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Is It Worthwhile to Upgrade Older Aircraft?

by David Wyndham 1. March 2008 00:00
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Used aircraft can cost a fraction to acquire compared to their new counterparts. Throw on some new bells and whistles, recover the seats and a new paint job, and voila - a new plane. Is it worth it?

First off, remember older aircraft cost more to maintain than newer ones. Wear and tear items, aging aircraft issues, second or third engine overhauls all drive the cost up. Before you go spending all kinds of hard earned cash on upgrades, mare sure the aircraft you are considering is worth the expense. The aircraft in question must be in sound mechanical condition and essentially free of corrosion.

Second, some upgrades add value to the marketability of the aircraft, while others add value only to you. Unless you plan to keep your aircraft a long time, avoid the latter unless they are easy to change for a nominal cost. Take a look at aircraft for sale and see who has what mod or upgrade. Refer to Vref, The Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest, or HeliValue$ to see if your mod is listed as adding value.

Here are some value adding upgrades to consider:

Update the avionics. There are impressive upgrades that can turn your old analog cockpit into a glass heaven. The prices are impressive, too. Evaluate what you need (8.33 radios, RVSM e.g.) versus what you want. Also, consider updating your 19XX aircraft's avionics to come close to that your aircraft currently has in the new models.

Cabin and In Flight Entertainment. If your aircraft is a business aircraft, it is the passengers who pay the bills. Keeping them comfortable and happy is important. Interior upgrades are many. Updated fabrics, headliners, carpets can add significant appeal and comfort. Be careful of complexity and weight.

Performance enhancements can range from winglets to engine retrofits. Given the cost of fuel, things that make the aircraft go faster on the same fuel, or engines that burn less fuel, can be desirable. Do the math to see what the payoff is. If the mod saves 3% in fuel consumption, but takes five years of fuel savings to pay off the cost of the mod, is it really worth it? Maybe, if you plan on keeping the aircraft that long.

When evaluating performance enhancements, be wary of the claims to accompany them. Can they be verified? Does the vendor supply references? Has the vendor done significant testing on the mod? How popular is that mod on your type of aircraft? Make sure the facility doing the work is qualified and intimately familiar with your particular model. Remember, if it seems too good to be true…

Last, be aware of the cost of the upgrades. It should enhance the value of your aircraft to the market as a whole. Factor in the cost in downtime of waiting for the upgrade to be done. Not all upgrades return their value, so make sure they add value to your mission.


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