Last-minute pur­chas­ing hic­cups


Flying - - CONTENTS - By Dick Karl

She’s sit­ting there, right out­side those dou­ble glass doors, re­splen­dent in the Mid­west af­ter­noon sun­light. I am im­pris­oned with three oth­ers in a con­fer­ence room just a few feet from the ramp. If I lean back I can see her, all de­tailed, shiny and stand­ing re­mark­ably tall.

No Fer­rari ever looked bet­ter on the de­liv­ery floor, and this is no au­to­mo­bile. This is the dis­til­la­tion of 50 years of yearn­ing, months of plan­ning and a life­time of work and sav­ing. This is to be my first jet and very prob­a­bly last air­plane. It’s a Pre­mier 1.

So near, yet so far. There is a lot to do be­fore those doors swoosh open and I climb aboard and fly off into the sun­set. The process has been long and more com­pli­cated than I had an­tic­i­pated. Sell­ing our Cheyenne took seven months, and look­ing for a new (to me) air­plane took an­other two. I had thought that wav­ing some money around would make the pur­chase quick, but it didn’t. Now I’m in this room.

Who are my min­ders in this con­fer­ence room at the Tex­tron Main­te­nance Cen­ter in Wi­chita, Kansas? I know that two of these men are help­ing me by be­ing care­ful and com­plete. This is just like know­ing the doc­tor is “help­ing” you when she lays a sharp knife against your skin. This is best for me, you think, but it is painful.

One is Mike Shafer, a bro­ker at Mer­cury Air­craft Sales. A for­mer NFL player and now friend of mine, he has

been with me ev­ery step of the way. He’s dot­ted the i’s and crossed the t’s even as I have squirmed and pleaded for re­lief. He’s held my hand, told me to be pa­tient and schooled me in the in­tri­ca­cies of en­gine and avion­ics pro­grams and how to ac­cept an air­plane af­ter you’ve agreed on the price.

Mike found Brad Guy­ton, pres­i­dent of BAG Avi­a­tion, who is an FAA A&P, with in­spec­tion au­tho­riza­tion and an air safety and air­wor­thi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Brad worked as a di­rec­tor of main­te­nance at Hawker Beechcraft and Raytheon, and now has his own pre-buy con­sult­ing busi­ness. I have con­cluded I will never buy any­thing again, not even a tooth­brush, with­out get­ting Brad to sign off on the pur­chase. Brad knows which ser­vice bul­letins mat­ter. He’s in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the type of air­plane sit­ting out there in the sun, and he’s also very closely aware of this par­tic­u­lar air­plane. He has spent days here in Wi­chita, ex­am­in­ing ev­ery main­te­nance-log en­try for this air­plane. He knows why the lead­ing edge was re­placed on the left wing and what caused the fuel leak.

Brad, too, cau­tions a care­ful ap­proach to this pur­chase. He can see in my at­ti­tude that I am like the last guy in the bar at clos­ing time. I just want to get in and go. He ap­peals to my sense of par­si­mony. He em­pha­sizes how ex­pen­sive it would be if we missed some­thing.

The other gen­tle­man at his lap­top is Jim Mitchell, a sales­man for El­liot Jets. Jim is 59 and has sold air­planes his en­tire ca­reer. He has sat through count­less meet­ings like this, though I doubt he has ever had such a skit­tish cus­tomer.

My wife, Cathy, has al­ready sent the money for pur­chase to the es­crow agent. She’s home on the phone. We wait for the air­plane to be re­leased from main­te­nance. I should think that the air­plane is al­ready re­leased; it is sit­ting right there — I can see it. But it isn’t re­leased un­til the pa­per­work is done. Once it is, a main­te­nance flight must be flown be­cause the lead­ing edge was re­placed. Some stall pro­files must be flown. No­body but Tex­tron peo­ple are al­lowed on the flight. It slowly dawns on me that this process will drag out un­til to­mor­row.

Next morn­ing we meet again. The main­te­nance flight has gone well. Now for the de­liv­ery. We re­view the Wil­liams en­gine con­tract. These air­planes have un­cer­tain value if they haven’t been main­tained on ap­proved en­gine pro­grams. In this case, I’m buy­ing an air­plane on TAP Elite. TAP stands for To­tal As­sur­ance Pro­gram. The con­tract calls for a hefty hourly pay­ment to Wil­liams to be ren­dered at the end of ev­ery month. Jim tells me that I am ba­si­cally buy­ing two en­gines and their in­sur­ance pro­gram. The fact that the en­gines are at­tached to a fuse­lage with seats in it is a bonus, but not where the value lies. I am grad­u­ally given to dis­cover how im­por­tant these pro­grams are to pro­tect­ing our in­vest­ment in the air­plane.

The con­tract calls for 150 flight hours a year. If you fly less than that, you still pay the hourly rate times 150 hours. The money is not re­fund­able and doesn’t add to the re­sale value of the air­plane. I quickly cal­cu­late that if we fly 100 hours a year, we will have to pay about $15,000 for noth­ing. I call Cathy. She’s out­raged.

I am un­sure what to do. I feel that I am be­ing taken ad­van­tage of. Mike saw a pric­ing sheet yes­ter­day in­di­cat­ing that we only had to fly 125 hours a year. That I might be able to do. But 150? Doubt­ful.

This is my third trip to Wi­chita. I have al­ready be­gun the type-rat­ing process and have paid $15,000 for in-air­plane train­ing. I have com­pleted two days of ground school. I have al­ready bought a Jeppe­sen chart sub­scrip­tion. I have con­tracted with a pro­fes­sional test pi­lot to fly the ac­cep­tance flight.

I am flum­moxed. About my­self I know this: I never make a good de­ci­sion with a gun to my head. I also know there is no emer­gency here. Bet­ter to for­feit the $25,000 I’ve got in­vested in this process than to pur­chase an air­plane I

Mike saw a pric­ing sheet yes­ter­day in­di­cat­ing that all we needed to fly was 125 hours a year. That I might be able to do. But 150? Doubt­ful.

can’t af­ford. The eco­nomics of this were right at our lim­its as it was. We don’t own a com­pany that owns an air­plane. There are no tax ad­van­tages for us.

I pace out­side. Ev­ery time I re­verse course, there she is. It is still sunny. Ev­ery­body is pa­tient. Brad seems to sense that I am out of my depth and in un­fa­mil­iar wa­ters. He comes to my aid. “If you aren’t com­fort­able …” he says. Jim, who has flown in com­mer­cially from Min­neapo­lis for this clos­ing, now has no idea as to when he’ll get home and whether the sale will go through. But, he’s a pro. He takes Mike, my bro­ker, aside and says, “I’d send your client home — he’s not ready.”

Jim dis­cusses the pos­si­bil­ity of dry leas­ing the air­plane. I call friends of mine ask­ing about their en­gine pro­grams (“Yeah, they got you. What can you do?”) and a trusted avi­a­tion ac­coun­tant con­sul­tant about dry leas­ing (“Pos­si­ble — we see some of it.”).

An hour later, af­ter I’ve apol­o­gized to ev­ery­body, from the test pi­lot to the three gentle­men to the line guys, I give in. Let’s do this. The money is trans­ferred. I sit right seat in the ac­cep­tance flight while Brad sits in the back, test­ing ev­ery cabin light and sound sys­tem.

“How do you feel?” Mike asks me. He wants me to be ec­static, and I want to feel that way too. But all I feel is ex­hausted, ap­pre­hen­sive and em­bar­rassed. Should I really be do­ing this? A mo­ment later, it comes to me: Hell yes. This is my shot — be grate­ful for it.

Sell­ing the Cheyenne took seven months, and although the hunt to re­place her only took two, they were two to re­mem­ber.

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