With the long boom in traffic continuing, airlines keeping senior jets in service often want to discard older interiors for upgraded equipment. Retired jets also yield substantial surplus seats and other cabin equipment. And low-cost start-ups may seek cheap seats for a few aircraft.
So AviationScouts has been growing nicely in recent years helping to place surplus seats and other interior furnishings with new owners, according to CEO Thomas Bulirsch.
“The market for surplus seats is rapidly growing, since there is a requirement for small quantities, quick lead times and competitive pricing in the market,” Bulirsch explains. “With our internet portal www.aviationgate.com we managed to make the market for used passenger seats more transparent, and we simplified the sourcing process for our customers.”
Bulirsch stresses that the market for surplus interiors includes galleys, lavatories, partitions and privacy dividers as well as passenger seats. Among seats, very popular seat models come from leading OEMs such as Recaro, Rockwell or Zodiac. “Not all models have a good re-selling value. Our focus is on narrowbody aircraft with economy class seats.” It is very difficult to resell business class or first class seats from widebodies.
Economics is the chief reason buyer look to the surplus market. The price of a used seat in overhauled condition is usually between 40% and 60% of the new price, Bulirsch estimates. Overhauled condition means cleaned with dry-ice technology, re-pigmentation of leather covers, smart repairs and all required spare parts. “But even more important for our customers is the quick availability, within two to six weeks, deepening on required condition. And for sure the possibility to buy just one or two sets at a competitive price.”
AviationScouts’ customers are mainly smaller airlines, leasing companies or engineering companies. But it also sells to mockup centers or flight training companies that build simulators, or to travel agencies when it cannot re-certify a seat to bring it back on an aircraft.
Bulirsch says one hurdle for airlines seeking used seats is identifying the correct seats for their aircraft. “Since most seats have unique part numbers, you cannot source by these. With aviationgate.com, we have introduced a system that allows you to filter the correct seats based on the required attributes, so that they can fit into your aircraft.”
Another hurdle is obtaining correct certification. Although there is no back-to-birth traceability requirement for seats, buyers require a non-incident statement, a fresh airworthiness certificate and manuals or technical paperwork that are up to date. “We work closely with the OEMs and the previous operator to provide this for all our seats.”
The AviationScouts CEO says he does not encounter much opposition from seat OEMs. “Selling just one or two shipsets of new seats with a quick lead-time and a competitive price is usually not the business model of the OEMs. We fill this niche for smaller requirements that need short lead-time and competitive pricing and work closely with the OEMs for documentation and spare parts. OEMs even send us customers with these requirements.”
Bulirsch also sees no conflict with regulators. “All our partners are EASA and FAA certified, and we work 100% within the regulations. Our goal has always been to introduce a new benchmark for quality and traceability in the market for used passenger seats.”
In just four years, AviationScouts has gone from being just an internet broker of seats to being a one-stop shop and service integrator. Now it buys, stores, cleans and refurbishes seats and provides excellent logistics. From his base in Lichtenfels, Germany, Bulirsch wants to extend his business internationally and “clone this setup with local partners at strategic locations worldwide.”