this dynamics, Action Aviation has seen its staff increase to about 20 employees around the world and plans to grow significantly further in the next couple of years.
“We just happen to operate out of Dubai as head office, but we have offices in various parts of the world,” he said. “Business jets aren’t local: they are bought from one part of the world and supplied to a completely different part. It’s not so feasible really to have a regional-only broker for large business jets; you can have local operators who only fly in that territory, but to be effective a broker really needs to be more global.”
Due to Western sanctions over the Russia-Ukraine war. the Russian market poses a pertinent question for the brokerage at the moment. If a Russian jet owner is not personally sanctioned and an aircraft is foreign-registered—as opposed to being on the Russian Federation registry—and it is outside Russia, then Harding believes it can be considered for possible purchase. He estimates there are about 400 Russian-owned aircraft around the world, with only about a quarter of those on the Russian registry. Russian-registered aircraft are lost to the market for now, whether the owner is or is not sanctioned, he explained.
“Of the other 300 aircraft, some of those are sanctioned because the beneficial owner is sanctioned,” he said. “Those are definitely also off the menu. So maybe 200 or so can potentially be looked at. However, banks will not fund any aircraft purchased directly from a Russian, whether sanctioned or not, so there are challenges to overcome to acquire them.”
An additional factor is that all Russian-owned aircraft were largely grounded, wherever they were, as manufacturers are no longer supporting them until ownership is changed out of Russian hands.
“Action Aviation is involved in several such acquisitions at present, but with close support from our London lawyers, the Air Law Firm, to make sure we don’t make a legal misstep,” he said. “Emirates flies every day into Moscow, but business jets do not appear to be flying into Russia anymore, as far as we can see. We have a lot of Russians here in Dubai now, often with their business jets parked here.”
Harding estimates there are 20,000 business jets worldwide today, with around 10 percent transacted each year, for a total of 2,000 preowned transactions a year. “That’s a lot of transactions completed in a year, as most of them take a lot more effort and time than people often realize. At Action Aviation, being significantly involved in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, we tend to do more of the big aircraft transactions—typically Gulfstreams, Globals, Falcons, Legacies, or Challengers.
“We did about 30 transactions last year. That was a pretty successful year for us, in fact, our most successful in the 18 years that Action Aviation has operated as a brokerage company. The first half of 2022 seems now to be even more active than 2021, which is great, but not at all what we expected,” Harding said.
“We couldn’t be more positive, really. This market for preowned business jets is just the best market we’ve ever been involved in. It seems even more active than 2007/08. Pretty much every aircraft we’ve bought recently, or have represented, has sold for at least what we expected and sometimes quite a bit more,” he concluded.