Smart Swapping Avionics


Swapping avionics from one aircraft to another can be done cost effectively if you ask questions and consider the impact on value to both airplanes.

I recently sold a Bonanza to a pilot that wanted to transfer a radio system from his previous airplane, a Grumman Traveler, to his new, or rather "nuzed," Bonanza. Specifically, the Grumman had a Garmin 430W WAAS/GPS that the owner wanted to remove and reinstall in his new plane. He went to his local avionics shop, one of the top avionics shops in the country, and asked them to provide him a quote the job. When he got the quote for $800 plus tax, he called me and asked for my thoughts.

The avionics shop had told my client that the job would require 8 man-hours to complete the work which seemed excessive to me. My customer, a bit overwhelmed by the technicalities, asked if I might assist him and suggested a conference call with the avionics shop which I agreed to. Upon speaking to the shop manager who had provided the quotation, I questioned him as to why the job was going to require what seemed to be excessive labor and he proceeded to explain the process.

The initial plan involved removing the radio (a 2 minute job at best), removing the radio rack or "tray," removing the antenna and blanking it off, cutting the wires that went to radio, labeling them, stowing the wires behind the instrument panel, blanking the opening and completing a new aircraft weight and balance form. I asked the shop manager where the bulk of the time would be spent in this job and he indicated that it was a very laborious task to label all the wires and that he had estimated 4 hours for that portion of the work. When I asked him how difficult it would be to reinstall a 430 in the Grumman after removing the installation the way he , he explained that he thought the new owner would have at least as many hours man-hours putting the same radio back in the plane if he chose to do so. It seemed that there needed to be a better plan...

So I posed a series of questions to the avionics technician:

  1. Will the rack for the Garmin 430 fit the 430W? The answer was yes.

  2. Is the wiring connector the same? Yes.

  3. Is the connector wired, or "pinned out," the same for both the 430 and the 430W? Yes

  4. Will the antenna wiring for the 430W work for a 430 as well? Yes.

  5. Are the antennas the same for the 430W and the 430? No... when they install a 430W to replace a 430, they have to install a new GPS/WAAS antenna.

  6. Do the two different antennas mount the same way? Yes.. they are easily swapped.

  7. What does the shop do with the old antennas when they replace a 430 with a 430W? They have a whole box of them.

  8. What would a used Garmin 430 GPS antenna cost? $25

  9. Does the shop have any extra racks for the 430/430W? Yes.... $50

  10. And the new wiring connector? Yes, they had those too... new for $75

So I asked the technician... How much time would be involved to remove the Garmin 430W radio leaving the rack and installation in place, replacing the 430W antenna with a used 430 antenna, and preparing a new weight and balance form?

Two man-hours... $200, or $600 less than the original quote.

So would it not make more sense for my client to spend $150 to buy a used rack and connector to install in the Bonanza and a used 430 antenna to install on the Grumman rather than blanking off the antenna? Not only would it save $600 in labor costs for $150 invested in parts, but it would save the next buyer of the Grumman 8 hours or $800 in labor charges if they wanted to fill the slot with used 430.

Yes, it made complete sense to do just that...

My client could have opted to leave his Garmin 430W, an installation costing about $10,000, in his Grumman but with a retail value of $42,000, it would have been highly improbable for him to recapture even the used value of the 430W system. But by investing $150 in parts so that he could leave the installation in the Grumman intact, he created an easy and cost effective option for the next buyer of his old airplane.

The next time you are faced with the decision to swap radios from one airplane to another, ask yourself the following questions:

1) Will leaving the radios that you are planning to remove add more value to the airplane you are removing them from or to the airplane your are planning to install them in?

2) Is it possible to cost effectively remove the equipment from one airplane leaving the installation intact for the next owner?

A simple exercise like this can literally save you hundreds, and even thousands of dollars if you ask yourself the right questions.