What are the popular jet panel upgrades that make older aircraft more competitive in today’s used market? Dave Higdon discusses four, beyond the obvious ADS-B mandated upgrade…
Selling older business jets always presents challenges, whether dealing with an out-of-date interior, powerplants that are nearing an overhaul, or a dated cockpit lacking some of today's most common and modern flying tools.
That reality particularly applies in today’s used aircraft sales market as a set of deadlines for equipage with specific avionics improvements looms on January 1, 2020.
In an era of all-glass cockpits, business aircraft without modern avionics make for a harder sale and become fair game for buyers negotiating lower acquisition prices.
While much is made of the upcoming ADS-B mandate, it’s certainly not the only mandate looming that business aircraft operators should have at the forefront of their minds. Nor are the mandated systems the only path to making an older business jet or turboprop aircraft more competitive on the used market.
However, when contemplating upgrades and modifications, sellers must weigh just how much to invest against the potential price gains from the upgrades. It may be that as the aircraft’s current owner/operator, you plan to continue to operate the jet for a few years yet – so would benefit operationally before eventually marketing a more competitive jet on the used market. If so, the investment you will be prepared to make in updating the panel is likely to be greater.
With that said, and setting the obvious ADS-B upgrade aside, let’s review three additional flight-deck upgrades that are available to make your aircraft more attractive to buyers.
FANS 1/1A (Mandate Deadline, January 1, 2020)
FANS 1/1A was created to provide real-time position updates and enhance communication between pilots and controllers through a common language. Controller Pilot DataLink Communication (CPDLC), eliminates confusion borne of language differences and varying accents through the use of a text-based messaging system.
But FANS 1/1A is not new. The scheduled airliners began operating with versions of Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C) and CPDLC (the two underlying technologies behind FANS 1/1A) way back in the 1990s.
ADS-C serves to create contracts, based on defined flight information, between aircraft and controllers. These contracts can be initiated through a periodic method, based on an event or through pilot mayday and are established directly by the controller through the aircraft systems.
The January 1, 2020 mandate initiative, however, is a significant development for Business Aviation. The equipment required can vary with the aircraft and depends on what the panel already contains. As an example, the equipment required for current FANS 1/1A-capable models is:
- VHF, SATCOM or HFDL radios as appropriate;
- ACARS Management Unit (MU)/Communications Management Unit (CMU);
- Flight Management Computer (FMC) integration;
- Printer (if company procedures require its use).
For European operations the requirement is for the LINK 2000+ program as the European Implementation of CPDLC using the ATN infrastructure. This is the key element of the Single European Sky concept.
Both the FAA and EASA require crew training and qualification for use of FANS 1/1A, similar to the ADS-B mandate. With time running short to meet the FANS 1/1A deadline, ordering the required equipment and booking an installation slot are already showing signs of a backlog, which only increases the urgency for operators to move ahead.
Performance Based Navigation
Performance Based Navigation (PBN) is an advanced, satellite-enabled form of air navigation that creates precise 3D flight paths. It offers adequately equipped aircraft access to more than 9,300 PBN procedures and routes the FAA has published so far, offering a number of operational benefits, including enhanced safety, increased efficiency, reduced carbon footprint and reduced costs.
The foundational technology for PBN is a precision navigation system such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) enhanced by the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), which coincidentally can also serve as the position source for ADS-B.
Aircraft with GPS or WAAS can navigate a flight path with much greater precision and accuracy than those with legacy navigational systems. The benefits of PBN derive from the more-efficient routes and approaches that are possible with the technology.
On November 8, the FAA implemented 55 new PBN routes for flights between the southern part of the US east coast and major international airports in Florida and the Caribbean. The agency also updated 11 existing PBN routes and is designing high-altitude PBN routes from the Northeast to join the new routes that began in November.
Wide Area Augmentation System GPS
Many older business-turbine aircraft sport GPS navigators that were offered before Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) became widespread in the US. Nevertheless, the precision of WAAS-enhanced GPS provides the foundation for ADS-B and for PBN capabilities.
But their most frequently-used trait is their ability to guide an aircraft to the approximately 4,000 instrument approaches called Lateral Precision with Vertical Guidance (LPV). LPV approaches can deliver the same level of capability as the old gold-standard ILS approach.
But unlike the ILS, the only ground equipment needed are lights, which with the right lighting for the runway can result in LPV approaches with the same minima as the ILS. Direct routes are easier to obtain with WAAS GPS in the cockpit, in addition to the LPV approaches and LNAV/VNAV (both of which are non-precision area-nav approaches).
These approaches provide lateral guidance from GPS and/or WAAS with vertical guidance provided by a barometric altimeter or WAAS. Aircraft without WAAS must have a VNAV altimeter. And these approaches typically provide for decision altitudes typically 350 feet above the runway.
Glass Cockpit (Added or Upgraded)
Finally, we come to the most coveted of cockpit systems – the glass cockpit. Early glass cockpits employed Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) displays which were major power consumers, heat generators and were substantially weightier than today's modern Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) systems.
Options for upgrading older analog and early glass panels are increasingly common for business jets and turboprops. In addition to the improved reliability and increased functionality of today's integrated avionics systems, these upgrades typically increase the aircraft's useful load thanks to the weight lost from the upgrade.
Some integrated panel upgrades (such as Garmin's G5000 upgrade for the Beechjet/Hawker 400A) remove upward of 250lbs from the aircraft's operating empty weight.
Vendors including Avidyne, Garmin, Honeywell and Collins Aerospace all offer retrofit packages that upgrade the panel, some from analog to all-digital, others from CRT displays to flat-screen LCD displays. In a market where aircraft performance can be a close call, gaining the capabilities of the integrated glass cockpit avionics package definitely helps elevate an aircraft above its unimproved hangar mates.
What to Leave In, or Out
The options available to make an older jet a more-attractive purchase candidate continue to expand, making for a dizzying array of choices and decisions. The above options all result in a more-modern, more-capable business aircraft.
Of course, some of the above aren't options at all. They're required by the ADS-B and FANS 1/A mandates, and their short lead time can help an aircraft to sell. But the other upgrades not only enhance a used aircraft's market value, they bring tangible utility and performance improvements.
Many other available upgrade options exist that hold potential to improve a business aircraft's ramp appeal, including in-flight connectivity and cabin entertainment systems. The challenge for any seller comes down to finding the blend of upgrades needed (and possible) without blowing the asking price far beyond what the market will support.
As mentioned above, many will choose to upgrade a jet, enjoying the benefits to their own operation for a while before enjoying the increased value in sale price. And as one avionics shop owner told us, “Sometimes an aircraft gets pulled from the market because after investing in the upgrades, the owner decides to keep the aircraft because it now meets their needs (not to mention those pesky mandates).”