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OEM or third-party modifications?

How to choose which is best for your aircraft

As the need for airplane modifications becomes top-of-mind, so does the question about who is best to perform the mods—the company that manufactured the aircraft (OEM) or a third party?

Oftentimes, this question feels a bit like asking if you should take your car to the local mechanic or back to the dealer for repair. With aircraft, the issue is more complex. Even though two upgrade packages may appear the same, they may be quite different in multiple aspects.

Real return

When two upgrade packages look the same on paper and even on the delivered aircraft, verify they return the same value. Engines and avionics from different service providers can deliver different performance. For companies that work independent from the aircraft manufacturer, modifications such as winglets or paint may offer little more than aesthetic value, because their designers don’t have the knowledge and intellectual property to deliver the full intended benefits of the modification. The OEM and its partners can create interior and exterior upgrades designed and tested to add to the aircraft’s performance, efficiency, integrity, longevity and resale value. Make sure each upgrade is optimized to add value.

Intellectual property

The OEM often has something an outside company lacks, intellectual property rights – the protected, comprehensive understanding of how the aircraft was originally designed, certified and built. With IP, the manufacturer’s engineers and designers have access to information outside companies do not, so the OEM can often make more informed decisions about how modifications will impact performance and other factors.

Factory warranty and support

Every entity performing modifications should warranty its work; however, some non-OEM-approved modifications will void the aircraft’s factory warranty. In fact, some modifications introduce the kind of fundamental changes that exclude an aircraft from any future factory support. On the other hand, OEMs offer upgrades and modifications with the full support of the factory and warranty behind them.

World-class partners

Just as Ford Motors worked with Caroll Shelby on the Mustang and Mercedes works with AMG to create superior-performing models, OEMs often partner seamlessly with other industry innovators to ensure their modifications optimize performance. OEMs are more likely to have the kind of demonstrated reputation and staying power that attract the industry’s best partners and leverage their expertise to create a new marketplace standard.

Flexibility

In a rush to get to the market, some outside modification companies offer customers little choice. The aircraft owner essentially has to take the entire upgrade package or nothing at all. OEMs generally offer more flexibility, allowing the owner to tailor the modifications—winglets, avionics and/or engines. OEMs typically have the resources to offer customers more customization when they’re upgrading their aircraft.

Reputation

When comparing modification/upgrade packages from an OEM or third-party

  • Take inventory of what you are getting.
  • Verify the team that performs the upgrade carries the same certification standards and craftsmanship that went into the original manufacturing of your aircraft.
  • Always ask for written documentation that the modification will satisfy the intended operational, regulatory and performance requirements.

Finally, there’s something to be said for reputation, staying power and wisdom that comes from a legacy of industry leadership. Aviation has seen quite a few OEMs and third-party service providers come and go throughout history. When researching an aviation service provider, take a look at the company’s history, and ask tough questions about the business’ core competencies and how long the modifications team has been designing and implementing aircraft upgrades.

When comparing modification/upgrade packages from an OEM or third party, be sure to take an inventory of what you are getting. For a truly fair comparison, be sure to verify the team that performs the upgrade carries the same certification standards and craftsmanship that went into the original manufacturing of your airplane. And always ask for written documentation that the modification will satisfy the intended operational, regulatory and performance requirements. Otherwise, the great deal you thought you were getting may not deliver the performance you are paying to satisfy.