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How to Best Approach Avionics Upgrades

Updating Your Tech and How to Best Approach the Topic of Avionics Upgrades

Recently, brand new private jet inventory has been somewhat scarce. Modern aircraft which have rolled off the production floor at manufacturers like Gulfstream, Cessna and Bombardier in the past four years have gone right into the hands of those who purchased them in advance. There are, however, plenty of great options on the used market today. The explosive growth of private air travel during and after the Covid-19 pandemic has created serious movement in the used jet market across all fleet sizes. Used jets vary widely regarding modernization and overall upkeep, but they have a habit of holding value like few other assets. Whether someone is seeking out a private jet for personal use or a commercial application, the used market presents unique opportunities and potential tech upgrade challenges that we are excited to identify and discuss in today’s blog.

Modern Avionics

Avionics packages installed in modern flight decks drastically reduce pilot workload more so than predecessor components found in older flight decks. Modern avionics incorporate intuitive design philosophies and advanced technology which work together to enhance aircraft safety and international compliance standards like FANS 1/A. Modern autopilot systems utilize refined hardware coupled with Flight Management System (FMS) software advancements which enables more precise aircraft control across multiple axes. In addition, modern flight instrument displays are clearer, last longer, and are easier to replace than their Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) counterparts. The advantages of today’s flight deck hardware over yesterday’s are seemingly endless. Upgrading an older aircraft with modern avionics not only adds value to the whole aircraft, but it also provides critical advantages in the realm of maintenance. Modern avionics hardware comes with a built-in advantage of ample manufacturer support; more so than older components which are no longer produced. This means maintenance on modern avionics is easier to accomplish and it takes less time. Making the decision to upgrade old avionics to modern avionics is not to be taken lightly; nothing in aviation is cheap. Knowing which existing components are best to retrofit into the modern era will depend on the aircraft and how it is used. In the following section we will explore how to identify avionics components in any used jet that might be ready for modernization.

Ready, Set, Upgrade

A used jet buyer should have a good understanding of how his or her aircraft will be utilized. Time should be spent thinking about where the aircraft will fly geographically, how many hours it will fly annually, and finally, under which part of federal regulations the aircraft will be flown. As mentioned earlier, nothing in aviation is cheap and avionics upgrades are no exception. When we make plans to modernize a flight deck, we start with prioritization efforts that maximize the benefits of avionics retrofitting against the associated costs. Consider the following examples which illustrate differences in how one might prioritize avionics upgrades:

Personal Use Jets

Older jets purchased for personal use vary widely in size and range capabilities. If the aircraft is an owner-flown single pilot jet, then updating automation components and displays is a wise place to begin. Workload reduction tools and instrument displays greatly impact the safety of owner-flown jets and are justifiably the first components worth looking at for potential replacement. Older autopilots can be “clunky” and difficult to use while modern systems are simpler to use, requiring fewer user inputs. Old display screens are limited in how much information can be displayed conspicuously to the pilot which requires attention to be divided further across an instrument panel than necessary for safe single pilot operations. Personal use jets flown by a full-time flight crew, on the other hand, can be upgraded with a completely different set of priorities. Updating tools like onboard weather radar or adding enhancements like infrared cameras help professional flight crews operate safely in challenging weather environments commonly avoided by owner-flown aircraft where lack of pilot proficiency would present safety concerns.

Jets Flown for Hire

If a used jet that can reach other continents is flown for hire, then prioritizing operational efficiency upgrades over “creature comfort” upgrades is a good tactic. Used long range jets on the market might not be FANS 1/A compliant which relegates transoceanic operation to inefficient and costly routes or altitudes. Aircraft without the combination of Controller Pilot Data Link Communication (CPDLC) and Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C) equipment are non-compliant with FANS 1/A standards. Installing satellite Wi-Fi on older jets that are flown for hire is another important consideration. In a competitive market, older jets can keep up with modern jets by offering something as simple as onboard Wi-Fi for passenger use.

Corporate Use Jets 

A used jet being flown by a corporate flight department might be best approached with a combined avionics upgrade philosophy if avionics upgrades are even needed at all. A little from column A, and some from column B is the idea. Simply put, a corporate jet is an asset for any company that can justify its ownership on the bottom line. Avionics upgrades can go a long way in preserving the value of said asset. Upgrades that enhance the workspace for flight crews or bring the aircraft into international communications and navigation compliance should be front of mind. Creating a better “office” by modernizing a corporate jet flight deck keeps flight crews and maintenance technicians happy. Bringing navigation systems and data communication software into the modern era promotes operational safety and efficiency. At the end of the day, the company chief pilot is often the best starting point for a reliable consult regarding avionics upgrades for used corporate jets.