Tracey Cheek posted an articleA Delicate Balance: Tom Foley, Owner and CEO of Stevens Aviation, talks with Anthony Harrington. see more
NAFA member, Tom Foley, Owner and CEO of Stevens Aviation, talks with Anthony Harrington, Editorial Director with Business Aviation Magazine.
Q: How has the past year been for Stevens Aviation?
TF: We have been working on a whole range of projects over the last couple of years and a lot of them have now come to fruition, which has helped things tremendously. While the MRO business remains a difficult one, it has to be said that business has firmed up nicely over the last year for the larger players. The fact that President Trump is himself a long-standing enthusiast of business aviation has been very beneficial. People are now buying noticeably more aircraft than they were three years ago, and all that is great for the sector.
Q: How is the refurbishment side of your business doing?
TF: We won a very important contract outside the business aviation space, to do a maintenance and refurbishment programme for the Department of Defense. This involves a good portion of the C12 fleet, probably around 200 or more aircraft. The whole fleet probably numbers around the high 300s. That contract is excellent for us. On top of this, we are having a great deal of success with our Garmin 1000 upgrades for King Airs. We are also doing a lot of ADS-B upgrades. In fact, the Garmin G1000 business is being partially driven by the need for aircraft to be ADS-B ready by 2020. A lot of the old King Airs are not compliant but with the Garmin 1000 upgrade that gives them what the regulations require.
Q: How expensive is the ADS-B upgrade?
TF: The basic upgrade does not take many hours to do, but it is expensive. The cheapest mods work out to $60,000 to $70,000 for labour and equipment.
Q: Are owners and operators generally taking advantage of the necessity to upgrade to ADS-B, to do a full avionics upgrade?
TF: It would be great if they were, but no, not in general. Some are, but the majority are definitely looking for the least expensive route to getting ADS-B compliant. We initially expected people with aircraft like Falcons and Hawkers to want to do a full upgrade, getting an ADS-B mod that fitted in with their existing avionics suite at the very least. But many, as I said, are choosing the least expensive option, being content with basic compliance. Probably the main thing that is driving owners’ thinking on this is the fact that residual values on pre-owned aircraft have fallen dramatically since the global crash of 2008. They don’t see that there is going to be any opportunity for them to recover any major spend when they come to sell. This line of thinking is exacerbated by the fact that most of the aircraft we work on are over 10 years of age. There is very little chance that they would be able to recover the cost of an integrated solution, but they could expect to get back the value of a simple bolt-on addition. You have to keep in mind that this is nothing new. The aviation industry is very expensive, so it is only in the very best of times in private aviation that owners are not watching those nickels and dimes.
Q: What is your view of the current state of the market?
TF: Over the last year and a half we have definitely become larger, but no one in the industry is yet seeing the levels of business we all enjoyed in 2006 and 2007. Owners and operators are still being very careful about what they spend. However, my take on the US economy is that it is quite solid at present and people are definitely less cautious than they were. The private aviation sector is stronger than it was, but the drawback is that aircraft values have not recovered much, and people still have concerns about whether now is the right time to buy a new aircraft or even a pre-owned aircraft.
Q: How is the general refurbishment market doing?
TF: We are seeing a lot of modification and refurbishment work. The used aircraft fleet just keeps getting older, so people have to paint them and put a new interior and new avionics into them, and this is playing well for us.
Q: With sales of new aircraft being slow, the OEMs have refocused on a er sales revenues, looking to capture as much of the opportunities there as they can. How is that impacting you?
TF: That has hurt all the independent MRO providers. We were a Beech service centre at all our locations and Textron pulled all that in-house. Bombardier did the same with Lear servicing. Citation have had their in-house service centres for quite a while now and they make it almost impossible to compete for aircraft that are still under warranty. But that still leaves a large pre-owned eet out there that is more than 10 years of age. The market has adjusted to the new conditions and some of the smaller, less well-capitalised MRO players have dropped out. Larger players like ourselves have stabilized our businesses and the work ow has strengthened along with the economy.
Q: What is the key to competing with the OEMs?
TF: Our strategy is not to be cheaper than the OEMs but rather, to offer a higher level of customer service. We can turn things around more quickly than them, we offer a comparable or better quality and a more pleasant personal experience, because we are less bureaucratic and more customer focused.
Q: What are your thoughts about the future for MRO?
TF: There is no doubt that this is a tough and very technically demanding business. It is hard to execute, but when you execute well, you can make money. So, I am cautious, but I am pleased that the business and the industry as a whole seems to be in a healthier place. One of the challenges is that this business is very volume sensitive, so when the economy turns down, your pro stability deteriorates very quickly. So long as the economy stays strong, things will be healthy, but as and when the economy turns down, all bets are off. We have been around for 60 years and I have owned and run Stevens for the last 29 of those years. We have seen a lot of cycles and we know how to operate through both up and down cycles. We’re glad the down cycle looks to have ended and we are hoping that the up cycle lasts for a good while yet.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of Business Aviation Magazine.
Tracey Cheek posted an articleWhat You Need to Know Before Upgrading Your Aircraft see more
NAFA member, Lee Rohde, Founder, President and CEO of Essex Aviation Group, Inc. gives his thoughts about refurbishing versus buying new and what you need to know.
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 customization 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:
1-Seat materials refurbished or replaced
4-Veneer refurbished or replaced
6-Galley remodelling and upgrades
2-Cabin management system upgrade
4-Touch screen controls
5-Mobile device integration
7-Weather system upgrades
8-Navigation and Communication Systems upgrades
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:
- Walk you through acquisition and refurbishment options, break down capital expenditures and explain important design considerations.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.