If you managed to hold onto some cash during the stock market's plunge and you're tired of flying with the masses, you might be able to afford your own airplane. "The market seems to have bottomed out," says Kevin O'Leary, president of Jet Advisors, a Broomfield, Colo.-based company that helps buy and sell private jets. The weak economy is making it easier to buy airplanes. Some models are selling for as much as 40% less than they did a year ago, according to O'Leary. A Gulfstream G550 that would have cost $55 million a year ago might sell for $35 million now, he says. Planes, like cars, normally lose value over time. But now that prices have tumbled, many buyers are able to resell their planes for the amount they paid. "There's never been a better time to buy anything with wings," says Fletcher Aldridge, founder of VREF Publishing, a provider of aircraft price information for buyers and dealers. "Jets are a whole lot cheaper than they've ever been." For some companies and executives, the time saved by flying privately outweighs the cost of the aircraft and fuel, Aldridge says. For people who can't afford to buy their own vehicle, there are other ways to fly solo. Greg Shove, managing editor of the private aviation Web site HalogenGuides Jets, says people can also join chartering services or buy shares of planes instead of an entire jet. Those options have also become cheaper. The number of people chartering planes for individual flights has dropped 50%. Chartering services, in which members pay a fee to fly a set number of hours on the company's fleet, have consolidated into two major firms: Berkshire Hathaway's ( BRK.A) NetJets and Bombardier's Skyjet.
Companies have been shifting toward fractional ownership, buying shares as small as 6% of an airplane, which works out to about 50 hours of flying a year. "It's harder to justify the capital expense associated with whole-plane ownership," Shove says. It has also become a symbol of excess, as evidenced by the public's outrage after the chief executive officers of General Motors ( GM), Ford ( F) and Chrysler flew to Washington, D.C., in private jets to ask for government aid last year. Now some companies are selling their planes, adding to inventory. Dealers and industry watchers expect prices to eventually rebound. But for now, airplane shoppers have a wealth of options. "If you Google ( GOOG) 'used jets,' you'll find plenty of options," Aldridge says.