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Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Right Solution

By Robert W. Moorman

Duncan Aviation upgraded the cockpit of a Bombardier Challenger 601-3A for Aircraft Management Solutions, a Portland, Ore.-based aircraft management company. Upgrades included Honeywell dual NZ-2000 Flight Management system (FMS) and others.Choosing the right avionics for a business aircraft is only part of the process an aircraft operator needs to consider before upgrading.

Reasons to upgrade business aircraft are plentiful as this magazine wrote in 2012. Boosting residual value and eliminating expensive maintenance are among the reasons to upgrade older avionics. But picking the right aircraft to upgrade also should be considered.

Take the case of Aircraft Management Solutions (AMS), which hired Duncan Aviation to upgrade the flight deck and cabin of a client’s purchase of a 1990s vintage Bombardier Canadair 601-3A. Consider too Romco Equipment Company, a family owned distributor of heavy construction and mining equipment, which hired Elliot Aviation to upgrade its King Air 350 with the Garmin G1000 Platinum Package. A glimpse at these two upgrades illustrates what owners need to know before undertaking such an endeavor and the process once the upgrade gets underway.

Half of the challenge in upgrading the flight deck and cabin of a business aircraft is having the right business aircraft to start with. Completion houses can help operators choose, inspect and map out an upgrade plan before any wrench is turned.

AMS spent three months searching for a business jet with intercontinental range, a cabin that could carry up to 10 passengers, and a “basic equipment platform that could be upgraded to today’s navigation and communications standards,” according to Duncan.

AMS settled on a Challenger 601-3A because it had nearly the same capabilities of the newer Challenger 604 and 605 models, explained Ernie Sturm, president of Portland, Ore.-based AMS.

Sturm found one 601-3A he liked, but it needed substantial maintenance. Before purchase, the aircraft went through a pre-purchase evaluation at Duncan’s Battle Creek, Mich., facility. The evaluation included a thorough examination of the physical condition of the aircraft, as well as its historical records two key factors in determining whether the aircraft would meet the operational needs of its prospective buyer.

The inspection determined the potential challenges the completion house could face during the upgrade. Two technicians and an expeditor listed their concerns and AMS worked out a deal with the seller on adjusting the price of the aircraft. Within a few days, the 601-3A was purchased and sent to Duncan Aviation’s Lincoln, Neb., facilities for the major upgrade. AMS manages the Challenger for the owner, Big Skyy Aviation, LLC.

The upgrade began March 2012, remembered Steve Elofson, Duncan’s technical avionics sales representative. For the flight deck, the upgrade included a Honeywell dual NZ-2000 Flight Management system (FMS). As a separate upgrade, Duncan installed the Aircell ATG-5000 Wi-Fi system. The FMS incorporates the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), a needed feature for the aircraft to operate in the NextGen environment. The WAAS system allows the aircraft to fly approaches that don’t rely on ground-based equipment. A Honeywell DL 950 data loader and an ACSS TCAS 7.1, which is an upcoming regulatory requirement in Europe, were part of the cockpit upgrade. ACSS is an L-3 Communications and Thales company.

The 601-3A also received a complete interior overhaul, and an APU upgrade.

The bill for the entire job, which included inspections of the 601-3A landing gear and airframe work, was more than $2 million, said Tracy Hein, project manager with Duncan Aviation. With acquisition, inspection, and flight deck and cabin upgrades, AMS invested $4.5 million in its 3,800-nautical-mile capable 601-3A.

Thanks to the myDuncan app, Sturm could follow the progress of the upgrade. The system also allowed him to send approvals on new items quickly. The project, which had 680 items on work orders, took five months, said Duncan.

Avionics experts point out one potential concern with this upgrade; the aircraft is equipped with the older CRT tubes. And the 601-3A could not be upgraded to LCDs because no Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) yet exists. Elofson said Duncan talked with Honeywell and Universal Avionics, two suppliers of no-longer manufactured CRTs, but neither company has moved forward on an STC, according to Duncan. Which could present a dilemma for owners of older 601-3As, who want to upgrade the flight displays.

“Honeywell sees this upgrade as a priority and has made a significant investment to bring the CDS/R Part 25 upgrade to market for the [Hawker] H800 [Falcon] F900B, and [Canadair] CL-601,” Honeywell said in a statement to Avionics Magazine. “The H800 and F900B have achieved the STC by working with Duncan with CDS/R, but to date no CL601-3A operators have wanted to upgrade their cockpits on CDS/R. Currently, there isn’t an STC for the CDS/R on the Challenger CL-601-3A, but should the opportunity present itself, Honeywell’s TSO-certified CDS/R configuration is available to any CL601-3A dealer for STC installation.”

Honeywell has two offerings for upgrade of business and general aviation aircraft Primus Epic CDS/R and Primus Elite. CDS/R is Honeywell’s system for the Challenger 6013A.

Even with an STC, the cost to upgrade to LCDs is very expensive, “in the $700,000 range,” said Elofson. “It is not a decision people make lightly. But if they [operators] keep the airplane for ten years, it’s a worthwhile investment.”

Rockwell Collins offers an upgrade of its Pro Line 4 avionics system to Pro Line 21. It also has its own STC for the 4-to-21 upgrade for the Falcon 50EX/2000/2000EX, Bombardier Aerospace Lear 60, Astra and Gulfstream G1000. Rockwell Collins STCs are available for more than 30 aircraft ranging from turbo props to long-range business jets, according to the company.

Sturm said he is not concerned particularly about not being able to immediately replace the antiquated and expensive-to-maintain CRTs with an LCD system.

“I can buy a lot of tubes for the difference between a $4.5 million upgraded [601-3A] aircraft and a $25 million new one,” joked Sturm. With the upgrade, AMS now has a business aircraft that can perform exactly like a new comparably sized one.

Equally important to operators are the capital cost costs savings of operating an older, but upgraded business jet. If AMS flies the 601-3A for the next 10 years, and the value drops to zero, “that means it costs us $450,000 a year to own the aircraft,” Sturm explained. “That doesn’t come close to the interest costs on a $25 million new aircraft at 6 percent interest, which is around $1.2 million interest per year.”

Sturm said business aircraft operators obsess about aircraft operating costs and often overlook the capital costs of acquiring a business aircraft. Direct operating costs (DOC), which include maintenance, are incrementally higher than DOCs for a new aircraft, Sturm conceded, but not enough to force operators to spend millions of dollars on a new airplane.

“I can do a major inspection every other year [on the 601-3A] and not even come close to the ownership costs of a new airplane,” Sturn said.

AMS also operates a 1978 Falcon 10 that it acquired and upgraded for $650,000. The aircraft flies at.86 Mach with a 1,500 nautical mile range.

King Air Outfitter

Elliott Aviation has a history of upgrading King Airs, having just upgraded its 90th flight deck when Avionics Magazine called.

The Moline, Ill.-based completion center recently upgraded the flight deck and cabin of a used King Air 350 owned by Dallas-based Romco Equipment Company.

The upgrade includes a Garmin G1000 Platinum Package, with dual synthetic vision capability, electronic Jeppesen charts and XM radio, among other features.

Garmin’s G1000 flight deck integrates flight information, navigation data, communications, terrain awareness, traffic, weather and engine instruments on a 15-inch multi-function display and two 10.4-inch primary flight displays.

Also part of the avionics upgrade is the Garmin TCAS 1 system, Garmin electronics stability protection, and Traffic Alert Warning System (TAWS). Cost of the equipment plus installation is around $400,000 and the job took only three weeks to complete, said Mark Wilkin, director of avionics sales and product development. The system pays for itself in around two years, he added.

“We wanted an integrated avionics suite that tied everything together to take the workload off the pilot,” said Robert Mullins, CEO of Romco, which operates flights with a single pilot. “We realized we were very limited in what we could do with the existing equipment.”

The G1000 retrofit package is on several King Air C90s and 200 Series. Additionally, Garmin offers its G1000 as retrofit option for TBM 700s. Garmin provides cockpit avionics upgrades for a variety of aircraft, from the Cessna 150/172 to King Airs to small Cessna Citation business jets.

Initial meetings between Elliott and Romco began in May 2011. In August, Romco purchased a 1998 King Air 350. Elliott advised Romco to purchase the King Air because of its history with the aircraft. It also recommended outfitting the flight deck with G1000 system once FAA granted the STC.

But there was one problem with the plan. The STC certification was delayed until April 2012. So work on the 350 didn’t begin until June 2012. The STC took 9 months longer than Elliott anticipated, “but it was well worth the wait,” Mullins remembered. “The system has significantly improved the quality of the flight. It is a very reassuring system.”

The STC proved mutually beneficial to King Air operators, Elliott and Garmin. “One of the reasons I urged Garmin to pursue the King Air 350 is that these aircraft were all built with the same CRT EFIS displays,” said Wilkin. “These aircraft were perfect for retrofitting with the Garmin G1000.”

The cost of maintaining and/or replacing vintage CRTs in the company’s King Air 90 was a major reason Romco took Elliot’s advice and acquired the King Air 350 and upgraded the flight deck with the Garmin G1000 package. The fact that Elliott sells King Air’s and could get price breaks on parts also helped sell the upgrade message.

Wilkin said he understands why operators are reluctant to plunk down $400,000 to upgrade the flight deck of a King Air with next generation LCDs. “But once they see the numbers on how the system will pay off in the long run, they consider it a sound financial decision,” he said.

Elliott estimates Romco’s now upgraded King Air 350’s resale value will increase between $225,000 and $250,000.

Elliott Aviation installed the Garmin G1000
avionics system on Romco's King Air 350.
The system includes a 15-inch multifunction
display and two 10.4-inch PFDs.
Other Players

Jet Aviation St. Louis, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics, has upgraded the cockpits of numerous business aircraft. In September 2012, the company became the first to install Honeywell’s DU-875 LCDF flight deck upgrade in an Embraer Legacy 600. Jet Aviation installed the system previously in a Bombardier Global Express long-range business jet.

The completion center, which has installed numerous WAAS/LPV installations on a wide variety of aircraft, is getting ready to perform Batch 3 upgrades per Bombardier’s service bulletin on Challenger 300 and Challenger 605 business jets. Batch 3 upgrades include FANS 1/A Data Link (Oceanic CPDLC), RNP 0/3 (non-SAAAR), WAAS-LPV, auto hold to altitude sequencing and en route holding patterns software improvements.

Jet Aviation, located at St. Louis Downtown Airport, will soon perform Link 2000 upgrades per Bombardier’s service bulletin on Challenger 300 and 605 aircraft.

Sister company Jet Aviation, of Basel, Switzerland, upgrades business and commercial aircraft of all sizes, from smaller and medium-sized business jets to airliner type aircraft, such as the Airbus A319/A330/A340 and Boeing BBJ/767. It also upgrades several models of Dassault Falcon business aircraft, including the Falcon 2000 and 900 series.

Upgrading business aircraft today is much more than a cottage industry, with the ever-increasing costs of purchasing new business aircraft. But the upgrade will remain a partnership between the aircraft operator, completion center and, in some instances, the OEM. But operators that view completion centers and MROs as little more than painters and wrench turners are missing out on the menu of services they offer.

“Completion centers can be a great source to help the owner decide on that next aircraft that fits their needs,” said Brian Wilson, director of avionics for Banyan Air Service, a leading completion center at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Executive Airport. “Knowledge of how an aircraft is outfitted is another valuable insight as some airframers have existing systems that can be economically upgraded where others require extensive upgrades.”

Others concur. “We can help clients understand the capabilities of the systems in their aircraft and how to expand or modify them to meet their needs,” said Chuck Krugh, senior vice president and general manager of Jet Aviation St. Louis.

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