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Refurbishment FAQs

Shops across the country continue to stay busy through the wonders of the aircraft refurbishment business- working with owners to decide what- if anything- to do with the existing jet. Making the decision to refurbish a company airplane- regardless of size- brings with it the need to weigh other issues up while outlining the project. A host of questions need answers – and with so many decisions intertwined- it’s no wonder that operators often find themselves swamped with questions – questions to w

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 2012
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Refurbishment FAQs:
“Is it done yet ? “ - and other frequent questions.

Shops across the country continue to stay busy through the wonders of the aircraft refurbishment business- working with owners to decide what- if anything- to do with the existing jet. Making the decision to refurbish a company airplane- regardless of size- brings with it the need to weigh other issues up while outlining the project. A host of questions need answers – and with so many decisions intertwined- it’s no wonder that operators often find themselves swamped with questions – questions to which the answers often depend on the answers to still other questions!

In the real world single questions rarely draw one single- overarching answer. Exterior work- painting and windows- body work- the interior- powerplants- avionics- and cabin systems – all bring their own set of considerations and questions. With this in mind- we offer as a starting point some of the FAQs gleaned from the top minds in refurb shops- ranging from paint and interior to engines and avionics - a collection of all-encompassing shops- and an array of specialty operations – with the hope that it will help the would-be refurbishment client gain a larger- sharper picture of the project they envision.

We’ve gone further- to break them down into the top three arising from pre-refurbishment planning- from the during-refurbishment segment- and from the après-refurb process. Without further ado- here are the popular questions and answers in aircraft refurbishment.

PRE-REFURB
With so much riding on the outcome- the smartest operators work with a refurbishment ombudsman - someone charged with tracking the project and reporting back to the operator. Alternatively- the operator chooses someone to oversee and coordinate the entire project and serve as the owner’s eyes and ears on the work being done. Work with a planner to set the scope of the project so you can answer these most common pre-refurbishment questions.

How should we set the scope of this job?
You can start to set the scope of the job by first examining all you like and dislike about the aircraft in its current form- whether on your own or in coordination with a representative.

For example- if the paint and windows remain in top shape – or in good-enough shape for renewal rather than replacement – set the paint and windows outside the scope of the job- or limit work on them to touching-up and renewing the window trim and paint. Conversely- if avionics fall short of letting you fulfil common missions with minimal hassle- include a cockpit makeover to the scope of the job.

Next- carefully examine the interior – from the headliner- down the fabrics and trim on sidewalls- to the carpeting underfoot. Check the condition of the upholstery as well as ancillary systems already installed. Finally- inventory the number and age of cabin systems- such as in-flight phones- inflight entertainment options and in-flight office systems – Internet access included. Now you should be able to formulate some answers as to how to set the scope for the job.

How should I set spending limits and plan a budget?
Spending limits could well come first if the company budget is tight – or it may not factor at all if the operator enjoys the deepest of pockets; in these cases the answer might well be- “Whatever it costs!” But seldom do operators feel comfortable issuing blank checks- so our best suggestion for answering this question begins with the universal caveat: “It depends…”

You can set a budget then shop for the work package that adheres to those numbers- or - as too often happens - establish plans and a work package before figuring out how to pay – or how much to pay. Consider the best answer to be the one that renders you at your most comfortable.

If budgets are tight- answering that question may require some juggling of the work package; dropping some ideas or swapping original plans for lower-cost approaches. Those budget questions may work only if you spread out the work over a longer period of time.

How should I pay for this work?
This question is best answered in consultation with the company CFO – or a company’s external accountant. Only by getting solid bids on the work package can an operator be reasonably sure of getting the best deal. But that best deal may require accounting for various tax laws at the local- state and national governments. Tax breaks for investing in business equipment have been quite generous in recent years- but some operators eschewed those short-term breaks because retaining the long-term schedule did more for the company’s bottom line.

Other elements to take into account here include the age of the aircraft (finance institutions hesitate to underwrite loans for work on aircraft older than a set age); similarly- if a new aircraft is in your not-too-distant plans- you may decide you don’t want to spend as much as you would were you planning to keep the airplane longer-term.

Of course- if the company coffers allow and the tax accountant blesses- paying cash for a refurbishment job eliminates a possible sticking point with the local banker. Don’t discount the prospect of a shop helping with its own finance plan either- though.

DURING THE REFURB
How will the work package be accomplished?
As a general rule- interior and paint come last in any refurbishment or overhaul situation – after all- it’s better to avoid collateral damage from work being performed on other parts of the plane.

The larger the project the more of the airplane needs to come apart; for a tip-to-tail makeover the interior can come out at about the same time as the panel- with work on the panel completed before the cabin refurb work begins; in some large shops separate crews may tackle the cockpit and cabin in parallel. Otherwise- the shop in charge would likely start up front and tackle disassembling the panel at the same time staff on the floor prepare as much as they can to paint.

The main contractor may- depending on “its size- scope and certifications- handle all the work or contract out packages to other shops. For the aircraft owner- knowing the details of who works on what should be considered a must – giving the owner somewhere other than merely a starting point if problems arise after the job.

How should the airplane be insured when down for a major work package? No one wants to spend money unnecessarily; continuing to carry full coverage on the company airplane when it won’t fly for weeks or months is not necessary- according to the insurance underwriters. Changing the policy to a ground-only or non-movement policy can save the owner significant amounts of money.

This is also a good place to urge owners considering a refurbishment project to get in writing how the airplane will be covered when in the possession of the shop. Damage to whatever degree is never welcome; they become supremely frustrating when suffered at the hands of a vendor charged with improving the aircraft. So beyond avoiding the expenditure of money unnecessarily- make sure the shop has your airplane adequately covered when it’s in their possession.

Case law from past court decisions put to rest the question of who is liable when the owner surrenders the airplane into the care of an FBO- maintenance or overhaul shop. Be sure you’ve got the knowledge covered.

How will the acceptance process work?
Once the work is done the owner (or owner’s crew) needs to know how all the new equipment works- about the warranties- the required service intervals and a host of other salient points. Before retrieving the airplane from the shop the owner should insist on an acceptance flight that demonstrates the workings of all new equipment. This is no time to fly away without a complete- detailed briefing by the shop’s experts- accompanied by the transfer of manuals- handbooks- check lists- operating manuals and the like.

Avionics are a natural for this sort of paperwork – and training on the new avionics hardware- knowing and understanding database-update cycles and the like must be a part of the discussion before the job starts. Ditto for any engine upgrades – the crew will need the information on starting and operating- any limitations- maintenance intervals and fuel use.

Finally- warranty information on the new equipment should be transferred to the owner- along with all information about any upcoming mandatory service items that- absent their completion- might invalidate the warranty.

APRÈS-REFURB
Will there be any limits or constraints on how we use the airplane immediately after we retrieve it?
Turbine engines don’t usually have break-in cycles on par with reciprocating mills; avionics systems generally work (although maybe with a squawk here and there); and interiors are ready the instant the refitters finish. There may- however- be some limits on the exposure of the paint to the atmosphere and atmospheric conditions until the paint has sufficiently cured and been washed and waxed at least once. Aside from such a constraint- the airplane should be ready to fly at your discretion once you accept it back from the shop.

With so many new items in the airplane- what training should I consider a ‘must’? The crew should certainly learn and practice using any new avionics before flying the boss anywhere – as well as the engines and other systems…including any in-flight office equipment like airborne internet and phone service.

The last place in the world a pilot would want to learn the intricacies of new cockpit electronics is in the cockpit of the airplane inflight. Park it in a cool- shaded hangar- plug in a ground power unit- fire up the stack and go to work with the manuals. If new engines are installed- take the time to study all the new parameters- to program the flight computers for new speeds and fuel consumption rates- and any new operating data including weights- speeds- altitude limitations and range.

What should I do about any minor squawks that don’t immediately surface? If the acceptance flight is akin to the walk-around before a new owner takes possession of a house or business- the follow-up on little irritations or major failures should be performed on a cycle that assures you are still under warranty.

Unless a problem or issue threatens your access or use of the airplane or creates a safety issue- consider building a “tick list” of the non-threatening irritations to present to the shop at the appropriate time. Sticking drawers- balky lights- irregularly functioning electronics (IFE- in-flight office- etc.) can be dealt with at the same time. Other issues- such as avionics difficulties or powerplant problems fall into a different category and should be dealt with at the earliest safe opportunity.

Be prepared for the possibility that issues with equipment not directly handled by the prime contractor may take some extra calls and effort on the part of you or the prime contractor.

FINALLY…
Keep regular tabs on the updates and changes - how well they hold up and how they perform long-term - for when the day arrives that you want to again consider such a project.

And don’t neglect to provide plenty of feedback to the vendor(s) who provided the goods and performed the services. If they did a great job you may want to use them again – and ask for a discount as a repeat customer. If things didn’t go completely smoothly- still offer your feedback as this is how a worthwhile vendor will seek to learn to improve.

Enjoy the fruits of your decisions- and make good use of your newly improved business tool by putting them to work as frequently as possible.


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