What are Your Aircraft Upgrade Priorities (Part 2)

Ken Elliott discusses aircraft upgrade priorities. In the second of his three-part series he considers the upgrade options that are both required and available to operators…

Ken Elliott  |  26th September 2018
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Ken Elliott

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

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Ken Elliott discusses aircraft upgrade priorities. In the second of his three-part series he considers the upgrade options that are both required and available to operators…
As the use of airspace and a corresponding need to automate increases, Civil Aviation Authorities will apply greater pressure so aircraft can utilize all the features of a modern infrastructure. It is also important to engage all stakeholders in the process because the true benefit of airspace improvements can only be realized when everyone can use them.
Furthermore, as we have seen with ADS-B Out and WAAS-LPV, the FAA are smart enough to ensure infrastructure is in place before requiring or recommending equipage. This, a result of lessons learned from previous mandates applying to aircraft equipage.
Mandates come in two flavors. They are either safety- or airspace-related. Safety requirements typically apply to groups of aircraft, no matter where they operate, while airspace requirements are operations-focused and are applicable irrespective of the aircraft type.
Safety-Related Mandates

Under an umbrella of safety alerts, Civil Aviation Authorities have widely adopted the Airworthiness Directive approach to important safety-related requirements.
These can be legally enforceable as they apply to correct an unsafe condition of an aircraft, engine, propeller or appliance. If not an emergency, an AD will go through a rule-making process. Emergency ADs are always stated as such, and there will be an understandable urgency for all affected operators to comply.
Other safety-related guidance can be found in the format of an alert, report or a bulletin. One example would be Safety Alerts for Operators (SAFOs).
Because aircraft owners sensibly prioritize their operating costs, anything related to safety of the existing aircraft will take priority.
By working with a maintenance management program and aircraft service provider, operators scan through their records, manufacturer’s recommendations and civil aviation safety mandates, to identify important requirements, including major inspections, before considering potential upgrades.
Furthermore, flight departments should always maintain a contingency of funds for unforeseen repairs and newly issued manufacturer bulletins.
Airspace-Related Mandates

The next priority for consideration after safety is enabling the aircraft to operate in the airspace you need to fly. Understanding airspace requirements is a tricky affair because it is all about how you elect to operate and the equipage needed to achieve it.
It also includes the consideration of plans for the aircraft itself. For example, do you plan on selling the aircraft, ending a lease, having it managed, or relocating it to a different sector of an international business?
For airspace applications, the word ‘mandate’ is only meaningful if the requirement applies to your flight operations. Because it serves a broad classification of airspace, ADS-B Out is one example of a mandate that applies to most aircraft operators. On the other hand, the rule for datalink recording only applies to those who currently employ datalink services as part of their flight regime.
One variable in requirements is the age of an aircraft. Sometimes, grandfather clauses excuse or delay equipage, while for new aircraft you can expect to find mandated equipment already installed. Be careful though. ‘Equipped’ does not necessarily mean the current version – or as is often the case, the pilot’s use of the equipment needs to be approved.
Variables in the Application of Upgrade Requirements
Equipage Requirements for Mandates

Drilling down into the equipage requirements themselves, the overarching area of focus applicable to most business aircraft is technology upgrades solving Communication, Navigation and Surveillance needs.
Critical Mandated Aircraft Upgrade Requirements
Figure B represents a stratospheric view of outstanding critical mandates, applicable between now and 2020. As with all mandates, there are local variations to applicability, based on location and which aircraft platform you operate.
A clear and crucial factor to be gleaned from this table is mandates due for implementation by mid-2020. If you own a business jet journeying around the planet on a regular basis, then you can anticipate the mandates will universally apply.
This table is forward looking, so do not be caught out if you are in the market for a used aircraft. Check for existing and recent compliance requirements, such as TCAS 7.1 CVR-FDR, ELT and FANS Phase 1 implementation for the North Atlantic Tracks (NAT). Also, note that the NAT is only one of several major oceanic or remote regions where maintaining track is enforced.
Concurrent deadlines drive the need to schedule both ADS-B Out and NAT FANS Phase 2 during the same visit, so it is already likely major shops will be full. Savvy operators will have scheduled already, especially if they need to undergo a known major inspection within the next 16 months.
Discretionary Upgrades

Having scrubbed safety actions and airspace equipage requirements, and assuming funds are still available, decisions can now be made on discretionary items. A set of priorities, unique to each Flight Department, will be derived from where and how flights are conducted.
However, before evaluating upgrade options Flight Departments should check for any due non-safety related repairs and related mods. These may also contribute to savings in operating costs.
Chart A is a representation of where discretionary upgrade decisions are focused. Of course, this varies by operation (and there is overlap) but ask the average Director or Operations and they may come up with a similar pie segment diagram.
Note: ‘For the good of the aircraft’ refers to discretionary, rather than safety, while ‘Company overall’ potentially benefits everyone (front, back and the CFO).
How Equipage Fits in to the Priority Segments
Chart B is the same chart as Chart A, but includes equipage within each of the pie segments that in the real world can overlap. It is incumbent upon the Flight Department to balance need against desire, connecting the dots between benefits and a reduction in operating costs, while always retaining funds for an unexpected event.
Other difficulties within the decision process are the short-, medium- and long-term plans for the aircraft. These alone can be drivers behind a ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ decision. They are also a factor within the current lag in ADS-B implementation.

In the order of aircraft safety, airspace requirements, discretionary service and upgrades, a Flight Department may prioritize budgets and schedule aircraft modifications. The words ‘required’ and ‘discretionary’ sit either side of a line where difficult decisions are necessary and finances may not be readily available.
‘Required’ can drive a decision to trade an aircraft early, while ‘discretionary’ can contribute and speed it along.
Selecting an aircraft based on its mission requirements is not subject to an analysis of performance and specifications alone. It includes a thorough understanding of the equipment and features onboard, including whether the current status meets the latest version of the requirement.
Choosing an aircraft should include at least a cursory review of its ability, later in life, to cope with emerging airspace requirements.
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