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Aircraft Upgrades & Mods
Asking the questions of whether to sell- or upgrade your existing aircraft.

One decision almost every current corporate aircraft owner ponders at some time or another is: “Should I sell- or upgrade and keep the aircraft for a few more years?” For many this is easier considered than done since there are so many factory and third-party modifications and upgrades available for the majority of the aircraft currently flying. If not wanting to wait the two- three or more years for your desired aircraft of choice to be available from the OEM- then an upgrade or modification program could certainly enhance your flying pleasure for years to come.

A major factor for many owners/operators to consider will be the ROI (return on investment). A quick check with Vref- Aircraft BlueBook and a reputable Broker will render a good indication of whether your planned investment in a major upgrade or modification project will be worthwhile. Although most owners will see a modest return when selling the aircraft after a few years- coupled with depreciated write downs- the driving force will mostly be from a safety- reliability and dispatchability perspective- coupled with extended range and performance and not to forget- comfort benefits.

Trying to explain and outline all of the available mods and upgrades programs would fill a complete issue of World Aircraft Sales Magazine- so to begin with we will concentrate specifically on the large body corporate aircraft and cover other aircraft categories in future articles. We’ll simply outline details of major programs since there are many details in an upgrade program or modification for which the individual entity can provide additional information.

The best forum to investigate the various upgrades and mods available is to become actively involved with the NBAA (National Business Aviation Association). The majority of the system providers discussed are members of the NBAA and attend the annual NBAA Convention to display their latest offerings.

The Aircraft
Reviews of mods and upgrades included this month incorporate some projects available for the Bombardier Challenger 600 series- Dassault’s Falcon 50 and 900 and Gulfstream’s GII- GIII- GIV and GV series aircraft.

In my opinion- the most important aspect of keeping an older aircraft centers around maintenance. No amount of bells and whistles can cover improper or deferred maintenance. Some of these aircraft flying today have been neglected and suffer from corrosion issues among others - so a proper inspection by an experienced service center will help an owner/operator decide if it will be cost beneficial to upgrade and modify the aircraft.

If starting with a good- clean- well maintained aircraft- many of the mods and upgrades available will provide many more years of usage at a fraction of the cost of paying for a replacement aircraft - especially at today’s premium pricing market for the large body corporate aircraft.

Bombardier Jets
If cabin area is more important than range then a good option to consider is the refurbished Canadair CRJ200 Regional Jet conversion. Take one ex-airline CRJ- throw in a new corporate interior by Flying Colours of Peterborough- Canada- and you end up with a comfortable aircraft with a range of about 3-000 miles - but at less than half the price of the Global.

The original Challenger 600 is still a very capable aircraft too- and with avionics upgrades and winglets from Aviation Partners this aircraft will remain a popular pre-owned aircraft for years to come. Many avionics upgrades are available for the Challenger 601-3A- 1A- 3ER and 604 series from Honeywell and Rockwell Collins among others.

Falcon Aircraft
The most popular upgrade package for the Falcon 50 aircraft is the current Premier Air Center (West Star Aviation) TFE731-4 engine upgrade. Generally speaking the replacement engines are more efficient- burn less fuel and allow the aircraft to carry more fuel and fly further than was possible with the original -3 engines. For most operators obtaining the engine upgrade- Premier Air Center will also provide the aircraft with new paint and an upgraded interior during the process.

Alternatively- the early Falcon 900 can be upgraded to the later 900D model with various STCs and avionics upgrades. Again this will provide additional performance along with enhanced cabin and avionic upgrades if so desired.

The biggest news in the upgrade department for the GII and GIII are the hushkits being offered by Stage III Technologies. Since most airports and communities are working on banning Stage I and II aircraft from operating- these Stage III hushkits will ensure the aircraft are able to keep flying for many years to come or until Stage IV becomes standard practice.

Again- while these upgrades are expensive- taking into consideration the cost of a replacement aircraft of similar capabilities this is a fine option to keep you flying for the near future.

In addition- Aviation Partners can supply STC and winglets for the GII to enhance range and improve aesthetics of the aircraft. There are also many avionics and interior upgrades and refurbishment options available to allow these older aircraft continual operations.

Many STC’s are available covering installations for TCAS (traffic avoidance)- TAWS (terrain avoidance)- EVS (enhanced vision systems)- etc. Again maintenance records and inspections are paramount for these aircraft due to the variety of operations they fly in.

Furthermore- Gulfstream IIIs- Challenger 601-3As- Falcon 900s all have a cockpit avionics upgrade package available in the form of the Honeywell EPIC retrofit program. This will upgrade the older Honeywell system originally installed with a state of the art system and all of the latest bells and whistles. Again the major benefits are increased safety- reliability and in some cases reduced weight- since the older avionics are much heavier than today’s electronics.

Rockwell Collins also has its Pro Line 21 series of avionics available for upgrade on older aircraft such as certain Falcon 50 and Challenger 604 series aircraft.

One of the easiest upgrades for interiors is replacing the soft goods such as leathers- cloths- rugs and sidewalls- etc. This can be a relatively inexpensive way to upgrade and brighten an interior. Upgrading electronics in the older aircraft cabin with LCD screens instead of the CRT tubes will also enhance- and reduce weight in the cabin. Additional upgrades in SatCom- AirShow and cabin entertainment systems are plentiful and available from numerous sources. One of the most popular cabin upgrades is in communications with installations of SatCom phones and data link systems to allow Internet usage during flight. With a link for weather updates to the cockpit- these systems provide additional situation awareness for the crew resulting in a safer flight.

 Hard goods such as cabinets- galleys- lavatories- etc. can also be replaced and upgraded. New materials will again provide weight reduction- which is a welcomed benefit for some older aircraft which are generally more weight sensitive then their newer counterparts. Expect prices to be higher for hard goods since more labor and materials are required- thus return on investment is much harder to obtain. Hard goods become more of a personal choice especially if the owner/operator wants to trade in a few years or keep the aircraft for many more.

Who to consult?
Prior to undertaking any modification or upgrade program consult with your current crew- they know and understand the aircraft and usually are well aware of most of the available upgrades and modifications available. Then discuss with your broker or trusted consultant to determine your needs- ROI and requirements which will determine the best plan of action.

An updated aircraft will serve you well if you are enjoying your current aircraft and plan to keep it for some time. You will also share many of the benefits of the newer and current aircraft- but at a fraction of the cost!

John Brodeur specializes in Completion Management and Interior Design of large cabin business aircraft.

Mr. Brodeur can be contacted at Tel: +1 647 448 4748 (Cell) or by email at john@avbro.com

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