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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

15 September 2008

Our 206B: One Year Later

Here we are at our "store" in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

September 11th is a noteworthy date to be sure. For me, it is extra-poignant because 9/11/07 was the day we officially took delivery of “our” new helicopter. I was down in Sarasota, Florida picking it up from Phil Carey of Engage Aviation from whom we bought it. A year has gone by, so I thought I’d give you an update.

We’ve flown a total of 300 hours – not bad usage for an aircraft. We changed the FAA registration number, the equivalent of getting a vanity license plate for your car. We added some convenience items, like cup holders and extra interior lights given the amount of night flying we do. Other than that, it’s basically the same aircraft as when we bought it. The paint and interior have held up well. The boss loves it.

In the past year, we have had a couple of minor problems - little glitches, really - that were easily fixed by our friends at Heliworks in Pensacola. Nothing major broke, and we never had to cancel a flight due to unexpected maintenance. The helicopter waits patiently for me to come, jump in and mash the starter button. It’s always ready when I am.

There is an expression to the effect that a helicopter is nothing but a collection of parts flying in close formation with each other. To a large degree this is true. There are many parts on a helicopter that are either life-limited or are on a schedule whereby they must be overhauled at various intervals. These limits are not “smooth,” meaning that they do not all come due at the same time. So when you buy a helicopter you must study the records closely to see which components have how much time remaining. It's not as easy as you might think. There are plenty of opportunities for “gotchas.”

One helicopter the boss and I looked at was outwardly very nice. The price seemed reasonable. All of the components had good times-remaining…except…when I dug a little deeper, there were two turbine wheels in the engine that were due for replacement – at a cost of about $25,000 apiece! not including labor. The seller had cleverly disguised this fact in the spreadsheet. An unwary buyer might have missed it completely. Needless to say, we passed on that ship.

One odd thing about the aviation industry is that I had a hard time getting people who had aircraft for sale to call me back. My call would go straight through to voice mail (nobody answers their phone anymore) and I’d leave a message and would not get a response. Or I’d call the owner/operator and request specs on their ship (sometimes more than once!) and they’d never come. It seems as if people in aviation don’t know how to sell stuff.

And then there's Engage. When N218AL came on the market, we liked what we saw. It was freshly refurbished (new paint and interior bits) and seemed to have good component times remaining. I called Engage and talked to Phil Carey’s assistant. Phil immediately got back to me. That in itself was impressive; I'd been getting pretty frustrated up to that point. He then sent me all the specs on it, and invited me down to fly it. Of course I accepted! (Some sellers I contacted were either reluctant to let me fly their machine or said flat-out that it was not possible.)

The ship was as gorgeous in person as it was in the pictures. (In fact, it is so nicely refurbished that most people don’t believe it was manufactured in 1975. Even people who are familiar with Bell 206’s are surprised.) While I was there, Phil made an office available for as long as I needed for me to study all of the records, which he had, back to the date of manufacture. It took some time, but the records were solid – no unexplained gaps or “red flags” that would indicate something was amiss. I told my boss that if we bought the helicopter we could fly it for at least a year without having to do a single thing to it (other than routine inspections, of course). On my second visit, we came to terms on a price, and the deal was closed.

Throughout the process, Phil had been great. He included some “extras” with the helicopter that he really didn’t have to, like a portable air conditioner that sits in the back seat. It’s come in handy when it’s just the boss and me, as it usually is. He made sure…and I mean really bent over backwards…that we were completely satisfied with our purchase. And we are.

Phil Carey usually deals in large airplanes on an international basis. He is a pilot, and an unabashed “helicopter nut.” I wondered why he even messed with helicopters, since they return much less profit-per-sale than a Boeing 737, say. He told me he sells helicopters just so he can get to fly them, which I totally understand.

I’ll tell you one thing about Phil. Due to an error in entering component times into a spreadsheet, I mistakenly came to the conclusion that our tail rotor blades were running out of life and would need to be replaced much sooner than expected. I wondered how I did not catch this during my “pre-buy” inspection, but I assumed that I just hadn’t been as diligent as I should have. Hey, it happens…

By chance I was talking with Phil by phone on another matter, and mentioned that we would be replacing our tail rotor blades soon. “Oh?” he said, sounding puzzled and concerned. “I could have sworn that all the component times on that ship were good.” Without me saying anything more, Phil generously offered to split the cost of a new set of tail rotor blades with us. He certainly was under no obligation to do so.

Based on Phil’s memory and his insistence that something wasn’t right, I went back into the records and double-checked. Sure enough, it was my mistake. Thankfully, we didn’t have to take him up on his kind offer. But the fact that he made it in the first place even before he knew the truth says a lot about the man’s integrity. You want a good deal on an aircraft, a deal you can be comfortable with? Call Phil Carey at Engage Aviation.

Recently, I had to travel to south Florida on business. On the way home I’d be passing “close enough” to Sarasota, and thought I’d pay Phil a visit. “Come on up!” he said enthusiastically. “We can go out to eat. You’ll be staying at my house – no arguments.” We met up, went out and had a wonderful dinner (he paid), then spent the rest of the evening at his place drinking Czechoslovakian beer and talking airplanes until the wee hours. At least I think it was Czech beer – I may have had a little too much of it. Whatever, it was gooooood.

In the coming year, we'll have one relatively inexpensive component that will be due for overhaul in a couple of hundred hours. Then we’ll go a long time without anything else needing to be done. Ol’ N206TH has been a trouble-free bird, exactly as it was advertised. To say we’ve been happy with our ship and Engage Aviation is an understatement. It was a great deal and it’s been a great year.


All plugged-up with nowhere to go: N206TH as I delivered it to Heliworks at Pensacola Regional Airport this past weekend for its 300-Hour Inspection.

20 comments:

divorce lawyer guam said...

what happened to the other one?

smart money partner said...

well its nice to know that you have great hits here.

nasdaq penny stocks said...

thats amazing story.

Bob Barbanes said...

Errr...what?

Spambots, dontcha love 'em?

Anonymous said...

I'll admit, I lost attention with the details in this post but, I want to ask you this...
If *The Boss* is big time wealthy, why isn't he buying brand new rather than kicking the tires on an old ship?


kman

Bob Barbanes said...

kman, even "big time wealthy" people are careful with their money. Mithout divulging too much of my boss's personal business, it's like this: He owns his business(es) outright; nobody has any stock, or tells him what to do. He's da man. He pays for stuff in cash. He does not believe in buying things on credit. And in this case he did not.

Monthly payments on an aircraft can be a bitch when the economy goes sour. Because even if you don't fly the aircraft, it still costs you a ton of money in debt-service and insurance. The market for business jets and turboprops is flooded right now with great, "Make offer!!" deals, as you can imagine.

He and I talked extensively about which particular helicopter he should buy, and considered a number of different types. We settled on the five-seat 206B, not because it was the cheapest, but because it fit 99% of his needs (and still does). He likes the Bell even though there are newer, more modern designs on the market.

New 206's go for around $1.2 - 1.4 million. Is there any real advantage to buying a brand-new one rather than one that's been "refurbed?" Not really. There have been no major changes to the design since ours was built and ours has all of the latest updates/upgrades. Our helicopter is worth just as much today as it was a year ago. That can't be said about a new one.

I can't say what his plans are just yet. But whatever happens, we'll probably keep this particular bird even if/when we buy something else. But as his "get my feet wet" foray into aircraft ownership, this used 206B was a perfect fit for him.

je said...

That is the best response you could have given to 'anonymous', that's why smart people with money still have money. but, to correct you a just a bit, research having your boss buy a new one now, and I bet the deposit you put down will make 200% profit by the time your asset is ready for delivery in 2011. you can't do that in the stock market...

Bob Barbanes said...

Well...that *would* work...but...Bell has decided to discontinue this particular model. There won't be any 2011 Bell JetRangers.

And even if we did want to buy a brand-new one, it's not like a car dealer where you go and pick one off the lot. Aircraft manufacturers don't build "on spec." These days, they build to order. There is a waiting list. We'd still need something to fly while waiting for the new one to be built, even if we could slip in and get an early delivery number from someone who wanted to sell a slot.

Plus, investing in aircraft is a *very* risky business. Who knows what the market would be in 2011?

Point taken though.

Saaaaay, "je" what's up with that picture of the Wall Street Heliport? Brings back memories, it does.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... then would it be safe to say that dumb people with money are the only ones buying brand new helicopters? ;-)


kman

Bob Barbanes said...

Hah! Good one :)

There is a certain status to having a new aircraft (as in cars), and some people just have to have the new. Now that the capital gains tax has been revised (again!), there are some tax advantages to depreciating a new one. And certainly if the aircraft is going to be used to make money (like as a charter plane) it makes more sense to buy or lease a new one. Then there's the matter of the warranty...

But in truth, there are plenty of small to medium companies out there right now...companies which had been prosperous enough at some point to afford fancy-schmanzy helicopters and corporate planes, and which are now saddled with *huge* monthly payments that they have to somehow justify. And it's tough.

Operating a flight department - even a single-ship flight department takes an enormous amount of money. This is why companies like NetJets have sprung up. You get most of the benefits of owning without all the other associated costs and headaches.

In helicopters, age is not a big factor. If the "refurb" was done well, and if all of the life-limited and "overhaulable" components are new and fresh, and if all of the latest product improvements have been incorporated, you essentially end up with a "new" ship. If you can get past the fact that the manufacturer's "data plate" will *always* say "Made in 1975" (or whatever), a used helicopter is a very good (and smart!) purchase.

What *we* lack is a warranty of any kind. There, we're taking a gamble that nothing big is going to break.

je said...

who said buy a 206? Timberline could put an offer in for a 407 and sell the position later for a profit. I happen to know a little about the market, and composite and aluminum are not going to be any cheaper 2 yrs from now...nor is labor and fixed costs. buy a position now, and I'll buy it from you for 115% a year from now... and to "anonymous" stupid is , as stupid does... smart money is buying positions... who cares, who ends up with the end product..

Anonymous said...

I can understand your boss for his decision as he has you, Bob, as his advisor in buying a ship.


kman

Anonymous said...

ps- and that's a good thing!


kman

Bob Barbanes said...

Eh- we talked about it. My boss has better things to do with his money than speculate on aircraft. Not everyone thinks aviation is such a great thing to pump money into. And like I said, we *still* would have had to buy something for the interim whether we actually took delivery of the 407 or not. So, "je" you'll have to find another source for your OPM.

Bob Barbanes said...

P.S. Thanks, kman ;)

R1tamer said...

Hey Bob,

I took a look at the Enagge website. Take a look at the beauty they've got up for sale there jsut at the moment. It looks like an exhibition 206. Immaculate despite its age. I am imagine that's a pretty expensive only slightly used model.

R1tamer

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you might correct my horrendous prior typos ... I can't figure out how to !!!

Bob Barbanes said...

R1, often the only way I've found to correct spelling mistakes/typos (and I make some doozies) is to delete the post/response and start over :-/

Yeah, Phil has some nice ships on his Engage Aviation site. But he's smart enough to know that while a fresh coat of shiny paint and a nice interior will lure you, the component times have to be there or it's just...well, lipstick on a pig (apologies to Sarah if she feels offended).

While I was in Sarasota, Phil told me that he was spec'ing out another 206 that would be the ne plus ultra of 206B models. I told him to send me the pics when he gets it done and I'll make sure my boss sees them.

Who knows...?

DAVID said...

Congrat's on your first year!

Most folks don't realize the amount of time and $$$ that go into aircraft maintenance.

It must have been an Aircraft Mechanic that (plaintifly) coined the phrase, "If it ain't broke don't fix it!" Alas, the FAA won't buy that and every XYZ flight hours or cycles or months we have to tear into a 'perfectly good airplane' to validate her status.

It's not like taking the family wagon in for a 3000 mile oil change. And, we do, occasionally find a, "HOLY CRAPBERRIES BATMAN! CHECK THIS _ _ _ _ 0UT!"

It's all in the care and feeding. A33 year old girl will do everything a new one will.

NETJETS? I love NETJETS-
"Hey, Ralph, It's David. Yer doubleoveheadedhecktfluzit is shot to hell."

"Do you have one on the way?"

"No, it's $15,000 plus shipping and labor. Overtime labor ta boot."

"Overtime is authorized. Get it there counter to counter. Call me when it's fixed."

As opposed to that Traveling Sideshow... "Well, uh, duct tape it."

Bob said...

It's always nice to do business with 'good people' isn't it Bob? I will go out of my way -- and even pay a little more sometimes -- to do business with people who really care and are honest and forthright. I've never understood why that is so difficult for some folks. Anyway, I can tell you feel that way about Phil and the feeling is mutual. Congratulations. I enjoyed reading this.