- 12 Jan 2022
- Dave Higdon
- Aircraft MRO
When planning to upgrade your business jet, is there ever a legitimate reason to exceed the budget? What are the pitfalls to avoid blowing an upgrade budget? Matt Harris asks some leading industry insiders...Back to Articles
As anybody who has previously upgraded a business jet would testify, the numerous options available for getting the look, feel and functionality of the aircraft exactly as you’d want it are dizzying.
With choice comes a lot of opportunity for original upgrade budgets to grow – sometimes exponentially beyond what was projected.
Aircraft owners planning upgrades need to keep a strong focus, take a disciplined approach to the overall upgrade project, and should be prepared to build a cushion into their budget to allow for an element of expansion on the original project.
By working well ahead of the upgrade with a trusted MRO center, owners and operators will be able to discuss the popular and most effective solutions available for their cabins and cockpits that enhance not only their current mission needs, but future needs too.
The Benefit of Expert Input
“It’s less about going over budget, and more about the owner getting exactly what they need or want in the end,” argues Phil Stearns, Director of Sales & Marketing for Stevens Aerospace & Defense Systems, who adds that the initial budget for an upgrade is “just the starting conversation” and should include plenty of room for change before the project begins.
In fact, owners have more chance of seeing their budget swell significantly when they decide to perform an upgrade at the last minute, notes André Ebach, Head of Maintenance for Aero-Dienst.
“Getting in contact and working with the maintenance facility at an early stage in the process is very important for proper planning, and for building a reliable budget for the upgrade,” he says.
Another benefit of involving the MRO shop in the process early is that it will help owners ensure that the upgrade is approved by the aircraft manufacturer, as well as the local aviation authority.
“National airworthiness authorities require systems to be approved by the manufacturer and will require their consent in the form of an STC (Supplemental Type Certificate),” says Vince Goncalves, Regional VP Africa, ExecuJet MRO Services.
“STCs have been carefully designed by the STC holder in conjunction with the aircraft manufacturer, and they require the appropriate expertise for integration into the aircraft’s systems.”
Over the years, Ebach has seen many customers choose to perform an upgrade simply because they’ve seen it on another jet.
“It is always better for the aircraft owner when their modifications and upgrade decisions are tailored to their own needs and aircraft,” he says, not just copied from another aircraft.
Stearns notes that while owners may have an initial budget in mind, once they explore their needs with the MRO shop, based on how they use the aircraft, additional or alternative upgrade items can make sense, justifying an increase on what was originally budgeted.
“It could be that a Large Jet cabin configuration isn’t working as well as it could for the owner on transatlantic flights,” he highlights. “A slight reconfiguration – such as adding a bed, couch, or a redesign of the galley – could fix that.
“Or perhaps, with the growing number of cell phones and laptops being used by passengers today, the addition of USB and other charging ports make perfect sense.”
Ultimately, budget should be weighed against enhanced productivity or comfort. Not everything is driven by functionality, though. Sometimes personal preference can be important in planning an appropriate upgrade budget.
For example, corporate owners may place high importance on corporate identity, conveyed through color scheme or logos, both inside and outside of the aircraft. And private owners might want to reflect some of their favorite things in the cabin, like the seat design of their sports car, or a design element from a vacation home, Stearns suggests.
At that point, costs will inevitably increase. “If the owner can put a value on the ‘wow-factor’, they can usually justify increasing their budget,” he argues. As already mentioned, though, there’s a far higher chance of hitting the ‘wow-factor’ with proper planning, far in advance of any proposed upgrade project’s start date.
Budget Upgrade? Avoid These Temptations...
While there are some legitimate reasons for aircraft upgrade budgets to increase, there are some common temptations aircraft owners experience that will result in unnecessary additional expense if they’re not carefully avoided.
First, avoid selecting an MRO center for the upgrade based on the cheapest quote. Ebach suggests selecting a provider you trust, ultimately. Goncalves agrees. “Aircraft owners and operators shouldn’t be tempted or influenced by the ‘best price’, which could lead to a mismatch between the end-result and your expectations.
“If there’s a large difference between proposals from MRO providers, then there’s usually a very good reason for this, and it needs to be queried first,” he suggests.
“Next, avoid buying upgrade items based on brand or clever features,” Ebach warns, adding that it can be tempting to pay for a specific upgrade item “simply because it’s state-of-the-art”. Such an approach could lead to owners over-paying for functionality they don’t ultimately need or incurring unanticipated additional work to integrate it with the airplane’s existing systems.
Nor should upgrade options be overlooked because they are a different brand to what the owner has been used to in the past, he adds.
Ultimately, customers should be guided through the whole project by their trusted MRO center to identify the best upgrade for their needs. “With such a large number of options available on the retrofit market, it is easy to get lost,” Ebach warns.
“But an experienced MRO shop will be able to walk its customers through the project, and filter through the vast array of choices to find the right ones.”
Hidden Additional Costs
Clarity is also essential to managing budgets, and there are areas of an aircraft upgrade that owners should be very clear about – but often aren’t – such as the hidden extras of an upgrade or modification.
“Don’t be led by the bottom-line price,” Goncalves says. “Work through the upgrade proposals line by line when making comparisons between what each shop is offering. When there is a discrepancy, ask why, and don’t accept vague answers.”
Does the price include the cost of equipment, but exclude installation costs? “Someone has to perform the work, including the removal of the existing system and installation of the new equipment,” Ebach adds.
“Then there’s the cost of engineering, hangar space, costs of compliance with the relevant aviation regulations (e.g., burn testing). Are these included?”
“When receiving a proposal make sure that any item quoted ‘Price to be Determined’ gets discussed early on,” Goncalves says.
Stearns notes that the price for paint stripes and colors have risen dramatically lately. “Custom paints, metallics, and extravagant designs are generally not in the base price” when owners are looking for a baseline budget for an upgrade.
“Be very clear with the paint shop and designer what you want upfront so that all costs of a paint refurbishment are budgeted for.”
And then there are the factors that the aircraft owner/operator is responsible for in their budget. “For example, in the case of charter operators there’s the lost income from charter flights owing to an extended period of downtime,” Ebach illustrates.
“This is a hidden cost that can easily be overlooked.”
Depending on the type of upgrade or modification, significant work could be required to gain access to the necessary area, including removal of the interior. “In addition to the extensive man-hours incurred, this can sometimes result in unexpected discoveries, such as corrosion,” Ebach notes. “Is there a contingency in the budget for such unforeseen surprises?”
Other hidden costs can occur later because of penny-pinching in the near term. “From a strictly aircraft-protection standpoint, it’s important to understand that the paint’s primary responsibility is to protect the aircraft,” Stearns illustrates. “The secondary function is to look good.”
If the paint on an aircraft is peeling or cracked, the surface below will be at risk of corrosion, which can be an expensive fix further down the line. “It’s necessary for aircraft owners to budget for regular, inexpensive, visual inspections and repairs of such areas sooner, rather than later,” Stearns emphasizes. The upgrade could be a good opportunity to do so.
Tips for a Budget-Oriented Upgrade
Keeping the budget in hand when it comes to upgrading your business jet ultimately requires planning, planning, and more planning, according to Ebach. “We’ve seen many upgrade projects move through our hangars over the decades, and, without exception, the most successful are the customers who get in contact with us early,” he emphasizes.
Successful upgrades start with seeking the MRO center’s expertise and input into the project, proceeding with renderings, technical descriptions, engineering, removal of old equipment, installation of new, and, of course, aftermarket support, “with as few ‘budget shocks’ as possible along the way,” he concludes.
“Authorized service centers are more likely to already have OEM approvals/STCs for the systems you’re upgrading, saving time and cost,” Goncalves adds. “Be sure to request the contact details of the STC holder or system OEM to discuss your upgrade with them, too.
“OEMs place their reputation in the hands of your local service providers’ abilities and will guide you as best as they can,” to ensure your upgrade budget is well spent.
“Moreover, service providers who have OEM approvals undergo regular audits, and tend to have the necessary infrastructure, experience and equipment to complete your upgrade successfully.”
More information from:
Stevens Aerospace: www.stevensaerospace.com