Hangar 247 / Southern Aircraft Sales Ltd has spent 20+ years operating internationally as an aircraft broker and has transacted deals in over 30 countries. Below we share our experience and the most common mistakes to avoid when buying or selling any aircraft.
Aircraft and helicopter trading is a large target for scammers because fundamentally:
> The transaction can legitimately be in any country.
> The money involved in a single transaction is usually significant.
> Unlike a land or property sale, general aviation transactions are normally completely unregulated.
From the industry professionals who have been there, seen, and heard it all;
1. Always trust your intuition and apply common sense;
> If you feel something is just not right, then most likely it isn’t.
2. Don’t persist with any deal that is tedious or very difficult;
> To get information out of the seller.
> Or where getting any information is subject to your sending money.
> Remember there is a big difference between hard negotiation and a seller being plain evasive or obstructive.
3. Don’t persist with any deal where the other party places you under undue pressure;
> To either complete the sale through fear of missing out on the deal of the decade.
> Or where the deal quickly becomes solely about money or deposit payment, without any importance placed on the aircraft or its compliance.
4. Don’t send money;
> Directly to people unless they are known personally to you.
> Via Western Union of other such exchange.
> Always use a trading bank, registered escrow service or your lawyer/accountants trust account.
> To anyone who only operates via an untraceable email address or social media account.
5. Always validate the deal directly;
> With the registered owner / operator displayed publicly on the civil aircraft register.
> Nearly all civil aircraft registers in the world are online public record, and the registered owner/operator of any aircraft will invariably also be recorded within other general aviation websites.
6. Always use a written sale and purchase agreement;
> Confirming the price, equipment, all sale conditions and taxes - and all prior to sending any money.
> Confirming terms and assurances around refundable deposits.
> The price, taxation and sale terms of verbal/handshake agreements can have a nasty habit of unilaterally changing (usually in favour of the seller) once an initial deposit is paid and the buyer is committed. We have even seen this happen with so called reputable brokers/dealers.
7. Always personally sight the aircraft or helicopter + logbooks prior to committing unconditionally to the purchase and sending any money;
> This includes undertaking a test flight.
> This includes when dealing through a broker, or with a seller that is known personally to you.
> Never be talked into 'just pay the deposit - and we'll worry about the detail later.'
> Remember that it is far easier and less expensive to straighten out any issues prior to payment, than it is after the event and requiring legal/judicial force.
8. Always complete prior full and proper technical and commercial due diligence.
> This includes getting YOUR engineer to look over the aircraft and logbooks.
> Never just rely on the sellers engineer, especially in another country.
(For example; the opinion of and a release to service from the sellers LAME located in the USA is usually of little to no value - when you and your LAME are trying to meet compliance in Australia.)
> Remember even a $4000 plane ticket and accommodation costs required to inspect an aircraft half a world away, will pale into insignificance when compared to most unexpected costs for an aircraft that you have purchased and shipped home sight unseen, only to discover via your LAME it was mis-represented or has expensive technical requirements to be able to meet compliance in your country.
> Validate the legal status with the local aviation authority including its prior history.
9. Be absolutely crystal clear prior on who accepts the risk of any test flights, including those accompanied by the owner.
> This should include confirming who the aircraft is insured with and what excess is payable.
> This includes who the PIC is for any test flight.
10. No deal should ever require that the seller first requires paying money to the buyer;
> For miscellaneous fees and taxes.
11. Always independently verify that you will receive clear title prior to settlement;
> Check that there are no registered securities prior to paying any money.
> Validate clear title yourself independently, never just rely on the seller.
12. When selling only release possession against IRREVOCABLE CLEARED FUNDS;
> As confirmed directly by your bank.
> This includes cashing bank cheques.
13. Always secure all the maintenance logbooks at the same time as possession of the aircraft;
> Just like verbal handshake agreements, we have seen maintenance logbooks sometimes become a mechanism for extortion by way of withholding vital maintenance records pending payment of prior undisclosed charges or taxes.
When either buying or selling - aircraft and helicopters are like boats/yachts/classic cars - purchasing one is normally always a very personal and emotional transaction (even for commercial use) with communications normally being responsive, enthusiastic and helpful. So be wary when;
14. The buyer is too quick to complete the purchase;
> Without any inspection of the aircraft or negotiation, or
> They are very vague about what aircraft they actually want, or
> Their total focus quickly becomes about the deposit payment or obtaining your banking details.
15. The seller that is obstructive or unhelpful;
> Where information availability is subject to your paying money.
> Remember in this business any legitimate deal will normally see you easily obtain all the necessary information without you even needing to ask for it.
> This should not be confused with a sellers requirement to see buyer ‘proof of funds’ prior to an expensive inspection or test/ferry flight. This is often a very normal request to weed out tyre kickers.
16. The initial buyer enquiry is convoluted palaver or is completely over the top;
For example; “Esteemed Best Greetings, Dear Friend, let me present a proposition of great mutual benefit to us..."
...no bona-fide aviator/buyer/seller anywhere in the world, from any culture, uses this type of language.
17. You feel the ‘nibbling effect’ creeping in or an agreement changes wildly;
> Where any agreement keeps unilaterally changing at every discussion.
> An aircraft that is confirmed available at one location, suddenly changes to another far away.
> An aircraft that you confirm you wish to purchase but have not seen, suddenly becomes unavailable - but they have another to hand through a friend.
18. Aircraft and sales listings;
> That are offered well below the market price with no reasonable explanation.
> Or that offers no photos, and none can be made available.
> That cannot provide any actual details/photos beyond generic information, citing local 'airport security' or 'client confidentiality' requirements.
19. Foreign accents on the phone;
> That do not naturally align with the person's name.
> Or when the buyer simply refuses to talk on the phone or video call when this would clearly make things much easier.
20. Communications from a buyer or seller;
> Via an email address that bares no relation to the company/broker that they purport to represent.
> Remember it is very easy these days to impersonate a legitimate company’s domain/email - by just creating a new one with the subtle insertion of a full stop or a hyphen, or by using a .org / .net / .co instead of .com
> Always check any email address with bona-fide sources such as the company’s website domain published - or by phoning their office directly.
21. Scammers contacting you using a VOIP telephone number.
> These start with a +44 so that the call appears to be originating from the UK, but instead are just routed through the UK.
> Normally these calls are actually originating from elsewhere, commonly from African or Asian countries.