Loading please wait....

If you are a registered, please log in. If not, please click here to register.


Ask any current or former aircraft owner about refurbishing and stand back: The responses you draw likely will start with a series of questions from the responder.

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 2010
Back to articles
Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
Read More

Refurbishment For The Budget Conscious:
Focus and planning will yield the desired outcome.

Ask any current or former aircraft owner about refurbishing and stand back: The responses you draw likely will start with a series of questions from the responder. Often the first question is: “What needs to be done?” A close second: “Do you really need to do that right now?”

As a once-and-future aircraft owner- when our Flight Department fields that question- the answers depend on two things: answers to our questions; and which part of our operation takes the question - the chief pilot- who selects the tasks- picks the products- hires the shop- and then clears the entire plan with the managing director; or the managing director- who looks at the bill of fare and the available budget- and asks whether there are (a) any better ways and (b) whether there’s a net performance or safety outcome expected.

The chief pilot figure wants to know your goals and the budget available; the managing director wants to know the budget – and what you feel the upgrade will do that’s not already being done. Make no mistake- the two parties merge on the outcome they desire: a safe and efficient machine that satisfies the company’s need with reasonable comfort and an acceptable cost structure.

Deductible though all upgrades may be- the tax benefits serve fairly well in lowering the final costs – costs which must first be incurred or- at least- obligated to pay through some form of finance mechanism.

Some may see a benefit from increasing the aircraft’s residual value; that’s a possibility and heavily dependent on a variety of its own variables. Sticking with the basic view of the airplane as a money-saving- maybe even money-making transport tool- company aircraft upgrades tend to fit into one of four fundamental categories – and with this priority:

1) Safety
2) Performance
3) Utility
4) Comfort

When an upgrade or refurbishment option overlaps categories we tend to give it extra value when weighing projects we’d like to tackle. For example- an avionics upgrade may be considered at least partly a ‘Safety’ enhancement and a ‘Utility’ upgrade.

Although we’ll look at cockpit avionics in far more depth in September’s Plane Sense section- to illustrate: The ‘Safety’ aspect would be fulfilled with the addition of any new hazard-awareness/ hazard-avoidance equipment or improvements which enhance its functionality- while the ‘Utility’ aspect comes into play with many new avionics capabilities. For example- an IFR-compliant WAAS-GPS installation- which can help open up airports unavailable without WAAS-GPS- or cockpit data-link communications – opening up a new channel for communicating when other channels can’t.

‘Performance’ – particularly anything that improves runway performance- climb or range – can also be considered ‘Utility’ for the longer-legs possible or added runways available; ‘Safety’ also comes into play if runway and climb performance increase safety margins for arrivals and departures… You can- I am sure- begin to get the picture here.

What it ultimately costs to upgrade an area rather depends on that area: Cabins and exteriors often command the smallest checks- whereas flight decks generally command more and powerplants still more – with everything varying according to whether an available STC upgrade or an overhaul or period inspection may offset some of the costs.

This month we’ll look at some approaches to lower-cost interior refurbishing and upgrading for a business aircraft and what you should expect to gain from them. Because we’re focusing on lower-cost approaches- you won’t find much in the way of major-change projects – such as a re-engine project or a full-plane appearance makeover. You will- however- find some interesting ideas on how to give some new life and use to a favored old airplane.

This one is almost so simple that the pilot brains lusting for speed or efficiency gains may overlook the idea - but if your company plane has five-or-more-years on the current interior (or- 1-000 to 1-500 hours- if under five years)- you might want to take a comprehensive tour of your cabin.

Stairways- entrance-area bright ware and carpeting take the worst punishment during the general usage of a business airplane- with upholstery not far behind. Furniture- doors- hatches and galley hardware then follow in close order. It is common sense to assume the more the aircraft flies- the more rapidly the wear-and-tear accumulates.

Carpeting is relatively easy and low-cost to replace; if you keep the seating hardware- reupholstering the existing frames and updating the cushioning can accomplish a sensory overhaul for eye and nose – it will smell new when you’re done. Shop for- and purchase approved materials on your own- then work with a maintenance shop to remove and reinstall the hardware. You can pick almost any upholsterer you wish to sew and install the upholstery.

Thinking even smaller- renewing carpeting while turning over the rest of the fabric work to someone to fully shampoo and re-treat can cost even less – and still deliver that new-plane scent. Side panels can also be swapped out- cleaned or recovered- and reinstalled for less than replacing altogether.

Perhaps your bright ware is looking worn- scratched or faded. Think specifically about visual vents and fixtures for- respectively- fresh air and reading lights. Without shelling-out the expense of all new hardware you can have those items refinished – maybe opting for a neutral brushed-metal look- gleaming black or a flat silver- all finishes that lend themselves with a broad variety of color and textures.

Don’t forget seatbelts and buckles relating to metal-refinishing work – and don’t even think about leaving in the old seat belts untouched. Coming in close to carpeting in the wear-and-tear territory- seat belts should be replaced periodically anyway; metal refinishing as part of a budget upgrade is a perfect time to replace the webbing. Besides- it would look more than a little out-of-place to have new upholstery and carpeting next to frayed and dingy seat-belt webbing.

Let’s not neglect the woodwork: if an aircraft has been through some partial renewal before- woodwork may not match quite as well. This should be simple to rectify- and you should consider refinishing it all to the same stain – or finish-coordinated so that different finishes complement different areas of the interior. Working with an established shop can go a long way toward meeting your budget; coordinating the work for an inspection or other downtime period will reduce-to-eliminate any inconvenience.

We mentioned earlier in this Plane Sense section that you may see the interior refurbishment as an ideal time to match up the exterior with a new coat of paint. Thinking along the lines of working with a budget- before you contact the design firm and ask it to start creating a new livery for your older aircraft- consult with a detailing professional.

Professionals with access to new finish-restoring products and tools say that many a paint job can be restored – salvaged- if you will - rather than replaced altogether. Bright metal surfaces such as the heated- polished leading edges of bleed-air-heated anti-ice cuffs can be given a new shine and possibly a coating to help keep them shiny. Likewise- rubbing out- buffing out- cleaning and waxing the paint can often restore it to a sheen comparable to how it looked fresh out of its last trip through the paint hangar.

Older colors can be matched- thanks to modern color-reading optical tools and computer-controlled paint-mixing equipment; that means even chips and scratches can be dealt with – without repainting an entire airplane.

Windows and their frameworks are subject to careful- skilled polishing and restoration – unless damaged. Replacing old and damaged windows with new-technology transparencies- however- can work wonders for the airplane inside and out. Electronically controlled dimmable windows are now available that help cut light transmission while still allowing passengers to see outside – something the old- reliable shade has yet to accomplish.

Getting landing gear components- tires and wheels cleaned and shone can round-out the exterior detailing- adding to the visual sense that the aircraft is new.

The flexible approach is to make the wish list- then work on learning the estimated costs. This approach will keep you from locking out some prospects due to an impression that they will break the budget; and allows you to shop among the options available. As you’ve seen- options vary widely- as do the costs.

Don’t forget to talk to your finance source. Interest rates remain at the low-end of the spectrum- and with the airplane as collateral and a work package far below the plane’s residual value- obtaining financing should pose few problems; plenty of hoops to jump through- yes- but ultimately and imminently doable hoops.

If you are thinking long-term- follow the advice of a business-owner/pilot we know who dislikes financing: “When you take delivery of the jet- set an upgrade budget for five years from now – and start setting aside a monthly contribution equating to one-fiftieth of that budget-” he explained.

“By the time the day comes- you’ll have 90 percent of your money in-hand and at the worst- have to employ a one-year bridge loan to cover the difference – and that means keeping your airplane unencumbered.

“No sooner have you performed that upgrade project- start the account anew. You’ll be ready again for the next project well before you need it-” he concluded.

Related Articles

linkedin Print

Other Articles