What You Need to Know Before Upgrading Your Aircraft


Lee Rohde

Lee Rohde – Founder, President and CEO of Essex Aviation Group, Inc. gives his thoughts about this topic.

The private aircraft refurbishment market is booming. Many of the planes delivered within the past 15 years are still in excellent operating condition, which has led many private business aircraft owners to invest in upgrading their existing aircraft rather than replace them by acquiring younger or newly produced aircraft. All aircraft must undergo a designed inspection schedule to be operate legally. Current aircraft owners will often arrange for aircraft updates or refurbishments to coincide with scheduled inspections and maintenance because both types of work typically access the same areas.

Refurbishing a Pre-Owned Aircraft vs. Buying New

Deciding whether to update the interior of your jet isn’t all that different from deciding whether to renovate your existing or recently purchased home or build a new one. From a financial perspective, it generally requires significantly less capital to simply make the renovations you want rather than build something entirely new. The same is true for private aircraft, in that upgrading existing aircraft typically requires less of a capital investment than a newly produced aircraft.

How much you spend on your refurbishment and the scope of improvements you make are entirely up to you, but the investment can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million depending on a number of factors, including the aircraft’s age and size.

Updates and refurbishments to your existing aircraft interior or that of a newly purchased pre-owned aircraft can be completed in a shorter time period than the design and delivery of a new aircraft. The process for a new private jet acquisition can take upwards of 18 months depending upon the type of aircraft you purchase and the level of customisation you desire. By comparison, the process for a pre-owned aircraft acquisition and refurbishment can take a few months or more to complete depending upon the your desired upgrades and requirements.

A Wide Variety of Design Options

Many aircraft owners choose refurbishment due to its wide variety of customisation options. There’s an extensive list of modifications and upgrades you can make, from technological upgrades to soft goods in order to enhance or change the look and feel of the aircraft. Additionally, upgrading your existing or newly purchased pre-owned aircraft enables you to take advantage of new avionics and cabin technologies and features that likely weren’t available when the aircraft was originally built. Refer to the list below to see examples of potential upgrades:

Soft Goods

1-Seat materials refurbished or replaced


3-Cabin/cockpit re-upholstery

4-Veneer refurbished or replaced

5-Surface plating

6-Galley remodelling and upgrades


1-Wi-Fi installation

2-Cabin management system upgrade

3-In-flight entertainment

4-Touch screen controls

5-Mobile device integration

6-Avionics upgrades

7-Weather system upgrades

8-Navigation and Communication Systems upgrades


1-Cabin reconfiguration

2-LED lighting installation


4-Mechanical upgrades or enhancements

Soft goods and basic upgrades and enhancements generally require a lower investment than hard goods (cabin reconfiguration, veneer replacement or restoration, etc.) and technological upgrades. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which modifications and enhancements you’d like to make to your aircraft — and how much you’re willing to invest to make those modifications.

How to Get Started

There are a few different ways to approach aircraft refurbishment. You could have your pilots or maintenance personnel act as your representatives, though you’ll want to make sure they have prior experience working on this type of project and look into which facilities they’ve worked with in the past. Also, keep in mind that your pilots or maintenance person won’t necessarily be available to be onsite at the refurbishment facility at critical times, such as when items need to be reviewed or approved, or be able to head there at a moment’s notice should any issues arise.

Whether you’re looking to buy a pre-owned aircraft and refurbish it or update your existing aircraft, working with a private aviation consulting firm can provide many areas of benefit and value. Private aviation consultants typically have years of industry experience, as well as a vast network of industry relationships and contacts and a thorough understanding of an aircraft’s design possibilities, limitations and options that add value. They can also partner with your pilots and maintenance staff to support the on-going monitoring of the project and together accept and take delivery of the completed aircraft. Should you decide to retain the services of a private aviation consulting firm, your consultant should do the following:

  1. Walk you through acquisition and refurbishment options, break down capital expenditures and explain important design considerations.
  2. Recommend and negotiate with different facilities, as well as request proposals from each facility detailing the time, cost and in-house capabilities they have to complete the desired work.
  3. Make regular onsite visits to the facility of your choosing to monitor the ongoing work and ensure the project remains on schedule. If there are any issues or changes needed outside of the original scope of work, your consultant can work with you to review these items so you can make as informed a decsion as possible and work to keep the project on track.
  4. Work with your flight crew and maintenance staff to perform a final, detailed review and acceptance of the fit and finish of the completed projects. This review should include functional checks, a test flight and a review of the refurbishment technical records to confirm that they conform to the necessary regulations, all to ensure that the completed project meets the requirements of the contract terms and conditions.

As you can see, private aviation consultants are uniquely qualified to handle every stage of the pre-owned aircraft acquisition and refurbishment processes. If an aircraft refurbishment is in your future, engaging the services of a consulting firm will ensure that the work on your newly upgraded aircraft will be completed and held to the highest standards every step of the way.

Lee Rohde, Founder, President and CEO of Essex Aviation, a business and private aviation aircraft acquisition and consulting firm, has 30+ years of experience in financial and operational analysis, manufacturing, distribution and corporate business development.