In this series, Ken Elliott delves into the complexities of the terms used by aircraft brokerages in advertisements to distinguish their inventory from other aircraft on the market. The series concludes with a focus on aircraft status and configuration…
As highlighted in Table A, there are several areas of interest for an aircraft transaction, focused on the aircraft type and model chosen. Having covered the previous areas depicted across the previous two articles, following we’ll address the last two items on the list, and assume ADS-B Out compliance.
For the purpose of this article, ‘Aircraft Status’ refers to the condition of the aircraft at the time of sale, regarding maintenance and appearance as well as its operating readiness.
- Example: Fully enrolled in programs/Recent C Check/Paint stripes and refurbished interior 2018/Based & registered in US since new/Maintained & Operated Part 135/ EASA & EU-Ops 1.
1) Service Currency (Fully enrolled in programs/Recent C check)
Service Currency refers to the maintenance status of the aircraft either now or as it will be delivered to a new owner. An advert may include three separate statements re. maintenance status:
- Checks or inspections completed, with ‘Fresh’ referring to very recent.
- ADs* or SBs** (or ASCs*** for Gulfstream jets) completed. Only critical, commonly sought bulletins are listed.
- Pre-buy completed, referring to an inspection, readying the aircraft for sale. This should include a review of the aircraft records. It can be completed by the aircraft manufacturer or third party, and the purchaser can require a pre-buy inspection at a suitable facility by mutual agreement.
* Airworthiness Directive: Issued by the Airworthiness Authority and typically mandates an SB issued by the aircraft or equipment OEM.
** Service Bulletin: Issued by the aircraft or equipment OEM and may be optional, recommended or required – but not enforced.
*** Aircraft Service Change: Considered a modification to a Gulfstream aircraft, post factory delivery.
Regarding the last completed inspection, our example refers to a Dassault Falcon ‘C’ Check. In this case, it is a major inspection carried out every eight years (96 months), or at 4,000 flight cycles, whichever occurs first. A flight cycle is one take-off and landing, irrespective of the length of the flight and is crucial for monitoring the impacts of fatigue, both on the airframe and especially the landing gear.
Each aircraft type has a different inspection regime and uses unique labelling such as ‘Annual’, ‘A Inspection’ or ‘12 month’. Annual inspections are overlapped by more thorough checks completed over longer cycles.
Having an attractive aircraft is one thing, but the flying history behind the distinctive paint veneer, is just as crucial. Also important for service currency is the status of the aircraft’s documents, commonly referred to as ‘Logs’. Table B indicates several key documents that must always stay with an aircraft’s folders or be on-board.
Comments: Look out for statements like ‘will be’, ‘due’, ‘ready to be’, ‘capable’ or ‘provisioned’. These indicate the aircraft is not yet ‘in compliance with’, or only has part of what you may need.
Moreover, for ADs and SBs, look out for regional enforcement. If you intend to register the aircraft somewhere other than its previous country of registration, the new airworthiness authority may apply different aircraft status requirements.
Note, service status includes enrolled service programs and compliance with mandates. Some adverts will state who has been maintaining the aircraft. This could be a ‘service center’ (usually refers to an OEM’s facility or well-known third-party shops such as West Star Aviation, Duncan Aviation, Standard Aero or Elliott Aviation). While this can be very helpful, it’s common for aircraft to cycle through different shops for very good reasons. Most important, is that ALL the records and logs should be present and accurate. Missing part or all the records is not what you want to find.
2) Aircraft Condition (Paint stripes and refurbished interior 2018/Based & registered in US since new)
Aircraft condition includes surveying an aircraft from both an external and internal perspective. In fact, the aircraft service currency is also a reflection of its condition. Appearance is not everything, so that means checking the functionality of all that moves in the cabin, from doors to galley controls, and from lighting to passenger address.
It may be a good idea, as a purchaser, to create your own checklist for the cabin. Look at all the pictures available and think of yourself sitting at each location. What would you want at that location and is it going to work as you expect?
Think of seat location, movement, lighting, audio and video, external communication, internal communication, airflow, temperature control and master seat control of overall cabin functionality. And create a checklist for external paintwork, interior wood, carpet, leather, mirrors, galley, lavatory, sidewalls, ledges, seating and overhead (even include the condition of windows). Keep in mind existing physical and electronic company logos will need to change.
Comments: Interior refurbishments are subjective. It all depends on how the aircraft was used. If it was owned and operated by one individual/company, that is very different to being previously operated fractionally, or by a Part 135 charter company, when it comes to the anticipated condition of the interior.
It can help to consider living with the aircraft over several years with respect to its design and color scheme. Be especially sensitive to others important to you, and how they may react to the appearance of the aircraft. If anything needs changing it will be costly once you have the aircraft in your service.
Finally, even though a thorough Pre-Buy Inspection may have been completed, it’s wise to have an independent expert on the particular model/year of manufacture give it the once over (including the all-important cockpit).
3) Operating (Maintained & Operated Part 135/EASA & EU-Ops 1)
Our example aircraft has been managed under FAA Part 135. For aircraft certificated under Part 25, being over 12,500lbs they may be operated under Part 91 or Part 135 rules (unless operated under a special category).
Part 91 refers to non-commercial rules that are less stringent and leave much decision-making to the pilot in-command. On the other hand, Part 135 refers to commercial operations, where the aircraft is utilized for compensation or hire and implies greater stringency in maintenance and operating requirements (i.e. training).
Internationally, airworthiness authorities mirror US rules to a large extent, with local variations. The statement ‘EASA and EU-Ops 1’ in our example advert pertains to the aircraft having been operated in Europe. It’s common to see this statement (or similar versions of it).
It’s vital to first know where you intend to operate and second, find out exactly what the operating requirements are for each region in which you intend to fly. Moreover, know your Oceanic requirements. And remember, registering an aircraft in a country is very different to flying in and out of there.
Comments: Look out for unique operating capabilities of some business jet models. These include the ability to fly ‘Steep Approaches’ (i.e. flying into London City Airport) and ‘High Altitude Landing and Take-offs’ (operating at several airports in China, Peru, Nepal and Northern India).
Look out for upcoming aircraft tracking and recording requirements. These may call for the addition of equipment such as Quick Access Recorders (QAR) or Space-Based ADS-B (or equivalent).
For this article, Configuration refers mostly to how the aircraft’s interior is configured. Often overlooked, configuration of seat location and how the specific serial number of aircraft is certified for its seating can make all the difference.
- Example: 14 Pax Config/Belt Lav/Crew Rest/Fwd Galley
Even aircraft of the same model can have different seat configurations and will be certified for how they’re configured. Seats are either grouped (club), forward or aft facing, or in the form of divans. If you see 8+1 Pax (for example), this refers to eight passengers and one cabin crew.
Although ‘Crew Rest’ refers to a private space for the cabin-crew member, a jump seat is not considered an additional crew seat but temporary and is only intended for short flights or crew/cockpit monitoring work.
Aircraft may have one or even two lavatories and a galley, located either forward or aft. A ‘Belt Lav’ refers to seat belt that may be required to operate. The vestibule is the aircraft entry area and a common location for Fwd Galley/Crew Rest and Lavatory.
Comments: Do not forget baggage and accessibility in considering configuration. Baggage is not just about available space but how that relates to the aircraft’s weight and balance. The aircraft has a weight limit and how the weight is distributed impacts its aerodynamic capability.
For very large aircraft, look out for the ‘VVIP’ statement that refers to the aircraft being previously used for a very important VIP (usually Head of State). Also for Large Jets there may be a comment such as ‘PATS Aux Fuel Tanks’, referring to the aircraft having additional fuel tanks for extended range (in this case, installed by PATS, the completion center). And inclusion of a shower is often a key selling point for Large Jets.
While far from conclusive, the implied message of this series to prospective buyers is to do the following:
- Understand each and every term/abbreviation in the advertisement/associated promotional material.
- Do due diligence in ensuring that the aircraft satisfies your operating requirements in every possible way. Operating includes maintenance, hangarage, the cost of not flying, training, logistics support and more.
- An aircraft’s history tells a deep story. Know that story. An aircraft is not as simple as an automobile, or as grand as a cruise liner. It’s complex in so many ways. Anything missing from the story is a red flag.
- Always consult and research before you buy. To make adjustments later will take more time and money, as well as lost utilization. Brokers exist for a reason.
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Disclaimer: The summaries and tables provided within this article are NOT fully inclusive and are meant to provide those abbreviations commonly found. It is not possible to include all of them here. It is assumed this article will help guide the reader to seek further information by knowing where to begin within the complex architecture surrounding an aircraft transaction.