Randall Funston of Van Bortel Aircraft Inc. likes to tell the story of how the company got its start. It’s one of those scrappy, bootstrap tales that seems to abound in aviation: “Howard Van Bortel started the world’s largest Cessna dealership in 1985 on a card table in his sister’s living room with $1,000 in the bank,” Funston says.
It didn’t take long for Van Bortel Aircraft to wind up selling more Skyhawks than anybody else, becoming the largest Skyhawk dealer in the world. It was only logical for Van Bortel to move into additional Cessna models—in particular the Skylane, the Stationair and more recently, the 350, 400 and TTX, the Lancair/Columbia fixed-gear speedsters Cessna bought in 2008.
Take a look inside Van Bortel’s Arlington, Texas, hangar and you’ll get a glimpse of the company’s prodigious sales volume. There are stacks of clean, low-time Cessnas waiting for new owners.
“Selling airplanes is like being a five-year-old in a toy store.” Funston says. “There’s nothing better than selling terrific airplanes to delighted owners.” He says his job has been made easier with Van Bortel’s generous buyer protection program. “Take the airplane and fly it around for thirty days. If you don’t like it, bring it back and we’ll get you into a different one or part friends.” He adds it’s Van Bortel policy to fly the aircraft to a prospective buyer’s home ramp for inspection at no expense or obligation.
To look at part of the current Van Bortel Cessna inventory, visit classifieds.avweb.com, where Van Bortel Aircraft is a lead advertiser. You can see a sample listing here.
The Van Bortel Method
Climbing this pinnacle has been deceptively simple, and damnably difficult. It’s defined by an intangible called “the sweet spot.”
“We want the lowest time airplane in the most pristine condition,” Funston says. “We look for airplanes with no damage history, no corrosion, always hangered, and evidence the airplane has been well cared for.” Keep in mind Van Bortel is a dealership, not a consignment shop. They own the airplanes they sell, and that implies a level of involvement and responsibility for every airplane they carry.
The Van Bortel business model is clear. The company won’t take an airplane that’s been used, and possibly abused, in a flight school. The company specializes in 1997 and newer Cessnas but will take in other models on trade. Finding these gems isn’t easy, but that segues to another part of the Van Bortel method.
Van Bortel’s lead inspectors Rusty Hoffman, Bill Prince and Paul Park take an ultra-clean, well-documented, low-time airplane with no damage history, then subject it to even more scrutiny. The team has been with the company for more than 30 years.
“The talent we have in our shop means we can have the confidence to stand by everything we sell. Our return program is also the best in the business. If the customer is not happy with the airplane, we would rather just have it back. At the end of the day, our number one priority is a happy customer” Funston says.
“We stick with Cessnas because we know the airplanes very, very well,” Funston says. The majority of the time, previously sold Van Bortel Cessnas come back into the company’s inventory when an owner trades up. Most of the company’s inventory is G1000 equipped. You will find Avidyne, G1000 or G2000 in the 350, 400 and TTx line. They also boast excellent cosmetics. Exterior paint and interior upholstery are exceptional.
“We specialize in Cessnas, but we will take trade-ins,” Funston says, adding it’s not unusual for Van Bortel to take some kind of tangible good—motorcycles, RVs, boats—to help close a deal.
Funston is in a unique position to gauge what’s happening in the used-Cessna marketplace. In a word, he sees a return to “normal.”
“Everyone had a big surge last year,” he says. “Inventory went down, and prices went up. But we see inventory and pricing starting to settle down to normal. Sales have been consistent.”
It seems Van Bortel has been maintaining course and altitude through this recent turbulence. With a 40-year history of buying and selling quality airplanes, it’s nice to know there’s some bedrock left that pilots can depend on.
To review Van Bortel’s current inventory of used aircraft, click here.