By the Numbers (Sort of…)

Sam Wolf

08.11.11

As you look at various aircraft to fulfill your mission needs, one of the criteria to examine are the numbers.  Many buyers look closely at acquisition cost and seek to (understandably) obtain the aircraft for the best sales price they can negotiate.  However, what is often neglected are the “real world” operational numbers –how the plane actually flies when the conditions are less than ideal, how routing can effect block speed, and the costs associated with operation and maintenance.  Our Vice President of Sales, Mark Stear has said,  “Buyers need to remember that the acquisition cost is a one-time decision.  Operational costs occur every time you decide to fire up the engine.”

Often, potential buyers depend on data provided by aircraft manufactures to evaluate whether or not the aircraft being considered will meet their needs.  The data provided by manufactures is indeed (in most cases!) honest and trustworthy.  However, they are also “best case scenario” numbers.  They have a vested interest in making the aircraft look as attractive as possible so their numbers will reflect that desire.  For instance, you may see performance numbers that show a certain speed and range.  But you need to understand the conditions those numbers assume.  Planes perform best in cool, low-altitude (field elevation), zero-wind settings.  But seldom will you face such a situation.  If you are flying on a hot day from a airport 6000 feet above sea level, your performance will be significantly reduced.

A manufacturer’s claim for maximum range usually assumes that the airplane will climb directly to its maximum altitude and fly at a long range cruise power setting and airspeed, having departed with a full load of fuel.  That’s the ideal scenario.  In the real scenario you may have to reduce your fuel load to carry all your passengers; not get ATC clearance to your desired max altitude; and/or prefer to stay at lower altitude to realize a faster true airspeed, either of which means you’re burning more fuel per minute.  As a result, you’re now making a fuel stop on your way to the west coast when the sales materials said you could make it non-stop.  It’s still a great airplane, but it is operating in the real world, not the ideal world.

This is why a broker or specialist can be very helpful.  He or she can show you real-world data both in terms of performance and operational costs.  Here at CFM, we charter over 15 various aircraft and manage many more.  We have real-world cost and performance data we can offer to our customers.  So when it comes to operational cost and performance, as you search for your next aircraft, be sure you go “by the numbers”…the “real” numbers.