In 1992, Mr. Alireza Ittihadieh, former derivatives banker, graduate of the business school at Boston University (with follow-up studies at the Harvard Business School), started training with Steve Hall of Hallmark Aviation. “I learned everything I know from the ‘professor’ of this business,” said Ali of Hall. Today, Ittihadieh’s Freestream Aircraft Limited handles the purchase and sale of business-class jets around the world, supporting his business model with in-house design and completion services.
Freestream is celebrating 25 years in business with one of its most successful years ever, with over 70 transactions topping $1.4 billion. Total transactions now exceed 700, weighted toward highend units — Boeing, Gulfstream, Falcon, Bombardier, and helicopters — valued above $18 billion. Ittihadieh correctly anticipated the global shift of sales, from a US-dominated market to today’s near 50-50 split between the US and other markets, and he built his team, fluent in nine languages among them, based on that vision.
Rebecca Posoli-Cilli, President and Chief Operating officer, revealed the overriding plan: “Freestream is always looking at the long game; we treat every new customer contact as the beginning of a lifetime relationship, and we have thrived – brilliantly — on our referral business.” “The world has changed since we began, and not just in business aviation,” said Mr. Ittihadieh. “The rate of change has accelerated in the last decade. We started, using MS-DOS, and today smartphones put data at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection. “But new and pre-owned business jets are not mere commodities to be brokered by amateurs,” he continued. “Freestream Aircraft’s 25 years of experience and accumulated expertise is what set us apart from mere ‘Internet buying services.’ Our professionals ensure an unmatched level of personal service, to correctly match each buyer to the right make and model aircraft – in the right condition, and at the right price.” To that end, Freestream provides pre-purchase inspection oversight and, since 2010, aircraft interior design and completion management.
Ms. Rebecca Posoli-Cilli, an Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University graduate and COO, runs the US operations from the Teterboro (NJ) headquarters. She explained, “The team actively pursues RFPs from large companies that maintain multiple aircraft, operating 1000+ hours yearly. Clients appreciate our competent review of their current operation and appraisals of their future needs.” An aircraft transaction is complex. It encompasses legal, OFAC, tax implications, governmental regulations, financial institutions, escrow, location, siting, and basing, among other considerations, beyond mere price. “When we get the client through this, they appreciate our institutional experience, and trust grows,” she says.
Angelika Ayala and Connie Marrero run the new south Florida sales office at Fontainebleau Aviation, on Miami’s Opa-locka Executive Airport (KOPF), serving southern US and South American clients. Ayala says, “Aviation is still an old fashioned, face-to-face business; it is exactly what I love and learned in my prior career on Wall Street. Relationships are dedication, time, and trust.” Marrero has been in the industry since 2001, a decade with Freestream, where her Spanish facilitates South American transactions, a significant portion of her annual average of twenty business jet sales/acquisition transactions.
EXPERIENCE AND TRUST
These are the only factors that can, according toMarrero, “…overcome some misconceptions with both parties involved in aircraft transactions. Sellers often think their aircraft should be priced higher — and then buyers are quick to reject the listing price.” It’s not easy, but it’s predictable: “Both buyer and seller feel the deal happens when the price is agreed. But this is just the start of the work.” Sarah Mespelt, VP of Design, notes that, “With such a competitive brokers’ market we have an edge on the competition because we offer the design and completion management service. Our services encompass full design for the exterior and interior of every aircraft. I meet with each client to discuss needs and desires for their aircraft; then we execute the design and quality control throughout the completion project and then lead the delivery process until the aircraft is in the clients’ hands. For each project, the goal is to link creativity with the latest innovations to make each aircraft attractive and practical for its user.
NOT “JUST” SALES
“At Freestream we handle around 50-50, refurbishment and completions. I take great pride in refurbishments because I like change. I like ‘creating something from nothing.’ Being able to make a 10 year old aircraft into something elegant and timeless gives this job life. New completions are all about the details. On a new aircraft completion where the platform is innovative and sleek, the details that can set that clients aircraft apart from the others make the design.”
Jeremy Stumpf, Vice President of Aircraft Sales, says “Overall, the recovery has been slower than expected. Declining values and new requirements for advanced avionics have left many owners with the decision of; spending a substantial amount of money on an aging aircraft, or upgrade to a newer aircraft with a modern cockpit that can easily be upgraded for minimal costs. “Current pre-owned inventory levels remain high, far exceeding current demand, so market conditions are extremely favorable to buyers. It is often possible to purchase the same aircraft for half the price of what you would have paid just three years ago.”
All this works with Freestream’s tradition of thoroughness and building relationships. As Stumpf summed up, “As is increasingly clear, price remains a factor, but it is only one among many. Understanding and realistically appraising the many – that’s where experience counts.”