All those years of work have come to fruition. You can finally afford to buy that wonderful house you have dreamt about for so long. The money is in the bank, just waiting to be spent. At last! You breathe a sigh of relief. And that’s your first mistake. Lawyers, accountants, estate agents… your troubles are only just beginning.
Buying an aircraft is a similar experience. Worse, even. At least houses don’t need to be moved around the world. The moment you sign that deal on your new business jet, a whole world of challenges seems to soar up around you. How you address those challenges will determine whether you are about to enter delivery-process heaven or hell.
The importance of planning cannot be over-emphasised. The process essentially begins with your Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC). If the aircraft type is already on your AOC, then all is well and good. If not, you need to ensure that all necessary departments are involved in the process as early as possible and delegate responsibilities appropriately. The planning team should include the chief pilot, the fleet manager, the training captain, the quality manager and the chief engineer. Now is the time to embrace those long meetings and boring checklists! I can’t stress enough the importance of a wide-ranging brainstorm.
There are a number of core areas on which to focus when adding an aircraft type to the AOC. I would highlight, in particular, that as well as the need to write maintenance and operating manuals and procedures, there is the essential task of liaising with the region’s Aviation Authority. It’s absolutely vital to bring, and to keep, these on your side. Establish a rapport with the relevant officials and keep them informed of your progress, or problems, continuously. Don’t let them experience any unpleasant surprises, especially not on time-critical matters. There will always be challenges to address when introducing a new aircraft type to your fleet and an open dialogue with the aviation authority, and the consequent development of trust, is invaluable.
Moving on, does everybody on your staff know everything necessary to finalise any training plans and schedules? I’ve actually seen operators take delivery of an aircraft and only then organise the crew training. You need to coordinate the training with the delivery schedule; don’t buy an aircraft and then leave it sitting on the ground, doing nothing except costing you money!
Work closely with the manufacturer, of course, but avoid over-reliance on any third parties. Take the initiative to understand and manage all the aspects of the delivery process yourself, particularly where regional matters are concerned. Make sure, for example, that the aircraft complies with the relevant FAA, EASA or other relevant regional association’s requirements. And I mean, make sure! Don’t take anybody else’s word for it.
Delivery day is approaching. But if you thought you’d seen the back of the paperwork, think again. My delivery process checklist alone is nearly 20 pages long! There are literally dozens of documents needed simply to fulfil the most basic requirements, ranging from the certificate of acceptance and transfer of title and risks through to the delivery receipt and the shipper’s export declaration.
Among other things, you need to be working to ensure the aircraft complies with the documentation of financiers, lawyers and insurers. You will probably need to appoint a specific agent to deal with the very complex areas of VAT and import duty.
When delivery day arrives, the checklist below outlines some, but certainly not all, of the key points to be considered:
- Don’t use ‘ferry pilots’; do the job yourself with your own pilots.
- Go and collect your prize in person.
- Proactive thoroughness is the key to your pilots’ flight test; again, do not just rely on the manufacturer.
- Prepare in advance a detailed schedule of your own to ensure your flight test checks all the relevant performance data (which will naturally include the basic areas from climb, descent and stalls to instrumentation, heating and lighting).
- Your chief engineer should be equally thorough, scrutinising technical and regulatory compliance documents, checking the avionics down to the serial numbers, and carrying out full physical inspections of the engines and airframe.
Collecting the aircraft is inevitably a landmark time. In fact – and my tongue is only slightly in my cheek now – you may have based your entire aircraft selection on your plans for this day. Shall we go clubbing in Brazil? Or do we want an early night in Kansas? There’s quite an experience to be enjoyed collecting an Embraer Phenom 100, and a very different culture with the Cessna folks in Independence, but, most importantly, you’ll be meeting very nice, very professional people either way.
And when the socialising is over, bring the aircraft home as quickly as possible. There’s work to be done and, hopefully, money to be made. Following are some concluding key steps to a perfect delivery:
- Sight and operational aircraft inspections (airframe/avionics/engine/interior)
- The acceptance flight
- Full review of all technical documentation
- Review of production exceptions reports
- Pilots’ and maintenance engineer’s sign-off
- Funding process completion
- Export/import process; customs, duty and VAT
- Aviation Authority requirements and process.