Buying Repo Cessnas: A Few Stellar Deals Exist

Cessna Finance auctions off a select number of their repossessed aircraft. Popular models can fetch near market price, but some are walk-away bargains.

For many of us, the mention of a repo man may conjure images of Emilio Estevez hunting down a 64 Chevy Malibu with aliens in the trunk. But the sad truth is that repossessions happen on aircraft just the way they do on any other vehicle bought on credit.

Theres a common misconception that these aircraft go back to the manufacturer. They dont. They go to the bank that financed the sale and now has an aircraft owner defaulting on their loan. Thats a sad day for the owner, but, perhaps, an opportunity for you-if you want a light Cessna or a Bell helicopter.

Why Only Cessna?

Banks (or finance corporations) dont want to own aircraft. So much so that our sources tell us they will do almost anything to work with the buyer to avoid taking the aircraft. But it does happen (perhaps more so these days) so there are systems in place to try and recoup some of the loss.

For most major finance outlets, that means the repod aircraft goes to a dealer who then resells it. It turns out the right to do this is highly prized and closely guarded information among aircraft dealers. We tried to find out where youd be likely to find a repo Diamond or Cirrus and had only limited success-and where we did have success it was as off-the-record information only.

Rarely do those dealers say that the aircraft was a repossession, so you might buy the ship without ever knowing it was someone elses hard-luck case.

Aircraft financed through Cessna Finance Corporation (CFC) might have a different fate. The big stuff-Citations and the like-will be sold through dealers or by Cessna Finance itself. But some single-engine piston airplanes and helicopters (remember, Textron is the parent organization to Cessna Finance, Cessna Aircraft and Bell Helicopter) will be put up for bid.

As Is, Where Is

To find out what aircraft are available at the moment, you go to the CFC website at A group of aircraft are all put up for bid at a given time, so if you dont see something you like on that list, you can note when the bidding closes and look again after that date.

If you do click on a link, youll get a standard spec sheet and noted material. Sometimes there are even pictures available. But the agreement makes it quite clear that this is an “as is, where is” bid. It also states clearly that, “Bids submitted as Subject to inspection will not be accepted.”

The aircraft are available for inspection at the location stated in the bid list. If the logbooks are available, they are usually located with the aircraft, but CFC will scan select pages and send them to you. They will also scan the entire logbook (for a fee) if staffing and time permit. While you cant do a true pre-purchase inspection on the aircraft, you can meet with a Cessna representative and see the plane. This can include powering up the avionics or basic investigation, such as removing the cowl to take a closer look at the engine.

There are no qualifications to bid and the highest bidder wins. Winners must wire the money within 48 hours. If they dont, the second highest bidder is notified. We were told that happens less than two percent of the time.

Technically, this isnt an auction. Its a sealed bidding process so you dont know what other folks are bidding. Craig Ellington, Senior VP of Investment for Cessna Finance, told us the process is strictly controlled by the laws on disposing of repossessed assets (Article Nine). This means that there is no reserve on the bidding, but Cessna Finance can refuse any bid.

Whats the range? “There is no real correlation. We stratify the data in all ways. We have gotten full retail all the way to scrap.” That said, most aircraft in flyable condition go for close to the wholesale value of the machine, and thats about where experienced bidders bid. Often the top 20 percent of the bids are within $1000 of each other. Yes, we said experienced bidders. There are about 900 subscribers to the emailed bid list, mostly dealers and individuals who buy planes for resale. What, you thought this was a secret source to get a cheap airplane?

But there are deals to be had. One contact close to the bidding process told us that popular aircraft, such as G1000 172s and 182s rarely go for less than wholesale or better. Less commonly desired aircraft, such as a G1000 206, are commonly better deals. He had seen more than once a year-old 206 go for less than a same-year 182 with basically the same equipment.

More Than Cessnas

Cessna Finance has been around since 1955, and prior to October 2008 they were open to the entire aviation market for financing. That means you might find a late-model Piper or Mooney on the auction block as well. You might even find a 80s Skylane that was on a 25-year loan.

Ellington told us that he couldnt disclose exact numbers for how many aircraft were repossessed during this recent economic turmoil. He did say that it was close to what he saw in the downturn of 2002-3.

Other sources indicate that the number was probably less than 100, but we cant be sure. Ellington did tell us that during boom years such as 2005-6, the number of repos was in the single digits.

As of this writing, the number of repos has stabilized, but isnt yet diminishing. Says Ellington, “Since 1989, this is the fourth recessionary period Ive seen … the numbers [of repossessions] seem to be diminishing in the last 45 days, but we need more than 45 days to go out celebrating. But this tells me were at or near the bottom.”

Making a Bid

Ellingtons advice for anyone wanting to jump into this process was to pair up with a trusted dealer as far as much how much you should bid, and what questions you should ask. You can ask to be subscribed to the email bid list so you dont have to keep checking the site as well.

Our own take is that if we were looking for a late-model Cessna, wed keep an eye on the site. In researching this story we saw some 2007 and 2008 aircraft go by that were still carrying warrantees. Youd certainly have competition on the bidding, but mostly from people who have to get it cheap enough so they can still make money on the resale. If youre looking for an airplane to own, and its something like a Cessna 206 that has a limited market, you could score a screaming good deal.

Jeff Van West is our managing editor and perpetually a Yankee looking for a deal.