Life of an international jet seller

Published: 20 Mar 2015

Tim Barber - Working Week

Tim Barber is regional managing director of business aircraft sales broker and consultancy JetBrokers as well as a partner in Daher TBM 900 distributor Aura Aviation, roles that take him around the world in search of buyers.

Why did you pursue a career in the aviation industry?

It began by chance, really. I came out of a senior corporate role and was taking some time with my young family. After a year or so I started thinking about a new challenge. At that time, I was approached by John Merry, now my business partner in Aura Aviation and the business formerly known as JetBrokers Europe, to see if I’d be interested in bringing an established and respected US aircraft sales brand into Europe, and that was my first dealings with JetBrokers. John had bought and sold many of his own personal aircraft through JetBrokers over a number of years and believed that they had the professionalism and integrity to make a long-term partner. After much research and due diligence we launched JetBrokers Europe at NBAA 2009. We subsequently gained the distributorship for the Daher-Socata TBM 850 and created Aura Aviation to oversee that side of the business. We continue as aircraft sales representative for the now upgraded and renamed TBM 900.

Tell us about your current role?

I am pretty mobile. At the end of last year I was in Georgia, India, the USA and Istanbul within a few weeks of each other. I also travelled to Dubai twice in three weeks, along with other European cities. We need to see the aircraft that we are selling or buying and we also have to visit our clients and prospects. So on any given day I can be anywhere in the world. Not only am I looking for aircraft to sell and also actively selling aircraft, but I am also looking out for new business partners, new locations and so on. Most days I’ll find five minutes to log onto the social media channels that we use, mainly LinkedIn and Twitter, both of which are increasingly interesting platforms that can’t be ignored. There’ll be many conference calls between the various teams across the globe, invariably at strange times of day, and when there’s a deal to close then it’s easy to get totally consumed at this stage of the process.

Where do you source aircraft?

They are sourced globally. We have listings of aircraft in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and, of course, the USA. We have enormous physical and virtual networks and this is effectively our lifeblood. We gain our listing of aircraft to sell through direct contact with owners, although a good proportion of the leads will come about as a result of introductions from business partners, satisfied customers, aviation professionals and recommendations from former clients and so on.

How is the market for preowned business jets in Europe?

The market today is certainly showing some signs of improvement. It’s not unusual for brokers to be talking the market up, but we closed five deals in January and had a strong February, selling three Learjets in a single week. Our biggest challenge now is to replace the sold inventory with new aircraft to sell. Fortunately we have quite a few acquisition projects keeping us busy at the moment, but our for-sale inventory is now down to around 20-25 aircraft, which is about as low as I have seen it. Everyone I speak to in our sector reports a good level of activity, but it’s easy to be busy whilst not achieving results. At present I feel we are seeing a pretty busy sector and the results will hopefully be  reflected in the statistics as we move through 2015. However, all too often the sales are only being achieved as a result of aggressive pricing. The market is very segmented and in some areas we see the inventory rising and prices falling, while in other areas we see stable or reducing inventory accompanied by more stable pricing. Basic supply and demand economics, but it’s fascinating just how localised it can be.

What are the major challenges for an aircraft broker?

The main challenges are the inundation of enquiries from prospective buyers from dubious sources. You can’t write off any enquiry, but it’s clear many of the Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail accounts they come from are merely our competitors researching. I just wish everyone made the enquiry in their real name and stated that they were researching, because in the long run we’d all benefit: brokers, owners, sellers and buyers. Finding listings is always a challenge, and it’s always disappointing to be verbally promised something, only to later see a U-turn – but we’re all used to that by now. It’s patience and tenacity – you have to play the long game. 

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