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At the Sun 'n Fun airshow in Lakeland, Florida, Cessna salesman Bruce Keller taps out a siren song to potential buyers. (Tyson Rininger)

Life of a Salesman

Guys who sell airplanes don't always make the deal, but they always have the funniest stories to tell.

Keller’s customers generally have a comfortable amount of discretionary income, and some have paid for airplanes with gym bags full of cash. One paid for a new airplane by writing a personal check on the spot. Of course, financing is available. Keller recalls demonstrating an airplane to a 94-year-old pilot in Pennsylvania: “I said, ‘Now, sir, we have 20-year financing on these airplanes.’ And he says, ‘I like that.’ ”

Like those who sell almost any luxury item, airplane salesmen encounter prospective customers who often dream beyond their means and sometimes weave tall tales about their financial wherewithal. Good salesmen try to size up prospects before they invest much time and money in wooing them. Independent salesman Fred Ahles was trying to do just that during a telephone inquiry he received about 10 years ago. An older-sounding gentleman wanted a new, single-engine Piper Saratoga.

Like Keller, Ahles has been an airplane salesman for more than 30 years, and during that time he has sold more than 1,000 airplanes and represented almost every manufacturer. Today, Ahles is president of Premier Aircraft Sales, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company that sells used and new aircraft.

The man on the phone was 200 miles away and promised, “If you can deliver a new Saratoga today, I’ll take it.” The brashness made Ahles suspicious, and he feared he would blow an entire afternoon and lots of fuel showing an airplane to a wannabe. Ahles began questioning the man.

“Have you ever owned an airplane before?”

“Sonny, I’ve owned about 35 of them.”

“Really? How long have you been flying?”

“Since the 1930s.”

“Do you have an airplane now?”

“I sold it.”

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