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October 2004

Category: Upgrading Business Aircraft

Author: Eric H. Roth

Where Are We Now?

It seems obvious to me that at this point the U.S. economy is on the way to recovery and that the positive effects are already being welcomed by the business aviation community. Looking at the increase in activity in both the new and used aircraft sales market as well as the strong comeback in charter demand, it is hard not to recognize that business aviation has made its way through the challenging economic recession of the last few years.

As more aircraft change hands and charter demand steadily increases, so too does the demand to refurbish these aircraft, supported by the modification and refurbishment centers waiting in the wings.

Although it is clear that we are not seeing the same demands and backlogs as experienced once before, most refurbishment facilities are busy and are optimistic about the future.

Information & the Internet
The internet has provided people of all ages and walks of life with the profound ability to easily educate themselves on an endless variety of subject matter.

You’re not sure which is the latest and greatest plasma TV to hang on your wall? Then go on-line, type in a few key words, click and voila! You now have every make, model, distributor and pricing right there in front of you in full color as you sit in your pyjamas drinking your morning coffee. By noon-time you are fully educated on your new 42" Plasma and have already invited your friends over that evening to watch the game. That was easy.

For some areas of ‘research,’ this approach may work well, but does the internet provide an ‘education’ or perhaps the opportunity to efficiently research and find information? Remember, information alone is at times nothing more than that – information.

By contrast, an experienced professional who understands and knows how to use information effectively is a different story altogether. The internet as it relates to aviation can be a terrific research tool to start, but it is important to understand and appreciate it’s limitations.

The potential fault or problems arise when someone makes the poor decision to use it as a substitute for the information and experience that can be shared or ‘acquired’ from a knowledgeable aviation professional.

Whether you are researching an aircraft to buy, identifying tax liabilities or performing a modification and refurbishment, entering into a relationship with the ‘right person’ or company is most likely critical to your overall success or failure as it relates to your goals and objectives.

Growth, Maturity & Sophistication
The refurbishment business is very then different than when I started 18 years ago - there were green completions, refurbishment facilities and some that did both. Today the line of distinction between completion and refurbishment is somewhat blurred. As owners acknowledge that their aircraft may appear old but have made their decision to keep what they have instead of buying something new, avionic upgrades, paint and newly styled interiors may be a sound investment decision.

For others, value comes in the shape of buying a used aircraft and outfitting it to meet their needs without the limitations placed upon them from the OEM’s - as "interior styling packages" were developed in the late 90’s to ease the burden of increasing production capabilities.

Either way, many owners today are looking for more than just refurbishing their aircraft – they want to modify it as well and take advantage of the opportunities in technology and the maturing modification and refurbishment market that are now available.

Advances in technology along with FAA mandates have changed the safety and appearance of the cockpit. Matterhorn white with two simple stripes is still the standard for painting an aircraft, but designers and demand for something reflective of the time has created more ‘swooshes’ than even the talented logo designers at Nike could dream up.

Interiors are every bit as much a breakthrough as the new aircraft that are developed around them. To own a Ford Model T was great in it’s day and it was better than even the fanciest of horse drawn coaches, but could you believe that families traveled without electric closing doors and flip down TV screens? How did they ever make it through those long trips with their kids?

Today’s aircraft owners and passengers have become accustomed to the advances in technology and demand these achievements be integrated into their aircraft. Computers, Modems, DVD’s, Satellite TV – did I mention that I need a plug somewhere in the cabin so that my daughter can plug in her Nintendo? And before I forget, do we have room in the galley for an Espresso/Latte machine? Aside from the advances in entertainment and communication equipment available, vendors supporting the aviation modification facilities are developing ways to solve even some of the most basic interior challenges that have been with us from the mid 1960’s when Bill Lear brought us the Lear 23.

We have window shades that are far more sophisticated than a roll up blind, and supportive table housings that are not a left over design from the design department at Winnebago.

Today the lighting system in aircraft affords passengers with more than just the ability to see within the interior, but now provides us with a way of achieving a better representation of the colors we have selected. All this is at a lower cost than the original system, and with significantly less upkeep and maintenance.

As our industry develops and matures, so too do the products that become available. We now have very talented designers, engineers and mechanics fabricating lightweight, strong and well functioning components to make the passengers travel experience more pleasurable and productive – more than ever before.

As corporations and private individuals alike use general aviation aircraft to meet both their business and personal travel requirements, the importance of satisfying their demands is what fuels the growth and maturity of our sector within the aviation community.

Decisions, Decisions …
So now that we know there is a lot of information out there along with improvements in a variety of products offered, how do you put all of this together? Personally, I enjoy taking the time to ask my clients many questions when helping them make well-informed decisions.

By doing so, I gain better perspective and greater insight to their needs and desires. Some of the questions I include ask them is this their first aircraft? Have they ever been through the refurbishment process? How long do they intend to keep this aircraft? Do they anticipate any in their flight requirements during their ownership? How do they use their aircraft at present (flight profile)? Are there any changes to how they would rather use the aircraft?

In addition, somewhere along this process I will include a question that asks them to think of how their investment in the refurbishment will affect the current market value of their asset.

Somewhere in between these and other questions along with other variables you will start to see a good investment decision start to form. This is an important part of the equation as you assess your needs and wants. For example, I probably would not recommend a client invest $500,000 towards the interior of their Hawker 700, but may do so with a client who just acquired an early model Falcon 900.

The fact of the matter is that your refurbishment opportunities available today are far greater than ever before. In turn, this means that the advice you receive is that much more important when making a good (or bad) decision – and will certainly have a measurable effect financially as well as the end results.

One thing for certain is that nothing takes the place of doing your homework. It is important that you find out which of the many qualified modification and refurbishment centers across the country will best service your needs.

Keep in mind that the criteria for this definition will vary based upon your scope of work, aircraft type, geographic location and a host of other personally important measures. Just be aware that your decision should not be based solely on what you read in the proposal or contract.

Start with the people and companies you feel comfortable with. Their track record, experiences with the work scope you anticipate as well as qualified recommendations are a good start to being on your way. Visit their facility and inspect their work to increase your comfort level and help ensure that your judgment has merit.

With the several hundreds of decisions that are made with each modification and refurbishment, it is more important now than ever before, that you gain an intimate understanding of who you wish to do business with so that you achieve the best value and results to satisfy your needs.

International Jet Interiors is the Northeast’s leading modification and refurbishment center dedicated to general aviation. Tel: 631-737-5900 or email: eroth@intjet.com


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