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Options abound for Bizjet Operators but reliable maintenance is a must Shopping for a new business jet for sale or pre-owned business jet these days can be a dizzying exercise: So many models… so many options… so many decisions. Well- don’t be put off by this process – it’s only the beginning. Along with selecting the right aircraft you face several other significant decision points including how to crew and how to operate. Most importantly- you’ll need to decide how and where to ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st June 2006
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Options abound for Bizjet Operators but reliable maintenance is a must

Shopping for a new business jet for sale or pre-owned business jet these days can be a dizzying exercise: So many models… so many options… so many decisions. Well- don’t be put off by this process – it’s only the beginning.

Along with selecting the right aircraft you face several other significant decision points including how to crew and how to operate.

Most importantly- you’ll need to decide how and where to maintain your business aircraft. These days the options available for aircraft maintenance are arguably even broader than the variety of airplanes from which you choose.

Once you become an aircraft owner/operator- finding and using reliable maintenance services is not an option. Good maintenance is a must and for many reasons. Safety and legality may stand as the two most obvious justifications. Another justification is dispatch reliability; you want to know the plane is ready when you’re ready for it to go to work.

You’ve spent a lot of bucks to acquire your business plane - protecting and preserving your investment is only smart- common sense business. An airplane with a documented history of good- up-to-date maintenance holds its value better than the same bird shortchanged at every need of a wrench turning.

So how to you pick the right shop? How- more fundamentally- can you judge what shop best covers your needs? And what are those needs- anyway?

A&P: Airframe- powerplant- aircraft avionics- etc…
Aircraft maintenance essentially needs breakdown – no pun intended – along three basic lines: the airframe- the powerplant and the accessories (the broadest of the three).

To cover the basics- airframes are the structure in which you ride- the metal or- in some cases- composite pieces that together make up the wings- fuselage- control surfaces and the like. In general- airframe maintenance is minimal- except for the wear and tear that results from normal use – and- heavens forbid- any physical damage that may occur. Corrosion and age are other airframe issues.

In general- the airframe is the most trouble-free part of the total aircraft – as long as you avoid things that can wrinkle the structure- at least.

Powerplants are the next important component in an aircraft – the aircraft engines- aircraft propeller manufacturers and associated accessories.

Fortunately- modern turboprop and fanjet powerplants are among the most-reliable- most-trouble-free systems ever to come from the mind of humans. Think about it – the hot-section inspection intervals for a modern turbine engine can run from 3-500 operating hours and up as high as 7-000 hours.

Even at the average utilization rate of the typical business jet – about 375 hours annually – that’s more than nine years at the lower number and nearly 19 at the higher.

But engines are also the most-expensive single component in a modern business turbine aircraft. So programs designed to assure they make it through their full life span are important and useful… particularly since the costs of overhaul or replacement engines can push the investment in a pre-owned bird beyond the point of economic viability.

Finally- we have the accessories and components needed to make the airframe and powerplant practical transportation machines: avionics- interior lights- in-flight phones- Internet hardware- environmental systems- galley and lavatory gear.

Avionics alone- as a specialty- command a lot of consideration- thanks to the recent years of rapid advance in digital technology- flat-panel displays- solid-state digital attitude and air-data sensors- and state-of-the-art systems for delivering live weather and traffic images to multifunction displays.

What is needed?
Thanks to FAA regulation and smart practice- aircraft owners face a number of requirements concerning the health and airworthiness of their business planes. The most common- best known and most fundamental need is the FAA-mandated 'Annual Inspection.'

'The Annual-' as it’s generally called- comes along once a year just as the name suggests- but only for aircraft operated solely under Part 91 – that is- in private transport and not as for-hire aircraft.

The Annual entails a list of required checks specific to each airframe and powerplant – simple things such as checking the integrity of control linkages to more-complex checks of engine condition- landing gear function and pressurization-system health. A good annual will generally take three to five days at a minimum for a relatively simple aircraft; longer- for larger- more complex machines.

For aircraft operated for-hire- there are other- more-stringent requirements- starting with the 100-hour inspection. Again- as the name implies- 'The Hundred Hour' comes along every 100 hours and is much like an abbreviated Annual inspection.

For a busy business jet- the 100-hour inspection may come along several times per year. But as the aircraft advances in age and use- other- more-detailed checks are required in sequence: the 'A Check'; the 'B Check'; the 'C Check' and 'D Check'.

Each one goes beyond the prior level with the 'D Check' being the equivalent of a couple of annuals rolled into one. A D Check is the most extensive look of the four and may take a couple of weeks of downtime to accomplish.

And whether you’re flying only Part 91 (and need only Annual Inspections) or under for-hire rules- there’s a set of FAA requirements and aircraft-specific needs to meet.

In the ideal world- one excellent shop can cover all these needs. In the real world- operators sometimes have to split their business to assure themselves of the best service at the best price. So how and where do you find what you need?

The ever-available consultant
One way to streamline the process of selecting and using a aircraft maintenance shop involves working with the same consultant who helped you find your aircraft – if- that is- you worked with such an advisor.

That same aircraft marketing firm that scoured the world to find your ideal aircraft probably knows some of the best shops that can match up with your aircraft – that is- a shop or company that holds special expertise in your particular aircraft.

You can also turn to operators of the same type as de facto consultants by asking to whom they turn for work on their aircraft.

You can easily consult the logbooks for your aircraft and start by contacting the people who maintained your aircraft in the past.

Another avenue is the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) headed by licensed A&P Brian Finnegan. PAMA has member companies scattered across the country and can help pair you and your needs with a shop capable of fulfilling those needs.

In the avionics specialty area- the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) can fulfill the same role by referring you to a suitable avionics shop in your area. But remember one thing: the most-suitable shop may not be right on your field or even in your state. Aircraft are transportation machines – so don’t be put off by the possibility you’ll need to coordinate getting your airplane to the maintainer on a regular basis.

OEMs: The first line of defense
Nobody knows your plane better than the folks who made it. So many operators start with- and stick with- a factory service center – or an authorized affiliate – to keep their bird flying. And virtually every manufacturer – from Beechcraft to Bombardier- Cessna to Dassault- and so on – offers a factory maintenance operation for the use of their customers.

Use of a factory center assures the operator of factory-spec parts and procedures- of personnel specially trained and qualified in the factory’s products- and of machine-specific knowledge that can make the sometimes higher per-hour price cost effective by needing fewer shop hours.

Another benefit of the OEM approach is the special maintenance programs the factories often construct – programs that may be based on a flat per-flight-hour fee to cover routine and unplanned maintenance with no additional costs to the operator.

Engine operators also offer special programs with payments linked to the flight hours used – and often- these programs offer the most cost-effective approach to managing the life and replacement of those expensive powerplants.

Specialists can be top notch
Independent companies also offer package- maintenance based on set payments per hour flown – for new and used aircraft- alike- for the engines alone or the entire aircraft.

Often- these independent maintenance insurers tap into a network of shops that specialize in your aircraft- your engines or your avionics.

The benefits of the specialists are similar to those advantages of dealing with an OEM – expertise- knowledge about the Airworthiness Directives and special items that may need special tools for your special aircraft.

The service technicians affiliated with your aircraft’s factory service team can be an excellent source of information on specialty shops – as well as important intelligence providers on shops to avoid.

Similar to factory maintenance-by-flight-hour programs- these arrangements help a company manage costs and avoid spikes in expenditures by providing a steady- predictable cost line that- ideally- doesn’t change over the life of the agreement.

Experience counts – so tap others’ experiences
Finally- some of the best information you can find on the upkeep of your aircraft is available from other operators of the same machine. Seek out and inquire among other Citation operators- if a Citation is your bird – or other Hawker users if fly a Hawker- or a Falcon operator if…well- you get the idea.

You may find that the shop working on that other Falcon can accommodate your maintenance needs- as well – or can refer you to another shop with equal confidence. But don’t ever underestimate the power of information from someone who’s made some mistakes ahead of you. Better to learn from the mistakes of others than to suffer through the unnecessary agony of making common mistakes of your own.

A little savvy research and smart planning at the start of your ownership experience can save you grief- added expense – or worse- injury or death later. Remember- maintenance isn’t an option – and shouldn’t be an afterthought. The better you integrate maintenance needs into your operational practices- the more convenient- seamless and cost-effective those down cycles will be.

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