It’s been a full year since I last wrote an article for this magazine about the market for King Airs. At that time, I was confident in my assertions and the market in general. In fact, the market had been as stable as I had seen it … almost predictable. We’re all accustomed to ever changing, generally declining values of all turbine aircraft, but a stable decline had set in. To be clear, stability to any degree means that we can predict what it will be next week or maybe even next month. Armed with a lot of knowledge and real-world experience, I wrote the article with all the confidence in the world; I’m an expert on the King Air market, right? Then something interesting happened between writing that article and it arriving in the mailboxes of fellow King Air aficionados around the globe – it changed. The market. It just changed! It made me a liar, or at least called into question my competence. My phone began to ring and one call was from my friend, colleague and well-known King Air broker John Murphy from Murphy Acquisitions. John said, “Chip, when did you write that article?” When I replied it had been a couple of months before the magazine was mailed, he confirmed that was exactly what he thought. The market in January looked very different from the market in March.
Here we are a year later, and I’m being asked to do it again? Never one to shy away from sticking my hand in the proverbial fire for a second time, I accepted the challenge and then went about trying to figure out how to explain the unexplainable. To say that the King Air market got weird last year would be an understatement. I saw airplanes sell for well above what I considered to be fair market value and simultaneously witnessed airplanes sell well below what I thought they were worth. There was a particular King Air that sold last year that was such a great deal, I was sick that we didn’t have a client for it. My sorrow was short-lived though, as we made unbelievable buys on not one, or even two, but three King Air 350s in a row.
How do you rationalize that the market is good and potentially bad for sellers at the same time? How do you explain to a buyer that we might get a smoking deal or might have to pay more than we like for a pristine airplane?
The answer to the status of the market is that overall it is good; King Airs in general are in high demand. However, that is where the generalizations must stop, if one hopes to grasp the increasingly complex
King Air market. It is huge, with an astounding 84.2 percent of all King Airs ever built still in service; that is a lot of airplanes! In fact, there are more Beechcraft King Airs flying than all models of Avanti Piaggio, Cessna Conquest, Merlin, Mitsubishi MU-2, Pilatus PC-12, Socata TBM, Piper Cheyenne, Piper M series and Turbo Commanders … combined. Not only are there well over 6,000 King Airs still in service, but they range in year and model from a 1964 King Air 90 proudly wearing data plate LJ-5 to the latest King Air C90GTx having a difference in serial numbers of over 2,000! New versions of the latest models – the King Air C90GTx, 250, 350i, 350ER and 350C – keep rolling off the manufacturing line.
The King Air is the most prevalent, highly popular and extremely recognizable turboprop ever built. The result is a huge market with aircraft values from just over $100,000 for a flyable King Air 90 to a reported $10 million for the latest military version of the -67 powered Special Missions King Air 350ER. No other aircraft market is as large and complex as the King Air market. If it wasn’t complicated enough, the King Air caught the eye of a brilliant individual named James Raisbeck. Nothing like an airplane having a $200,000 swing in value based on structural upgrades. It doesn’t end there, another James (who happens to go by Jim) decided that King Airs needed bigger, more powerful engines. Jim Allmon sketched out a hawk on a cocktail napkin and Blackhawk Modifications was born. Blackhawk’s engine upgrades dramatically change the value of King Airs, hundreds of thousands and now even well north of $1 million!
BUT … this complexity isn’t new to those who live and breathe the King Air market. So, what’s different? I believe it’s a combination of factors – the robust market has consumed much of the backlog of good airplanes, and I think the buyer changed.
I’ve lived in the King Air world for a long time; the King Air buyer we talk to today is on average more educated about the airplane and the market. With access to information at our fingertips, as well as great resources for real-world knowledge like the BeechTalk forums and Tom Clements’ “King Air Book,” it is easier than ever to know more about the aircraft. The more knowledgeable buyer will typically have higher expectations in his choice of aircraft, and then combine that with the fact that available inventory of pristine airplanes is very low. The result is a discerning buyer and limited choices or yet another micro market.
The effect of all these factors is that we watch some airplanes sell for more than they should because the impulsive buyer, frustrated with the lack of options, buys what he perceives as the best deal within his limited timeframe. In a seemingly contradictory statement, we see great airplanes get stale and languish in the very same market. These airplanes are often victims of the same fate – they hit the retail market at an asking price that was too high and after being advertised for a few months they are stale, most buyers assume that if no one else has bought them, they shouldn’t either.
In a whirlwind of contradictory activity, you must dig a little deeper and pull back the layers. The King Air market is more of a conglomeration of micro markets which we have known, but it’s showing more complexity within those markets.
Why does a perfectly good King Air C90B sit on the market and then months later sell far below the owner’s expectations? The answer is likely that it was missing one of two things – a nice panel or Blackhawk engines. That’s the C90A/B market right now, everyone wants the higher-powered engines and Garmin. If your airplane doesn’t have both, it will probably have to be priced where these mods can be done to sell. There simply doesn’t seem to be a lot of price shoppers in the market right now; the buyers are looking for a “no excuses” ready to go airplane and are willing to pay for it. But it is a micro market – the limit for any C90B is about $1.6 million, no matter the upgrades, because then it’s starting to get into the C90GTi range. A buyer won’t pay more for a 1999 model than they will a 2009 one, even if they prefer the Garmin panel to the Collins Pro Line 21 avionics.
The wildly popular King Air B200 continues to dominate the King Air product line. A pristine “full Raisbeck” (Epic package) B200 with Blackhawk -52 engines, BLR Winglets, Garmin G1000 NXi panel and new cosmetics will sell for as much or more than a newer King Air 250. Why? It’s a micro market. Try finding a pristine B200 with all the desirable upgrades. We found exactly one last year. I’m thankful we didn’t have another client come along that wanted that nice of a B200, because there wasn’t a second one.
The King Air F90 and King Air 300 are my two favorite micro markets. The F90 provides similar performance to a Blackhawk C90 and has 100 gallons more fuel! Plus, it is hands down the best looking 90 ever built. The King Air 300 gives you big motor B200 performance and 14,000 pounds gross weight. It requires a type rating, but it’s worth the extra effort. I mention this because some micro markets are challenging for the buyer. Don’t believe it? Try being a B200 with a $1 million-dollar budget. It’s refreshing to know that some micro markets actually create opportunities for the buyer.
The King Air 350/350i market is a wild one. In 2019 it was extremely difficult to find a nice post-500 serial number model 350 for less than $3 million, but we made some very good buys in sub $4 million-dollar 350i’s. One client had been shopping for a fairly long period of time, unable to find what they were looking for, so they hired us. We struggled as well – one airplane that I went to look at was a good deal … but not a great deal. The buyers raised their budget a few hundred thousand dollars and we were able to purchase a much newer 350i! The sub $3 million-dollar model 350 market was a tight micro market and we had to get out of it to make a buy.
If you’re shopping for a King Air, don’t be discouraged. The market overall is tight, but if you do your homework and understand these micro markets I’m referring to, opportunities do still exist.
My advice to the discerning buyer – when selection of nice King Airs is low, it is tempting to compromise and buy an airplane that has issues that cannot be corrected. The temptation is obvious in today’s market, but you must consider what the market may be like when you decide to sell the airplane. That “story” that you overlooked to get a better deal, might make it the last airplane to sell in a softer market. If you are unable to find what you are looking for, don’t overlook the ugly ducklings! Two of the 350s I mentioned were good deals partially because the stripe colors were less than desirable; one has already been to Airways Custom Touch Up in Oklahoma City. They changed the stripe color and painted the nacelles; it doesn’t even look like the same airplane.
What’s the market for a particular model of King Air? For the first time ever, I can’t answer that. Give me a couple of days for my team to make calls and research. What’s a certain King Air worth? That depends on what sold yesterday and what it sold for.
Chip McClure has been in the aviation industry for over 20 years. He and his wife Amy founded Jet Acquisitions in 2015; the firm exclusively represents turbine aircraft buyers and specializes in King Airs, as well as all models of current production turboprops and jets.