Cirrus, Mooney and Cessna offer factory certified pre-owned aircraft as alternatives to buying new models. This is attracting attention in a brisk and comparably priced refurbishment market.
It’s an attention-getting and confidence-building strategy that’s worked for years in the auto industry. To be sure, there’s at least some sharp marketing involved here. When the manufacturer provides a certificate of approval for maintenance history, cosmetic condition and prescribes a thorough engine and airframe inspection process, dealers tack on a premium that’s roughly 10 percent more than a non-certified used model, in many cases.
Let’s take a closer look at the process, the warranty and the economics.
That’s generally the case with most used aircraft purchases when you buy the airplane as is, where is, hopefully after completing a thorough pre-purchase evaluation. While a pre-purchase eval seems like an obvious stage in the purchasing process, it doesn’t always happen. The consequences can be severe.
We remember the sad story of a new pilot who bought a used Mooney over the Internet from an otherwise reputable broker, but ended up shelling out an additional $50,000 in unexpected engine and avionics repairs within weeks of flying the aircraft home. He sold it a loss and walked away from aviation.
That’s the way it goes sometimes, and for the buyer left holding the account-draining repair invoices, an aftermarket repair warranty looks pretty good. More on those later.
Late-model aircraft may still have some factory warranty remaining. Aircraft dealers love these machines because the aircraft essentially sells itself. Expect to pay a premium for them, and for those with a factory pre-owned certificate of approval.
The good news is that many later-model aircraft are well cared for, both cosmetically and mechanically. But that makes the certified pre-owned purchasing decision questionable, in our view, since the short-term warranty that tags along represents most of the added cost. That might not be the case, however, for older models like first- and second-gen Cirruses, which could be approaching 15 years old.
If you own a late-model aircraft, you might utilize the upkeep guidelines of the following pre-owned certified programs as a reference for maintaining it. It could increase its value should you sell.
Mooney’s recent announcement of its factory-backed certified pre-owned aircraft program is a creative way to attract new buyers to the brand, if not reinforcing its renewed market presence. The company told us demand for its factory new $699,000 Acclaim Type S and $649,000 Ovation3 models is high, and the certified pre-owned program for used Ovation3 and Acclaim models can satisfy some of that demand.
Mooney’s program is executed on the dealer level, and was developed in partnership with Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Premier Aircraft Sales. Premier is no stranger to new and used Mooney sales, service and advanced refurbishment work. It’s known for the spinner-to-tail refurbishment, plus the Continental diesel engine conversion of pre-Garmin G1000 Cessna 172 models.
But the Mooney program focuses only on G1000 models built between 2004 and 2014—roughly 300 aircraft. Many of the Mooneys that meet the program’s criteria are sourced from within the dealer network (many have been taken on trade). As we print, Premier currently has four used G1000 Mooney models for sale. There’s a reason for not including vintage M20J aircraft, among other pre-G1000 Mooneys, and aftermarket avionics retrofits are partly to blame.
Mooney’s Jared Absher told us the company excluded pre-G1000 models because there are just too many variables in aftermarket avionic configurations in more vintage aircraft. “It’s tough to standardize and endorse those vastly different configured aircraft. When it comes to the G1000 in newer Mooneys, we know what we’re dealing with,” Absher said.
While there were only slight variations in the G1000 suites in the Mooney model line (which includes WAAS and non-WAAS aircraft), Mooney is dealing with the WAAS GPS and ADS-B issue that’s been a source of frustration for G1000 owners. Absher said the company is close to a certified ADS-B Out upgrade solution through Garmin’s GTX33ES ADS-B remote transponder, plus a G1000 software revision.
Absher stressed that the program isn’t a total refurbishment process, but rather a way for buyers to source a used late-model Mooney that underwent a stringent inspection and cosmetic (paint and interior) repair process. The aircraft won’t be in like-new condition, but perhaps cleaner and with more complete documentation than other used models not in the program.
One item Mooney is looking for is proof that the aircraft has been maintained by a Mooney service center throughout its life, theoretically proving the aircraft has been thoroughly maintained and inspected to factory standards. Airworthiness Directives, service bulletins, and Mooney maintenance manual items are addressed, plus all required and recommended inspections are current. The process ensures that the engine and prop comply with manufacturer overhaul recommendations, plus control rigging is tested and adjusted.
All told, the program includes a 27-point inspection and repair process, which results in a 30-day or 10-hour warranty. All aircraft in the program are issued a factory-signed certificate of authenticity verifying all work was accomplished.
Mooney’s Absher was unapologetic about the program being—in part—a way to increase the value of used aircraft to build buyer interest in factory new models. Even with a potential $200,000 spread between the cost of a mid-time, certified pre-owned Acclaim and a new one, we suspect qualified buyers will do precisely what Mooney hopes—consider placing an order for the new one.
How the program will alter the market value of vintage models is unknown, but Absher thinks it might have at least some positive effects.
“If these late-model certified aircraft are demanding a higher value in the market, I believe there might be a small trickle-down effect for older models, too” he said.
Cirrus’ factory certified pre-owned department started in 2006 when the company bought trade-in aircraft on its own and resold them after performing a stringent inspection and reconditioning process. This helped the company sell new airplanes, of course, given the number of repeat customers looking to step up to later-generation models. Cirrus even offered financing incentives similar to what was offered on a new aircraft, while offering a factory warranty. Buying a used Cirrus was almost the same process as buying a new one. Most buyers even skipped a prebuy inspection, given their confidence in the quality of the aircraft and warranty.
Cirrus eventually divested itself of owning any used inventory, partnering with Ohio-based Lone Mountain Aircraft Sales and TAS Aircraft Sales in Portland, Oregon, to carry, manage and resell the used inventory.
Lone Mountain’s Mark Rogers made it clear that not all used Cirrus models make the cut for factory certified pre-owned status, which carry a six month, 100-flight-hour limited factory-backed warranty.
We read the warranty and found it to be concise, generally well-written and inclusive of what we might expect. It covers major systems including the engine, starter, alternators and avionics, but not the paint, light bulbs, brake linings, filters, hoses and tires. Planes that aren’t worthy of certified pre-owned status are sold as is.
On the other hand, Rogers noted that many Cirrus models are still under the factory spinner-to-tail extended warranty—a popular option that was and is still offered by Cirrus at the time of sale. This could potentially extend coverage out to five years, including the original two-year coverage. As we describe in the sidebar on page 6, it’s possible to purchase an aftermarket warranty, but Rogers noted that many price-conscious buyers simply self-insure.
To be eligible for certified pre-owned status (and a Cirrus Pre-Flown warranty), the aircraft must have no damage history, it must not have any structural repairs, it must have been maintained within the Cirrus service network for all of its life (with maintenance performed exactly per the maintenance manual), the maintenance logbooks must be complete and in orderly condition and oil changes must have been completed per recommended intervals. Aircraft that were ever in the experimental category (even if it was temporary) are not eligible.
Lone Mountain isn’t necessarily concerned with minor cosmetic flaws, including scuffs, scratches and normal interior component repair. This will be addressed as part of the certified pre-owned resale process.
“If it’s necessary, we’ll replace the carpeting, resurface the leather seats and armrests and generally bring the aircraft to a cosmetic standard that is above average,” Rogers told us.
In addition to a cosmetic makeover, the process includes an extensive annual inspection (a $20,000-$30,000 annual, Rogers told us) while also addressing any mechanical issues necessary to meet or exceed Cirrus maintenance manual-recommended and time interval-driven standards. This might include replacing the magnetos and flexible hoses, for example, and even replacing the engine and or overhauling the propeller if the systems are at or approaching TBO.
But for older aircraft that require sizable amounts of rework just to meet certified pre-owned standards, Lone Mountain has been alternately refurbishing them, which, according to Rogers, comfortably fit the qualification of the certified pre-owned program. The refurb could include a complete strip-and-paint, new interior, a factory rebuilt engine, overhaul Hartzel propeller, plus fresh logbooks.
Meanwhile, at Cessna
During our research, we spotted a section on Cessna’s website advertising its factory certified pre-owned program for late-model 172, 182 and 206 models. It farms out the program to six designated Cessna dealers in the U.S.
Air Orlando in Orlando, Florida, is one of them. Company principle Mike Long told us he was instrumental in developing the program in response to the demand for such a program, and sold several pre-owned aircraft delivered with Cessna factory certified certificates in their logbooks.
Long said the aircraft selection process of model year 2007 and newer aircraft is based on cosmetic items that would impede saleability, while performing a detailed mechanical and logbook inspection ensures that any questionable maintenance and damage issue is addressed.
After reviewing a checklist of items completed on the aircraft, Cessna signs off on the aircraft by providing a pre-owned certificate.
“We felt that as time went by, a certified pre-owned aircraft with a factory certificate would enhance its value, thereby increasing its trade value against the price of a new Cessna,” Long said. He also said it’s realistic to expect the aircraft to have a 5-percent price delta over one not in the program.
Since these later-model aircraft all have Garmin G1000 avionics, included is a one-year Garmin FliteLevel extended warranty, purchased by the selling dealer. For aircraft out of Cessna’s two-year warranty, the aircraft were sold with six-month AvGuard extended warranty policies.
As of this coming January, Cessna will sell its piston line direct, eliminating the dealer network. It’s unclear whether the pre-owned program will continue.
The Wild West
As one aircraft sales professional put it: “When it comes to the used aircraft market, it’s the proverbial Wild West out there. Where you buy is just as important as what you buy,” he told us. We agree. The dealer you want to buy from might be flexible to do buyers right on items that fail shortly after the sale, even when it has no obligation to do so.
Used aircraft dealerships that sell the most aircraft and that are in business for the long term do so by keeping buyers happy. Van Bortel Aircraft in Arlington, Texas, currently offers a 100 percent, 60-day/60-hour (and 85 percent, one-year/120-hour) money back guarantee on every pre-owned Cessna it sells. That’s impressive.
In our view, working with flexible dealers like them to help find the cleanest, best-maintained used aircraft you can afford is an alternative to paying a price delta for a certified pre-owned model with a short-term warranty you might not use.