Budgeting for Aircraft Refurbishment & Upkeep

With several areas of aircraft maintenance potentially covered by hourly maintenance programs, what should owners do when it comes to planning and budgeting for an interior and paint upgrade which are not? David Wyndham shares his thoughts...

David Wyndham  |  15th November 2023
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    David Wyndham
    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and...

    How to budget for aircraft upkeep and refurbishment

    The aircraft we own and operate have several mandatory maintenance items that are required to keep them safe and airworthy. To assist aircraft owners and operators in achieving that goal, the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and several third-party providers offer a selection of hourly maintenance programs designed to cover those items, whether they’re scheduled or unscheduled.

    Hourly maintenance programs for turbine engines are very popular (to the point that most turbine aircraft values are adjusted down if they are not enrolled on a program). Many of the larger business jets are also enrolled on airframe programs. And other programs exist for avionics upkeep.

    Whatever the area of coverage that a program provides, it is beneficial to the aircraft owner because it accrues expenses towards future high-cost maintenance events. Not everything comes under hourly maintenance program coverage, though...

    With some exceptions, there are no hourly maintenance programs covering an aircraft’s paint, interior furnishings, or future avionics upgrade purchases. It is necessary for aircraft owners to be careful when budgeting for future cabin refurbishment, exterior paint and other general upkeep items that are likely to come up during their tenure as the aircraft owner.

    In this regard, is there a sensible amount to set aside per flight hour? How often is such refurbishment work necessary? Following are some areas for your consideration...

    Asset Management (Paint & Interior)

    Your business aircraft is an asset. It is an item of value controlled by you and your aviation department. Valuation is a function of how the aircraft is managed in the three following areas:

    • Utilization
    • Financing
    • Maintenance

    Paint, interior and other upgrades fall under the scope of maintenance. The first task is keeping the aircraft clean and the interior wear-and-tear to a minimum. The more you fly, the more wear and tear accelerates.

    Regarding the value of your aircraft, if the interior has gone about seven or eight years without a refurbishment the market value of your aircraft can deteriorate. That time before a refurbishment is required will be lower if the aircraft is more heavily utilized than average.

    The same applies to paint, which has two jobs: to look good and to protect the skin. Not only does old, faded paint look bad, it can expose the skin to possible corrosion. That means from time to time the airplane will need to be repainted.

    The lifespan of an aircraft’s paint can depend on the environment the aircraft is primarily based and operated in (corrosive saline environments, for example, can cause paint to deteriorate more quickly, as can not storing the aircraft in a hangar). The level of preventative maintenance you apply to the jet is another contributing factor. For example, protecting the paint will require frequent washes, waxing and touch ups.

    The costs vary: Interior refurbishment costs vary from a simple ‘re-rag’ (e.g., replacing only the soft goods like carpets and seat coverings) to a complete redo with everything removed and replaced, and possibly a seating reconfiguration, too. The larger the aircraft cabin, the more flexibility you have, and the greater the cost will be.

    Exterior paint refurbishment is much the same. Touching up the colors that exist can be a relatively minor task, whereas a complete repaint with all new colors will cost much more.

    Advances in Airborne Internet

    There is a real need for today’s travelers to stay connected, whether it’s to remain in contact with the office or home, or to keep up with the news or a favorite sports team. In-flight connectivity can be as simple as a system using Air-To-Ground communications via cell towers (for those travelling in the US), to using a satellite-based system for those flying worldwide.

    There are two parts to the aircraft’s cabin connectivity system: Sending and receiving the signal, and distributing the signal within the aircraft.

    As with consumer devices, each year sees newer, faster systems emerging, and you may require the latest connectivity solution to upgrade your older aircraft at some stage during your period of ownership.

    Do keep in mind that if you’re updating airborne internet, much of the wiring and distribution within the cabin requires removal of some of the interior, so it’s best to coordinate this with an interior refurbishment.

    A Few Considerations...

    You should budget for the above items well in advance. Even if you purchase an aircraft in great maintenance condition, but a recently refurbished interior and paint are not entirely to your liking, in many cases it is worth living with that paint/interior and planning a more comprehensive upgrade further down the line that you have thoroughly budgeted for.

    A Light Jet paint and cabin refurbishment may cost $100,000 while a Large Cabin Jet could run close to $1m, given all the choices in materials and cabin layouts. That’s why it’s wise to ensure any decision to upgrade is a measured one, planned well ahead of time.

    The most important consideration is to choose your MRO provider based on quality, schedule, and price. Downtime can run into several months, especially if you plan on coordinating this work around a major maintenance event – so you’ll also need to make sure the provider is well versed in the intricacies of your aircraft model.

    Do you have a specific aircraft maintenance, upgrade or repair need?

    Use Advantage to outline your maintenance requirements by completing our quick form, and your enquiry will be passed to qualified service providers. Receive the feedback you need to help you choose the right partner and the best deal.
    Start now

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    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham

    Editor, Ownership & Operating Costs

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and budget analysis and finance fundamentals. With several decades supporting aircraft owners and operators in making fully-informed decisions about their aircraft needs, his expertise spans from the flight department to the executive boardroom.

    David is the founder of David Wyndham + Associates, and previously he was a Co-owner and President of Conklin & de Decker where he consulted with large corporations, individuals, and government agencies on their aircraft needs.



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