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Finding the right time to upgrade

A company’s decision to invest in its aircraft

For The Wonderful Company, upgrading its 7,000-hour Beechcraft® King Air® C90GTx with the Garmin G1000 avionics suite had long been a wish-list item. The LA-based company is responsible for some of the most recognizable brands in the U.S.– Wonderful Pistachios, FIJI bottled water, Wonderful Halos mandarin oranges and POM Wonderful juice are all part of the company’s product lineup.

A flight department oversees a fleet of aircraft that includes two King Air C90GTx turboprops, along with a Cessna® Citation® XLS® jet. The airplanes fly staff throughout California where many of the company’s products are grown and packaged. Travel to the company’s farms in northern California is frequent, and visits to the company’s wineries and vineyards are also common.

The King Air was approaching a large annual inspection and the engines were due overhaul. It proved to be the perfect opportunity for The Wonderful Company to take advantage of the extended down time. As part of the service visit, the aircraft would undergo a complete upgrade – from a new avionics package, to a refurbished cabin and a redesigned paint scheme.

The opportunity to have all of the upgrades accomplished in conjunction with scheduled maintenance was a catalyst in the company’s decision.

“Why do engines one month and put it down for paint two months later? The fact that we were able to bundle made sense and made it possible.”Don Hitch, VP of flight operations for The Wonderful Company

The company briefly considered purchasing a new aircraft, but decided to upgrade its existing aircraft after a market analysis.

“Right now California is in a drought, which has an impact on our bottom line,” said Don Hitch, vice president of flight operations for The Wonderful Company. “This was an opportunity to not go out and spend capital if we didn’t have to.”

Along with a new paint scheme, The Wonderful Company upgraded its King Air C90GTx with new interior and Garmin G1000 avionics in a single maintenance visit.

Choosing a service center

Hitch requested cost and downtime estimates from three service facilities before choosing the Textron Aviation service center in Wichita, Kansas. The decision came down to two factors, Hitch said. An extended warranty period, and the added peace of mind knowing technicians from the company that designed and built the aircraft would accomplish the work.

“It looks like a whole other airplane,” Hitch said.

It also flies like one, according to the crew.

“The G1000 is a little bit more intuitive and more detailed,” chief pilot Scott Huff said.

The integrated display and its mapping functions have become a fast favorite.

“You can display everything, or de-clutter and just show what you want,” Huff said. “Once you get used to it, it’s very nice.”

The upgrade to the aircraft also included technology that now meets the upcoming ADS-B requirements deadline in 2020.

"The King Air line is extremely reliable, and if properly taken care of they should last a lifetime."Don Hitch, VP of flight operations for The Wonderful Company

As for the service? Hitch said it was – well, wonderful.

“They provided a lot of support and follow-up,” Hitch said. “If you think of the extent of the job, it certainly came out on time considering the work and the detail involved.”

He suggests other operators research a facility’s ability to accomplish the work and to continue to provide prompt service moving forward.

“Make sure you’re going to a vendor that can support your product,” Hitch said. “I know Textron Aviation will go back and take care of the airplane if needed.”