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Aircraft: An E-ticket to Takeoff

Some people buy books online, others purchase clothes. A select few have raised the concept of online shopping to new altitudes. Take, for example, the San Francisco investment manager who pointed and clicked his way to a $40 million business jet several years ago.  

About 9:30 one evening, the Bay Area businessman logged on to Aircraft Shopper Online (www.aso.com) and found a Gulfstream V that he liked. After viewing numerous photos and reading the specifications, he clicked on a photo of the plane, e-mailed his contact information to the broker, and waited for a response. A day later, TAG Aviation, the San Francisco broker that had listed the plane, contacted the businessman and initiated the sale process. “We’re a matchmaker,” says Aircraft Shopper Online CEO Tony Friend. “We put the buyer in touch with the seller.”  

Needless to say, purchasing a plane on the Internet isn’t as simple as adding an item to the usual online shopping cart, typing in a credit card number, and adding several dollars to the price to cover shipping. Sites such as Aircraft Shopper Online, aircraftbuyer.com and Airshow do not sell the planes themselves but serve as listing sources for airplane sellers.  

Once you find a plane to your liking, the web site puts you in touch with the seller, who then conducts the transaction. Such sites are also valuable in providing information that might not be available in traditional classified ads and can help you decide which plane to purchase. “There’s an open market of information,” says Gil Wolin, publisher of A/C Flyer and Business & Commercial Aviation, the print counterparts of aircraftbuyer.com. “You can see what’s out there, download specs, view pictures, and learn who the broker is without talking to a human being. As for actually buying an airplane online, that’s very, very unusual.”  

Despite the rarity of an online purchase, interest is rising. More than half of Aircraft Shopper Online’s brokers are reporting increases in the number of inquiries they have received this year compared with last year. Recently, eBay Motors (www.ebay motors.com) sold a Gulfstream II for $4.9 million, the most expensive item ever sold on eBay. Aircraft Shopper Online currently lists more than 3,000 planes for sale, ranging from a 2001 Boeing Business Jet to a 1971 Beech Baron B55. 

On Aircraft Shopper Online, a plane is posted immediately and removed once it is sold, so what you see is exactly what’s available. Brokers are charged by the day, says Friend, so they have an incentive to delist their planes immediately after the aircraft are purchased. Wolin believes that as connection speeds increase, prospective customers will be able to download entire logbooks, inspect planes remotely via streaming video, and chat with sellers.  

Another advantage of online plane shopping is the buyer’s ability to scan planes by model. If you want a Cessna Excel, for example, you can enter your search criteria on the web site. Plug in the model name, the preferred age of the plane, and your price range, and all the Excels that match your requirements will appear. “If you’re looking for an Excel in a print publication, you have to flick through every page to see if it’s there,” Friend says. “If you miss that page, you miss the opportunity to buy it. With us, you can see all of the Excels. There’s no chance of your not seeing all of them.”

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