The final part of my series on upgrading the avionics in my Cardinal RG is elsewhere in this issue. For as many aircraft as I have owned over the past 27 years, this was my first experience in a complete avionics upgrade for myself and, as you may recall, the decision to part with the cash and who got the cash didn’t come quickly. But it was one of those aircraft ownership experiences that I feel truly blessed for being capable of accomplishing.
The interesting thing to me was in how marketable my “old” avionics were. Everything in my plane was ’80s vintage gear, but it all worked and it was far from junk. The fact that I was demanding more state-of-the-art, functions for my plane, and was financially ready to have them, didn’t diminish the fact that there are many useful years left in the gear that I removed.
I love taking ramp tours when I visit airports, looking at how the aging fleet of airplanes are equipped. My non-scientific surveys easily show that, although the new, gee-whiz-wow stuff gets all the attention, the clear majority of the older airplanes out there are still equipped with radios that are as old as the plane, and some that actually are illegal. Most of these planes do have a control-wheel mounted GPS, however. With the exception of the radios that are now illegal, is it wrong to keep using the old stuff? Only the owner knows for sure. As I have stated many times before, it’s a matter of function.
What do you want to do with your plane, and does the avionics package have the necessary functions to get the job done safely? If you’re a VFR flyer only, and one working nav/com is all you need to get by and be legal, then great. If it fails during flight, will it have a major impact on the safe completion of that flight? Are you bringing it in to the shop more than you’re using it in the plane? These are all considerations needed for avionics in our planes. What about IFR? What “functions” do you need, to be legal and safe to conduct IFR operations? How much IFR will you do and what is your budget to get there?
Let’s take the package removed from my plane, for example. The King DME was traded to the shop that did my new package; they had a buyer for it. I sold the rest of the removed stuff as a package that included two Michel MX-170 series 720 channel nav/coms and OBS indicators (one with glide-slope), a King audio panel with marker beacon receiver, a King KT-76 transponder, and a King KR-85 ADF with indicator and antennas. The nav/coms had digital L.E.D. readouts and flip-flop frequency storage. That’s it. But for less than the price of one VFR panel mounted GPS/Com (or the price of one used, big-name nav/com), the owner of a ’60s era airplane finally could afford to toss the non-working boat-anchors he had in his plane and install a package that offered full IFR capability and functionality, with redundancy and avionics that are solid state, still reliable, and still field repairable.
The buyer knew his radios, knew the market, and made me an offer that was cost-effective to him but sufficiently worth it to me that I didn’t have to hassle with selling the stuff by the piece.
The key to buying used avionics on a budget is that first you must list the functions that you want. Examples might be dual nav/com capability with reliability and ability to shoot an ILS/LOC/VOR approach. Some ILS approaches require an ADF to do the procedure. Do you need some type of DME? Is there another way to make it work better? This is where you have to be careful. For the price of just two used, late-model nav/coms by a popular manufacturer, an owner could, instead, have the whole package I sold out of my plane, plus a decent used IFR approved GPS.
You must not only compare function gain for the dollar, but potential costs for servicing the older gear. Can you get your stuff worked on locally or must it be returned to the factory? Can you get parts? Is there even a factory around, anymore, to support the radios?
Finally, I am often asked what used avionics should cost to maintain. My rule of thumb is this: when budgeting annual cost of operation, take the cost of replacing your package with new, similar gear and figure 5 percent of that as your annual budget for avionics repairs. If it would cost $10,000 to replace your package, then a reasonable expense for yearly avionics repair work would be $500. If it starts getting much higher, it might be time to consider some upgrades.
Guy R. Maher is a business owner and aircraft appraiser with more than 12,000 hours in general aviation airplanes and helicopters. He is an independent buyer’s agent and flight instructor for type specific initial and recurrent training. He can be contacted through the above e-mail address, or by calling 704-287-3475.