Refurbishing your Older Private Jet? Top Tips

What are the best strategies for owners of private jets wishing to upgrade equipment and modernize dated interiors? Gerrard Cowan asks the industry’s experts for their advice…

Gerrard Cowan  |  05th March 2024
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    Gerrard Cowan
    Gerrard Cowan

    Gerrard Cowan is a freelance journalist who focuses on aerospace and finance. In addition to his regular...

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    Top tips when refurbishing your older jet

    When an aircraft exits an OEM’s warranty plan, owners tend to have far more flexibility to choose their own MRO shop to complete desired and required work, according to Adam Bruce, Completion Sales Representative at Duncan Aviation.

    And as the airframe gets older – for example reaching 15 to 20 years old – the owner may find certain older aircraft components are no longer supported by the OEM, meaning that a provider like Duncan Aviation may be “forced to basically re-engineer them to provide the customer with the options they’ve requested,” Bruce adds.

    For example, certain avionics components may have become obsolete, or the vendor might not be able to replace them without a major cockpit upgrade. Key focuses tend to be aircraft electronics, aircraft seating and other functional elements.

    The upgrade approach taken will depend on the needs of the individual aircraft owner and is therefore decided on a case-by-case basis, Bruce says.

    Set Your Older Jet’s Refurbishment Priorities

    In the case of older aircraft, “everyone, from the aircraft’s original owner to its subsequent owner(s), have made tweaks and modifications to the aircraft’s functionality or look,” Bruce notes. “So, whoever takes it on next must ask what they can live with and what they really want to change.”

    A key question will concern the particular use planned for the aircraft, most notably whether it will be utilized for Part 91 or Part 135, or a mixture of both.

    “There's certain materials we don't recommend installing on an aircraft that's going to be used for charter,” Bruce illustrates. “We wouldn’t recommend putting white leathers into seating surfaces or protective covers.

    “If it’s somebody who’s maybe just going to fly their family, a VIP, or a handful of professionals, then we can look at using customized materials to accomplish something really striking.”

    Dan Lyon, Vice President of Aftermarket Sales at Textron Aviation, says the company “loves working with customers and operators of aircraft of all ages,” whether it’s the upgrade of a five-year-old Cessna Citation M2 to take advantage of the latest Garmin G3000 features alongside a new interior redesign, or installing a Garmin G600 suite into a much older 30+- year-old Cessna Citation jet.

    “Completing a thorough aircraft survey before work begins is important to minimize any surprises, particularly for older aircraft that have been modified to serve the unique needs of their previous owners.”

    Modernizing the Cockpit: According to Lyon, Textron highly recommends owners of older aircraft prioritize upgrading their avionics and communications systems, pointing to significant developments in those areas in recent years.

    “State-of-the-art equipment can provide next generation capability for improved pilot situational awareness and airspace management, including CPDLC [Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications] and other useful tools,” he highlights.

    According to Markus Schröcker, Group Director of F/LIST, the compatibility of older systems sometimes presents refurbishment companies with a challenge, and integrating modern avionics into aging aircraft models can pose technical challenges. But these challenges needn’t be insurmountable – they just require extra planning.

    Modernizing the Cabin: After the avionics and comms systems, most operators should consider their onboard experience, Lyon continues, including upgrading the old interior, enhancing cabin connectivity, and more.

    “We've introduced new, stylish and contemporary designs allowing older aircraft to appear brand new and updated at a reasonable cost, while offering the most up-to-date connectivity solutions for passengers during the flight.”

    Thomas Chatfield, CEO of Camber Aviation Management, says that refurbishment work in older aircraft is often driven by satellite communications, the need for Wi-Fi, the latest In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) systems and more capable, intuitive Cabin Management Systems.

    This comes down to more than just data speeds, he adds. It’s also due to a natural desire to upgrade the look of the screens which may still feature an older operating system. Such demand is particularly common “if the owner has children or is working with younger people who have always got the latest technology”, Chatfield explains.

    Cristina Scarlata, Senior Director of Strategic Marketing at ALTO Aviation underscores the importance of evaluating the IFE and CMS, which could be close to obsolescence if an aging aircraft still has its original systems. 

    CMSs from the early 2000s were extremely rigid and could not easily be modified without making significant invasive modifications to the cabin, Scarlata adds. “Today’s CMS/IFE are more focused on modularity and newer technologies like wireless devices and High-Definition video systems.

    “This means that through the use of flexible software and modular components a CMS can be more easily modified if the aircraft changes ownership, or the operator’s tastes or needs have changed.”

    There could also be natural wear and tear on the furnishings in the cabin over the course of a decade or more, which will also need addressing. Schröcker highlights that there are certain areas of the aircraft that wear out more quickly, and therefore should be prioritized. The seats, for example, will need to be refurbished sooner than a wood cabinet.

    F/LIST generally recommends choosing the refurbishment approach that maximizes passenger comfort. “We try to select the highest quality materials and surfaces to achieve a new, modern and – above all – luxurious appearance,” Schröcker says.

    “We don't shy away from trends either – whether sustainable surfaces, special inlays, or an aircraft owner’s preference. Together with our in-house designers, we will find a suitable solution.”

    Modernizing the Exterior: Finally, Lyon adds, investing in a comprehensive strip and repaint of the aircraft’s old exterior every eight to 10 years “not only enhances its appearance, but also protects the operator’s investment”.

    Focal Points for Your Older Jet’s Refurbishment

    According to Schröcker, a significant challenge to owners of aircraft seeking an upgrade can be the selection of suitable materials. “There are countless materials, and it is often very difficult to narrow down or make a final choice,” he explains. 

    “Customers often feel overwhelmed by the different possibilities.”

    He outlines three approaches that can help aircraft owners in such a situation.

    First, hire experienced designers. “Experts can help you develop a contemporary, appealing design that meets your individual needs,” he suggests. “They can also help you narrow down your choice of materials to make the final decision easier.”

    Next, keep your options open to adapt for future trends. “You should plan the interior with current and future industry trends in mind to maximize the life of the refurbishment.”

    And finally, prioritize quality control. “Ensure that all work meets the relevant aviation standards and has the necessary certifications. Make sure that the desired work has also been carried out to your satisfaction.”

    Cost-Conscious Refurb Tips for Older Jets

    Depending on the planned use of the aircraft, the age of the aircraft, and what is ultimately important to the owner, the refurb options available all come with a cost implication.

    For some owners of older aircraft that are well depreciated in value, a low-cost refurbishment will be the priority, ensuring the costs are not disproportionate to the overall value of the airplane.

    There are numerous ways that operators can save money while still delivering an excellent finish, Chatfield assures, particularly if there is no need to change the layout but instead focus on soft goods such as upholstery or carpets or the hard goods such as veneers.

    He points to the use of architectural wraps or foils, “which are relatively inexpensive but still offer a range of beautiful finishes, from imagery on the walls to a carbon fiber appearance”. 

    Michel Bussey, Vice President and General Manager of Operations at Safran Cabin Canada agrees. 

    The most cost-conscious refurbishment would focus solely on cleaning up, polishing or respraying the finish on wood surfaces, as well as replacing fabrics on curtains, ceilings and walls.

    Safran Cabin offers a catalog of available parts, he adds, and buyers can select options with a minimum of engineering, saving costs over a custom approach. “One of the first things a new homebuyer does after purchasing a home is paint the interior and change the countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms,” Bussey says.

    (Safran Cabin has many configurations of countertops available in over 60 colors pre-designed or available custom made.)

    Brandon Klisit, Senior Technical Sales Manager at ALTO Aviation, reckons operators planning to keep an aircraft for at least five years can achieve the maximum return on investment (ROI) while “still coming away with an aircraft featuring all of the personalized touches they envisioned when starting this project”.

    In addition to replacing interior soft goods, he highlights how upgrading the cabin lighting will provide the biggest bang for your buck. LED lighting is “a great way to complement the interior design, as well as provide a more reliable and maintenance-friendly lighting solution”.

    Bombardier Challenger 6000 cabin refurbishment by F/LIST

    Leave Room to Plan your Older Jet’s Refurbishment

    The best advice is to plan as far in advance as possible, Bussey suggests. 

    “By planning ahead and procuring materials and parts prior to the scheduled downtime you can reduce your downtime, which for most customers is crucial.

    “Try to plan any refurbishment project to coincide with a ‘C Check’ or other scheduled heavy maintenance operation in order to make best use of your time while the aircraft is not able to fly.”

    Another good reason for leaving plenty of time to plan for the refurbishment is because older aircraft may lack comprehensive documentation, according to James Logue, Director of Maintenance at Latitude 33 Aviation. 

    That can make it a challenge to understand the original design, modification, and maintenance history.

    “Obtaining accurate records is crucial for making informed decisions during the refurbishment process,” he notes. Anyone considering a comprehensive custom refurbishment should engage with interior refurbishment specialists and schedule a design consultation, he adds.

    “If the goal is to refresh the existing design, consider consulting with a reputable aircraft detailing service who can provide guidance on rejuvenating the appearance without resorting to complete replacement.”

    Ultimately, owners of older aircraft should have a good direction on their goals, according to Meghan Welch, Director of Paint and Interior Sales at Elliott Aviation. If you plan to own the aircraft for several years, then a full refurbishment could minimize downtime in the long run.

    However, if they are thinking of selling the airplane in the near future it might not make sense to do any more than a basic refresh for resale purposes, she argues.

    “Everything is so individual and really specific to what each owner/operator is looking to do, and their goals with that aircraft,” Welch concludes. “We just try to work with them to understand what their goals are and make sure they're making the right investment.”

    More information from:
    ALTO Aviation:
    Camber Aviation Management:
    Duncan Aviation:
    Elliott Aviation:
    Latitude 33 Aviation:
    Safran Cabin:
    Textron Aviation:

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