At Courtesy Aircraft, the focus is on vintage and GA aircraft
By John F. Infanger, Editorial director
ROCKFORD, IL — Promotional literature for Courtesy Aircraft, Inc., touts, "We sell more T-28s than anyone!" They also sell quite a few P-51 Mustangs and an array of other Warbirds, along with the traditional lines of general aviation aircraft. In 2000, president Mark Clark says the company moved some 68 aircraft — half vintage, half GA — worth an estimated $25 million, much of it brokered.
Courtesy Aircraft, Inc., was founded in
1957 by Mark’s father, D.M. Clark, at the Greater Rockford Airport
as a new Cessna dealer. During the 1960s, it also served as a Piper and
Citabria (Champion) retail outlet. In 1983, Mark purchased the company
from his father and began to heighten the focus on vintage aircraft sales.
"I had an interest in the vintage aircraft and the Warbirds, but we haven’t abandoned the other general aviation aircraft," explains Clark.
"So many of our customers have multiple aircraft. Oftentimes, we’ll do a deal where a customer will buy a Warbird and then contract with us to sell his Baron or Cessna or whatever."
Courtesy Aircraft through the years has sold some 1,700 aircraft and their specialization in vintage models has gotten them involved on the seminar circuit at annual shows put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association at Oshkosh and Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, FL. In fact, Courtesy has sold aircraft for both the EAA founder Paul Poberezny and his son and current association president, Tom, explains Clark.
"We have sold virtually every type of general aviation aircraft, from 150s to J-3s to Citations to King Airs to Spartan Executives," he explains. "There are very, very few specific aircraft types we have not sold and flown out of this place."
Today, Clark, 50, and sales manager John G. Kraman, 44, head up the Courtesy team. Both men are certified A&P technicians, which they say helps in the consultative sales approach.
"If one of us takes an airplane out for a pre-purchase inspection," says Clark, "the mechanic will come up with a list of things that need to be rectified before the deal is closed. Some of those are legitimate, some aren’t, and some are open for interpretation. Well, we have some background knowledge to be able to interpret that for our customers. Sometimes you have to bring in an expert, and we’ve been around long enough to know who those people are."
Clark also has a marketing degree from Bradley University, and says he has FAA authorization to fly virtually any type of high performance ex-military surplus aircraft. "That means I can virtually get into any type of ex-military airplane and go flying," he says.
Repeat Customersand aircraft
The focus, however, is on sales, often to the same customers they have served previously and often selling the very same aircraft.
Explains Clark, "We keep all of the specifications on file, all of the photographs. A guy will call us up and say he bought the airplane four years ago and is thinking about selling it. I can pop up my spec sheet on my computer and update the sheet. Within an hour or two I can assemble a new spec sheet, pull file photos out, and can have all that out the next morning. We know the airplane; we’ve seen the airplane; we’ve probably flown the airplane." Courtesy Aircraft recently entered its 20-year option period on its lease at the Greater Rockford Airport. Its specialty, Warbirds, includes a T-28 ground school.
Regarding the Warbirds, Kraman relates that they are selling more than an airplane, often helping a customer locate a vintage lifelong dream. "These airplanes are fun," he says, "but tying into that is that they really are a rich part of our history, not only military history. These airplanes are rich in it, and it’s been passed from the World War II generation to another and now we’re seeing a third generation. We’ve come to the conclusion that there will be no graying of the Warbird market, like with old Model T cars or other collectibles."
One of the challenges in selling Warbirds, says Kraman, is that they typically do not have extensive, detailed logbooks like customers are accustomed to having with general aviation aircraft. "If somebody’s buying a Warbird and expecting to see the same type of logbook integrity, they’re probably not going to find it," he explains.
Actual hands-on training can also be hard to come by, says Kraman, which is one of the reasons Courtesy Aircraft bought a T-28 ground school from Darton International in Carlsbad, CA, earlier this year. Operated as Warbird Solutions, LLC, it offers the Trojan Ground School, with Kraman as instructor, for $995. "We felt that it was important to continue on the level of training that they provided. It’s the only T-28 ground school of its kind," he says.
Courtesy Aircraft has a strong customer base in the Midwest, says Clark, though its customer base is global, helped in today’s market via the Internet (www.courtesyaircraft.com). It is located at the Greater Rockford Airport, which features a 10,000-foot primary runway and Cat-3 ILS. Though it has had difficulty maintaining commercial air carrier service, due to its location some 90 miles from Chicago, the airport has a solid business base with a UPS hub and various general aviation businesses.
"We’ve got good airspace here, we’ve got good runways, an avionics shop next door, maintenance on the other side of the field, and an accessory shop across the ramp," explains Kraman.
The company just entered its 20-year option on its leasehold, and Clark retains ownership of the hangar/office facility. The ground lease is 34 cents/ sq. ft., with a cost-of-living escalator, while fuel flowage is 9 cents/gallon.