Five Considerations Before Upgrading a Flightdeck

Ken Elliott discusses the importance of timing, downtime, budget, value and operation to an aircraft cockpit upgrade, demonstrating how to highlight these when making a case for the upgrade to the company principals...

Ken Elliott  |  09th February 2023
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    Ken Elliott
    Ken Elliott

    Ken Elliott is a veteran with 52 years of aviation experience, focussed on avionics in General and Business...

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    What factors inform a decision to upgrade a business jet flightdeck

    Owning and operating an aircraft is an individual, one-off experience, where many variables come into play. Deciding on a flightdeck upgrade is equally a personal or individual flight department decision that may make sense to one operator, but not to another.

    Following, we’ll discuss the five most important considerations that facilitate the decision to upgrade or not. In some ways they are all related, with any one consideration influencing another. Therefore, a cockpit upgrade decision cannot be made in isolation of other flight department and aircraft needs.

    Following are the five key considerations determining whether an avionics panel upgrade is required or not...

    • Timing
    • Downtime
    • Budget
    • Value
    • Operation


    Timing is everything. The other four considerations are all subject to this. Here are several of the more significant planning and availability factors that influence timing...

    Equipment: In today’s economic sector, supply chain issues abound impacting end-product delivery. Complicating the issue is chip production and the sensitivity of dual-use processors found in missiles and drones that are operated by unfriendly nations. Domestic chip manufacturing and effective export control are years away.

    Manpower: Even if the equipment is available, is there skilled and experienced labor to engineer, install, test, and certify it? Given recent trends across all industry sectors and countries the problem of labor shortage persists...

    Hangar Slot: The equipment may be ready, and the breakroom full of willing workers, but what if the hangar is full? Situations such as paint slots can truly mix up hangar scheduling, where lucrative paint jobs take priority. There are many scenarios that could mess with the hangar schedule, and they are very difficult to predict.

    The last thing you want is your aircraft being worked on the ramp, or worse, just sitting idle, waiting for a hangar space to become available.

    Aircraft: Assuming the hangar has space and technicians are prepared with the equipment and kits to install the upgrade, will demand for the aircraft allow it to be stood down?

    Required Dates (mandate timelines): Most operators will risk waiting until the final year of a mandate timeline to schedule their slot, often for sensible reasons. However, this creates log jams and potential delays. Examples of past cockpit upgrades necessitated by mandates are ADS-B Out, TCAS, TAWS, ELT and RVSM. The implementation of all of these suffered from a massive rush as the mandate deadline approached.

    Unplanned and external factors such as poor economy, wars, disasters and pandemics can be construed as unfortunate timing.

    To mitigate timing concerns, planning is key. Therefore, pay very close attention to the multiple proposals you should request for an upgrade.

    Once you have narrowed down a completion facility, stay in touch regularly. Check on equipment and accessory status and how their schedule is progressing. Is the project engineered and the certification in progress with no barriers to return to service?

    Certification is a potential red flag, so watch this ahead of aircraft input. Facilities should have all clearances and obtainable approvals prior to aircraft input.


    Timing centers on schedule while downtime focusses on the period needed to undertake the work. A downtime as planned is perfect, and yet it is not that common. Typically, the downtime for integration extends, rather than contracts, leading to extra burden and cost. Factors that can extend downtime include:

    • Interior access time.
    • Relocation of aircraft in and out of the hangar.
    • Who is working (or not working) on your aircraft.
    • The different dynamics of the workplace at the aircraft factory, an MRO center, or your local avionics shop.
    • Whether the work is being completed in conjunction with interior, paint, engine/airframe, planned maintenance (major service bulletin, inspection, cycle items), or unplanned maintenance (airworthiness directive, corrosion repair or component failure).

    Having explored how Timing and Downtime factor in decisions to upgrade the flight deck, discover the roles Budget, Value, and Operation play in the AvBuyer MRO Special Industry Guide, Vol. V digital edition. Click the button below…

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