The words upgrade, refurbishment, and modification are frequently heard throughout the industry. I’m told it’s not uncommon to hear of a corporate flight department considering what it may take to operate an aircraft for longer periods of time rather than replacing it with a new aircraft. If a flight department were to keep an aircraft for a longer period than perhaps was originally planned, would consideration be given to upgrading it to gain operating efficiencies and to provide a new feel and look for the passengers?
Common upgrades include cabin interior refurbishment, cockpit avionics, or perhaps exterior paint, while others include engine upgrades or changes to the aircraft in order to gain greater performance. Would those upgrades mean significant modifications to the aircraft? Yes they would. Where would major modifications be accomplished, at a maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) service provider, at the factory, or at a factory-owned or authorized service center? I have to imagine there are many factors to consider; more than I am aware I’m sure.
The impact on maintenance
From a technical and maintenance perspective, what comes to mind is all the activity that goes into the design, engineering, planning, and modification of an aircraft going through an upgrade program, and more importantly for the maintenance community, what impact might there be on the MRO and technicians that are providing maintenance services to a customer who operates an aircraft having substantial aftermarket upgrades? What maintenance program tasks have changed as a result of a modification, and how are the Instructions for Continued Airworthiness (ICA) implemented? What does the MRO providing future maintenance services on a modified aircraft need to be aware of? Perhaps there would be little or no impact on performing future maintenance.
AMT discussed the subject of upgrades and modifications to business aircraft with one of the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC).
At the 2010 European Business Aircraft Convention and Exhibition (EBACE), HBC announced an aftermarket upgrade package for the Hawker 800XP aircraft called the Hawker 800XPR. Among other options this upgrade will include replacing the aircraft’s original engines with new technology Honeywell TFE731-50R powerplants, and improving the aerodynamics of the aircraft by modifying the wing with HBC designed winglets similar to the 900XP. Additional upgrades could be cockpit avionics and of course the passenger cabin.
Brian Howell, vice president for strategic aftermarket integration, shares the HBC view of the industry and accomplishing upgrades to a flight department’s aircraft. Howell says, “First, the person or company who wants a new aircraft will buy a new aircraft. However, we feel there is a very real trend where people are deciding to keep an aircraft and do something to change it rather than replace it. Some customers become comfortable with a certain aircraft and decide to keep it.”
Howell shares three parameters that HBC feels drive an aircraft upgrade. They are the need to increase aircraft performance; the need to reduce aircraft operating costs; and the desire to protect the investment by increasing the resale value of the aircraft.
Howell says, “We believe that having major modifications accomplished to existing aircraft will be a big movement in the future, regardless of whether you own and operate a $2 million aircraft or a $50 million aircraft. It only makes sense that an OEM would participate in this movement. As an example, we’re looking at upgrades and modifications for most aircraft in our broad product lineup.”
Modifications are not limited to or only considered for older aircraft either. Howell shares, “Our market study looked at owners having 10- to 12-year-old aircraft, five- to eight-year-old aircraft, even owners of three- to four-year-old aircraft. A case can be made for upgrades in all of these groups by offering new aircraft technology in an aftermarket program.”
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