Selling a Plane? Important Avionics Considerations

Ken Elliott delves into business aircraft transactions from an avionics perspective, highlighting some important considerations. Here, we look at what's important from a seller’s perspective...

Ken Elliott  |  22nd March 2022
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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 to know about private jet avionics for aircraft sellers

    The successful sale of an aircraft is not always straightforward, even during times of high demand and low availability. That’s certainly true when it comes to the avionics. So what are the important avionics considerations for aircraft sellers?

    There are so many variables and other factors to consider, with each prospective buyer having unique requirements, based on where and how they intend to operate the aircraft.

    As a starting point to selling your aircraft, take time to list all the positives and negatives from the perspective of a typical buyer, paying special attention to its performance and its operating capability, based on equipage and condition.

    Aircraft manufacturers (OEMs) start with a baseline ‘green’ aircraft and will complete it with a standard package, followed by a custom package, tailored to each serial number as it is ordered by the buyer.

    Once delivered and in service, the OEM will supplement the existing equipage with minor updates, and – as new technology is developed and certified – major upgrades. An example of minor updates are service bulletins, while examples of major upgrades are version updates to avionics suites which offer new capabilities and features.

    Owners and operators will also potentially add third-party upgrades that are either alternatives to, or not immediately available from the OEM. Once you include the unique nature of each cabin, cockpit, and exterior design that results from these, prospective aircraft buyers can expect each aircraft serial number to be different.

    An aircraft’s performance dictates its operational limits, and the standard equipage will match the operational capability of the aircraft. Optional equipage may, in turn, permit an optimum operational capability.

    Buyers are perceptive and most do their homework. They will cast equal attention to the cabin, cockpit (assume cockpit to include engines, APUs, airframe and avionics) and exterior of the aircraft.

    As the seller, it may help to imagine yourself as a buyer, who has never seen your aircraft previously, and enact the experience of walking up to the aircraft, ‘flying’ in each cabin seat, and then using the features of the cockpit. Document everything may sew doubt, beg a question, or that does and does not, impress.

    The initial experience for the buyer is so important. Never assume a negative will be overlooked. With two same-model aircraft side-by-side on the ramp, your aircraft must have more than one outstanding feature as a differentiator, and it is not always price.

    With today’s knowledgeable and insightful buyer, what was once a trusting review is today a full-blown, independent pre-buy process. For all the fasteners on the fuselage, there is probably an equal amount of paper or digital records for the aircraft that forms part of that pre-buy.

    The records are equal to the aircraft itself, and, guess what… In the mind of the buyer, sloppy records imply sloppy maintenance or tracking of operation, and by default, a less attractive aircraft.

    Records must be complete from the first flight hour to the last. Anything suspicious amounts to “I smell a rat”, and it will take significant effort to persuade the buyer to assume differently.

    Maintenance tracking companies only provide part of the recorded history and documentation of an aircraft and its systems. Working from a checklist of all record requirements will be helpful.

    The physical aircraft and its records hold equal weight in the sale potential of an aircraft. One error, or missing record can be as significant to the sale as a missing life raft.

    Avionics Sale Preparation

    Considering all of the performance, operation, flight experience and records, there are specific aspects for avionics to consider…

    Firstly, each aircraft has a Master Minimum Equipment List (MMEL) that includes avionics. This list applies to the OEM model.

    A Minimum Equipment List (MEL) is an extension of the same requirement, specific to your aircraft. The list dictates the minimum equipment that must be onboard and operational to conduct a regular flight. However, you should consider the expectation of today’s typical buyer, noting anything you do not have that can justify improved performance.

    While the avionics must, of course, satisfy minimum aircraft performance, it’s preferable if you also have what the average buyer of your aircraft model expects. This may require some networking and research to determine.

    The most relevant aspect of avionics concerns operational performance. Avionics specifically dictate where and how you can operate. This applies to runways, airports, approaches, departures, routes, regions, countries, oceanic flying and remote flying.

    Although as the seller of an aircraft you cannot foresee everything that a buyer may need, there is a slogan from the avionics industry that rings true for you: “Best equipped, best served”.

    Besides the static wicks, radome, and antennas, avionics is not a consideration for the exterior of an aircraft. However, avionics is a major portion of both the cabin and the cockpit, with the seller needing to consider both, but for different reasons.

    With respect to the cockpit, the equipage may not be the current version, or it may not boast the optional features available since original assembly. With an eye on pricing and valuation, the seller may want to update the avionics to bring the aircraft into line with others, or to differentiate it.

    Regarding the cabin, innovation moves rapidly, and it is difficult to keep abreast. Many buyers are looking for fast broadband internet, ways to intuitively operate their Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) during flight, and easy connectivity within and without the aircraft.

    Again, balancing cost and valuation, a positive ROI can be expected from smart cabin electronic improvements.

    Ultimately, the seller should include both cockpit and cabin avionics when preparing the aircraft for sale.

    For newer aircraft ensure service bulletins and subscription services are currently applied. For legacy aircraft, assess the ability for it to fully operate in the airspace regions for which it was designed, even if you did not operate in all of them previously.

    Reviewing the Avionics Records Ahead of a Sale

    Avionics records are perhaps the most likely place to overlook errors and missing data. Whoever reviews the records as a preparation toward a sale needs to have an adequate general knowledge of avionics.

    From a records perspective, some of the specific documentation to check for are:

    • Supplemental Type Certificates (STCs)
    • Forms 337, 8110 and 8130
    • Radio License
    • Inspection and Testing, including 91.411 & 413
    • Repairs and logbook entries
    • Service Bulletins (SB) or Aircraft Service Changes (ASC)
    • Factory Mods
    • Software
    • Subscriptions
    • Instructions for Continued Airworthiness (ICAW)
    • Flight Manual Supplements (FMS)
    • Equipment List
    • Weight and Balance changes
    • Electrical Load Analysis (ELA)
    • MEL (from MMEL)
    • Registration of product and warranty
    • Placards, registration number and other ‘strapping’
    • Wiring and other installation data

    Look for possible red flags within the records, such as repeat repair history, missing inspections, and continued airworthiness requirements for RVSM, ADS-B, Transponder, ELT, and other systems.

    Overlooked, missing, or altered avionics records can ruin the closing of an aircraft sale, and when discovered later can be costly in both downtime and money, to correct.

    From a general perspective, over the life of a legacy aircraft there may have been several transactions. Each owner, flight department, management company, or operator will have maintained records differently. Each will have their individual strengths and weaknesses around their knowledge of avionics and understanding of avionics record keeping.

    Some owners have digitized their records, while others store numerous books and papers in hangar closets. It is rare to find a completely consistent record of aircraft documents and history, when multiple owners have managed the aircraft during its history.

    Current owners of legacy aircraft should review their records for a consistent, documented history ensuring inspections, maintenance, modifications, on-board documents, placards, subscriptions and software show a logical thread of continuity throughout. The records may include approved electronic versions, and may partially fall under a maintenance tracking program.

    To make it seamless and favorable to both parties in the sale, presentation of an aircraft’s records should be professional and not overwhelming. It may benefit the seller to complete a walk-through of a document review, working from a buyer’s typical checklist.

    This could be completed by a third-party consultant familiar with aircraft documentation requirements.

    Avionics Modification Records

    Apart from avionics inspection, testing, and repair documentation that all follow similar guidelines used for other aircraft systems, avionics modifications can be complex and unique in their completion and certification.

    A modification to the avionics can be minor, major, or as a pre-approved bulletin/aircraft service change. In all cases there must be a record of the work completed, compliance, and Return to Service (RTS).

    The buyer will be looking for all three documentations and supporting ‘paperwork’ for all modifications. Often it is the supporting ‘paperwork’ that is either missing, misfiled, or in error. Here are some examples of supporting documentation for an upgrade or modification:

    • Flight Manual Supplement (FMS)
    • Weight & Balance (as updated for the change)
    • Electrical Load Analysis (ELA)
    • Equipment List changes with new part numbers in full (example 941-8400-002)
    • Serial number record as currently installed
    • Wiring and other installation data
    • Instructions for Continued Airworthiness (ICAW)
    • Various FAA/DER/DAR certifications in support of an STC, Form 337 or other effort
    • Certifications for inspections, testing, parts tracing and ancillary effort
    • The modification ‘package’ itself
    • Warranties, registrations, subscriptions, software versions, and other supplemental data.

    Most aircraft will have at least one record of an avionics modification, upgrade, service bulletin, or change. These are unique in their certification requirements and record, so they are easy to overlook or assume that you have everything associated with the work.

    Pay close attention to the aircraft’s avionics history, and you may also discover a problem that has never been fully resolved!

    Aircraft Wiring Records

    The aircraft OEM issues wiring prints for all aircraft of the same type and, typically, within a specific serial number range. These are generic prints, mostly electronic, and accessed via a portal. However, OEMs also issue custom prints that are dedicated to your aircraft serial number only. These may be on a disk, USB drive, paper, web page, or via a portal.

    If the OEM provides post-delivery bulletins, modifications, or service changes, the wiring record will either be similarly available, or part of the change itself and should be retained by the aircraft owner.

    Wiring records include documents that form part of STCs, such as EWIS (Electrical Wiring Interconnect System). These are of equal importance as the prints themselves.

    Other documents in support of the wiring will include location, software status, part number versions, strapping data, and variations for different serial numbers of the same model of aircraft.

    It can be cumbersome for a seller to ensure all of this is available to the buyer, but a complete, concise and accurate set of data useful to future repairs, diagnostics, and possible upgrades is worth its weight in gold – and the savvy buyer knows it.

    Be assured, having thorough wiring prints, equipment locations, and an accurate record of part and serial numbers will save you time and money in droves. This includes preparation for a pre-purchase inspection (PPI).

    Knowledgeable and perceptive buyers will appreciate this often-overlooked part of the aircraft data records.

    Desirable Avionics Upgrades & Improvements

    If certain avionics are required, but are not present or serviceable for an aircraft to operate – either as designed or as intended – then it is assumed the seller will comply, or come to some arrangement with the buyer.

    An example could be satcom, data recording, and other mods to accommodate CPDLC FANS. In this case, assume the aircraft is designed to operate oceanic and remote, but, being an option, FANS was not elected upon initial sale and delivery.

    Some avionics are desirable, and may further improve capability, performance, cabin comfort or access. One example is Air to Ground (ATG) internet. Some owners do not want passengers connecting their carry-on devices during flight, and they avoid installing internet capability. Most would prefer internet capability, however, and in this instance it is desirable for the seller to ensure that exists prior to listing the aircraft for sale.

    Often overlooked, or considered unimportant, are minor upgrades to both the cockpit and cabin electronics, including:

    • Backlit USB Ports (including the latest versions for portable devices)
    • Backlit Power Outlets
    • Galley Features and Outlets
    • LED Lighting
    • Bluetooth Capability
    • Cabin Switching (as an upgrade)
    • Improvements to Existing Satcom, Internet and Data Services
    • Extended Wi-Fi.

    Consider preparing your aircraft for sale by adding desirable avionics that may be the key to a buyer selecting your aircraft over others.

    Most of the avionics involved center around internet, wi-fi, connectivity and power for walk-on devices, plus LED updates to aircraft lighting. Of course, you should also check for airworthiness authority mandates, and other required avionics.

    Variations in Required Avionics

    Operational requirements differ, based on where the aircraft will be operated. The variations can be significant, and to understand these, it’s worth reviewing the ICAO, EASA (EU-Ops), FAA and NBAA websites, all of which provide helpful resources. To summarize, the avionics to check for are:

    • CPDLC – DCL Domestic US (optional)
    • CPDLC – VDL Mode 2 (Europe)
    • CPDLC – FANS (Oceanic & Remote), with ADS-C and CVR Data Recording
    • PBN versions RNAV, RNP, and RNP-AR
    • ELT with 406MHz
    • QAR with data downloading
    • FDR with correct amount and type of parameters
    • ADS-B Out Version 2 (required in most airspace)
    • HUD – China
    • TCAS version 7.1
    • Older mandates include RVSM, TAWS, TCAS/TAS, ELT and 8.33KHz VHF Comms.

    One required feature that is necessary to check, especially before upgrading the cabin electronics, is whether the cockpit has a dedicated, easy to access switch to isolate cabin power. Some aircraft have slipped through the net on this requirement, and it may be an extensive exercise to install.

    Another required item necessary to check, is that the ADS-B Out installed on your aircraft is Version 2. Versions 0 and 1 are acceptable in some airspace around the world, but if you happen to still have the earlier versions of ADS-B Out, and the buyer will be operating the aircraft in the US, Europe, or some other regions, an upgrade to Version 2 will be necessary.

    Thus, due diligence in pre-checking the compliance status of your avionics, prior to marketing an aircraft, can potentially save additional downtime and cost, while preventing delay or loss of a sale.

    Maintenance Tracking, Subscriptions & Service Providers

    Most aircraft owners will have various support services that keep track of the maintenance inspections and repairs. They will be subscribed to various software and database updates, and use a service provider for their satellite communication, satellite data, and ATG internet.

    When preparing to sell the aircraft, ensure subscription data is current and easy to access for the buyer.

    As buyers come in all flavors, they may want to change service providers, add or delete various optional programs, and reconsider extended warranties.

    Just as with engines, APU, and airframes, the avionics manufacturers offer their own equipment warranty programs. The ‘Big Five’ (Honeywell, Collins, Garmin, Thales and Universal), all have extensive support and warranty offerings, and Honeywell offers avionics support as part of its other MSP programs. Third parties, such as JSSI, provide extensive in-service programs for operators that include avionics.

    Having good records of all your support services, will impress buyers and add yet another layer to an attractive aircraft for sale.

    In Summary

    The seller of the aircraft (who may also be a dealer), should be able to readily educate the buyer, or their representative, on the specific aircraft for sale. Having accurate, current, consistent, and accessible records are just as important as the aircraft pictures and summary of its equipment.

    Understanding the various avionics systems onboard – what they do, their status, where and how they operate – will go a long way to satisfying specific requests from the buyer.

    While an aircraft is intended to perform and operate with limits on load, range, altitude, and speed, not all owners will apply the aircraft for every situation for which it was designed. Consequently, when an aircraft transfers to a new owner/operator it may not be fully equipped with all the avionics it’s capable of operating with. These are either options for given situations (example internet), or options based on operating needs (example FANS).

    Without overpricing the aircraft, the more it is equipped for every situation, the larger the pool of buyers you will appeal to; and the more you prepare for every kind of buyer, the better your chances of closing the deal.

    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.
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