Three Low-Cost Upgrades for your Pre-Owned Jet

With the pre-owned business aircraft market having near-zero availability for some popular models currently, Dave Higdon shares some simple, low-cost upgrade ideas for breathing new life into some of the older inventory still available for sale…

Dave Higdon  |  30th March 2022
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Dave Higdon
Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon was a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who covered all...

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Private airplane cabin low-cost upgrade tips


In today’s pre-owned aircraft market, demand outweighs supply, making this a tight market for those wishing to break into business aircraft ownership. The current market dynamics also mean it can be difficult to find the ideal aircraft at a reasonable price. 

For would-be buyers of pre-owned jets for sale who are flexible enough, there are some good options that could almost fit the bill. With a low-cost upgrade or two, these could in fact become the ideal airplane. 

Of course, the onus remains on the buyer to do due diligence before purchasing a jet to upgrade. The low-cost upgrades mentioned here assume that the aircraft isn't due an engine overhaul anytime soon; that it already has any mandatory work (such as ADS-B compliance) installed; and that all Airworthiness Directives (ADs) are complied with. 

1. IFR-GPS 

Some jets and turboprops comply with a mandate, but the installed solution offers very little else, if anything. For example, the hardware installed may fulfill the need for a position source (ADS-B Out), but not for active navigation (ADS-B In). 

This could be a good time to revisit the options, replacing that position source with a true GPS navigator. More options exist today than a couple of years ago, and these new options deliver navigation and IFR approach capabilities. 

With the FAA eager to retire many expensive-to-maintain Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), and with an increasing number of IFR GPS approaches in the US (many of which offer greater utility, to more runway ends), replacing the data source only GPS engine with a full navigator offers increased utility and, in most cases, a graphic-display screen that serves as a Multi-Function Display (MFD). 

Less expensive than a full flight panel makeover, these newer options deliver more runway options, greater accuracy, and other desirable utilities for many older business aircraft, where the options simply didn't exist a couple of years ago. 

2. Audio Panel System 

Another low-cost improvement with functional utility for crew and passengers comes in the form of a modern audio panel system. There are several options available on the market, and improvements in audio quality is just the start of what a modern audio panel can offer.

Choices could include stereo audio, dynamic audio (delivering differential audio), music inputs, and connections to video feeds, all of which can help give an older private jet’s cabin a boost with audio on a par with the newest business jets – all for a fraction of the cost.

3. Carpet, Brightworks & LEDs

When faced with a drab, gloomy cabin environment, it won’t always be necessary to spend on a full-cabin makeover. Budget solutions exist to give a candidate aircraft the look and aroma of brand new. Start at floor-level, installing new carpeting where it’s needed, and work your way up to the overhead.

New carpeting can dramatically enhance the all-important first impression the cabin gives. A change of carpet can open up options for colors and patterns that give a personalized feel (i.e. reflecting a corporation’s colors), and which are equal in look and feel to the carpets being installed into the cabins of today’s factory-new jets.

Similarly, the polished appearance of new buckles and brightworks can noticeably enhance the first-impressions given by the cabin.

And, another low-cost upgrade to lift a less-than-perfect cabin is LED lighting. The variety of color options available suits just about every need and mood, while simultaneously reducing the load on the airplane’s electrical systems. Moreover, thanks to advances in LEDs, many of today’s options are literally plug-and-play to install.

Carpet, brightworks, and LED lighting can combine to transform a previously tired, uninspiring cabin environment into an ideal place for occupants to work, rest and play en route, with no hint of the upgrade being done on a relative shoestring.

Avoiding Extravagance

Of course, once you begin delving into the literally hundreds of refurbishment options, materials, and colors available on the market, it could be easy to lose focus and end up spending more than you originally intended to transform your ‘nearly-perfect’ acquisition into your ideal jet.

It’s best right at the beginning of the process to make a list of what you’re willing to invest in upgrading and, having done so,  to solicit bids from different MRO shops, helping to ensure the work is neither overpriced, nor so cheap that the quality suffers and you regret making the upgrade in the first place.


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