New avionics equipment comes with a manufacturer’s warranty which ranges from 1 to 2 years (though some manufacturers offer up to a 5 yr warranty). Some manufacturers offer extended warranty programs.
Though the warranty period is important, how warranty situations are handled can be paramount. Here are a few things to consider in a warranty situation:
- Does the manufacturer offer loaners?
- What is a typical repair turn-around period?
- Does the manufacturer offer new or overhaul exchanges?
- What is the perception of the manufacturer’s status in the industry?
- Can the shop you are dealing with provide any examples of the exemplary performance of the manufacturer with respect to warranty situations?
There are two levels of warranty/repair situations:
- The level of service the manufacturer can provide; and
- The level of service the dealer/shop can provide.
The ultimate scenario for the customer is when both the dealer/shop and the manufacturer are providing the best possible service in synchronicity. From experience, I feel that we have been limited by the manufacturer’s policies on a few occasions. A shop can only provide the kind of service it receives from the manufacturer. The reverse is also true.
Warranty on workmanship from the installing facility is just as important as the products you buy. For example, a few years ago, a customer squawked that the autopilot would no longer track from the Loran which we installed (at the time) 6 years previous. After several hours of troubleshooting, a poorly crimped splice was the culprit. The splice we had previously installed was replaced and the customer was not charged. It was considered a workmanship defect. What kind of workmanship warranty does your shop provide? Lancaster Avionics warranties our workmanship on new installations for as long as you own it!
Much of the new avionics equipment sold today can only be purchased through Authorized Manufacturer Dealers. These dealers are bound by contract agreement not to sell “over-the-counter” to the end-user unless the selling dealer is also the installer. Infractions in this area can result in a shop losing its dealership. Exceptions can include factory “Re-Man” products or new products being sold to be installed in the “Home-Built” aircraft. However, there are a number of options today that are available for purchase over-the-counter or thru distributors.
The best products on the market combined with poor installation techniques can result in poor performance. Though I cannot substantiate the claim, experience has convinced me that any condition as part of a poor installation can cause premature equipment failures that cannot readily be traced back to the installation. Given the number of products that can be purchased over-the-counter or thru distributors, who you get to install it becomes potentially even more critical as a poor or incomplete installation can cost you far more than having it done right the first time. It is always important to assure that the installer can legally sign off the work, but that authority is not a guarantee of having the necessary tools to calibrate/configure the new equipment, the skills to complete the work, and/or the quality of work itself. Examples of poor workmanship include:
- Use of 20+-year-old wiring/cabling
- Use of 20+-year-old antennas
- Use of improper pins/contacts
- Use of improper crimping tools
- Poor grounds
- Inadequate Cooling
- Mix-Matching equipment not directly compatible
- Not removing unused wiring, brackets, hoses, etc.
- Maintaining neat harnessing and flow of that harnessing
Whenever the subject of “Aircraft Resale” comes up, I first point out that what an aircraft is worth depends on its’ capability (at least from an avionics perspective). It is more about the capability than the age of the equipment. However, when that aged equipment becomes uneconomical to repair or obsolete, the aircraft is devalued by that capability until ‘all that money’ is spent to replace that capability and when that money is spent, expect to ‘eat’ the installation costs and a portion of the equipment cost when it comes to resale. Once you make that commitment to replace equipment, I would suggest that the quality of the installation be the most important factor when considering quotes as shopping around to get the “Best/Lowest Installed” price is not necessarily the best move if you are expecting long term reliability from the system. In most cases, “You get what you pay for”. There is certainly nothing wrong with shopping around provided you are getting the same quality of work hence value for the dollar. Here are a few questions you could ask each shop when requesting a quote:
- What is the condition of all equipment and accessories to be installed? Is everything new or is it a mix of new and used?
- What accessories are required/optional to complete the installation (if any)?
- Will I be receiving ALL new harnessing? If not, what portions won’t be new?
- Will I be receiving ALL new cabling? If not, what portions won’t be new?
- What will happen to any old harnessing? Will every unused strand of wire be removed?
- What antennas will be replaced as part of the installation?
- What will happen to any removed equipment (traded, sold on consignment, etc.)
- Does the shop offer any training associated with your purchase? Is there any additional charge?
- Does the shop offer any other no charge incentives? Example: free software upgrades as they become available?
- What kind of Lead-Time should you expect? Long lead-times are not necessarily bad. If you are shopping and find some shops are quoting 3 weeks and others are quoting 3 months, you may want to consider why one is so much busier than the other. It may be a reflection on the quality of work performed. Patience on your part potentially can pay off in dividends in the long run.
- What kind of Down Time should you respect? How important is the down time to you? Again, the quality of the work is paramount so assuming the quality is equal, a larger shop can usually offer a reduced down time but will likely cost you more due to higher overhead as compared to a smaller shop that could cost you less but over a longer down time.
- How important is it to you for a shop to maintain your scheduled slot (especially when booking months in advance)? Larger shops generally have more flexibility to compensate for employees who are off for a few days due to illness or other unexpected events.
- What are your responsibilities after the work is complete? Is the shop going to register all the new equipment? Are they going to update databases?
- What kind of service should you expect AFTER the sale?
- What kind of relationship does the shop have with the manufacturer’s for which you are purchasing equipment?
- Warranties: What is the equipment warranty? Is there any warranty provided by the shop for the installation?
- What is the shop’s capability to repair existing systems that remain in the aircraft? This can be a real ‘Gotcha’! For example, let’s say you are having a glass panel installed and interfaced to an old Autopilot. The shop may be capable of interfacing to the old Autopilot but can they fix it if something goes wrong or is wrong? I have seen many customers that ended up regretting their choice in shops when they had to take the aircraft to another shop after installation to correct issues related to this question.
I find the cost of installation labor is on of the largest diversity between shops. The cause of this is not usually the labor rate or expertise of the install technicians. It generally is most impacted in the quoted number of hours associated with the task which is directly proportional to the answers obtained from the above questions; quality simply takes more time!
For example, if a new GPS/Nav/Com costs you $10,000 for the radio and you are removing your #1 Com, your #1 Nav, and an older IFR GPS, does it make sense to have a shop cut the wires from your removed 20+ yr old systems, strip those wires, crimp-on new pins, and connect them to your new GPS/Nav/Com to save money? Not if you expecting that $10,000 radio to work reliably for the next 20 years.
Reliability can work hand-in-hand with safety. It was heard somewhere that a consumer looks at three things: Quality, Price, and Time (down time). Of these three, the consumer can dictate only 2 of the 3. If you want the quality and down time is a concern, then the price becomes not negotiable. If you want the quality and the price, then the down time is not negotiable. And of course, if you could care less about the quality, then you can dictate the price and the down time but be prepared to anticipate potential significant unanticipated costs in the future! Which one of these are you?
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