Why Aren’t Remanufactured Airplanes More Of A Thing?


If I were an airplane salesman, I would starve to death. Airplanes that I think have no prayer of selling fly out of the factory almost faster than they can be produced. One of these was Diamond’s DA42, which I thought was a long shot. The DA62, one of the best GA airplanes ever, in my view, is also selling briskly, despite a price point well north of $1 million.

On the other hand, considering the price of new airplanes, I thought that with retrofit avionics matching the capability of new stuff, refurbing or remanufacturing older airplanes to new standards would be a can’t-miss industry. Well, not exactly. Several remanufacture projects are established with varying degrees of success, but there’s nothing like the volume I figured would materialize.

The latest of these projects is from Premier Aircraft, a well-known brokerage and mod house in Fort Lauderdale. They’re doing a spinner-to-tail remanufacture of the Piper Dakota and I flew the first one on Friday. I’ll have a full video report on it in a few days. The Premier Edition Dakota is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s an older airframe stripped to bare metal, painted, fixed and tarted up with the latest in avionics, plus a new leather interior, so it smells new. It doesn’t have Garmin’s G1000 NXi, but the G500 Premier offers functionally similar capability. Prices of this vary with avionics and options selected, but range between $259,000 and $329,000. Premier’s Barry Rutheiser told me Friday that the company has gotten a lot of nibbles on this project.

The Dakota is an interesting choice. When Piper launched it, it replaced the 180-HP four-cylinder Lycoming in the Cherokee with a six-cylinder O-540, boosting the power from 180 to 235 HP. The result is 1100 to 1200 pounds of useful and a cruise speed of up to 140 knots. For owners who want to haul a lot of stuff and want a low wing to do it, the Dakota is a perfect fit. It’s also a niche. Piper built some 32,000 Cherokees of various types, but fewer than 3000 are the PA-28-235/236 that constitute the six-cylinder line.

So far, other remanufacture products haven’t hit impressive strides. Premier did a Skyhawk with the Continental diesel conversion and found little traction. Redbird did better with its Redhawk conversion, the same basic idea, but they now won’t say how many they’ve sold. My guess is around 20. Africair, another Florida company, has converted about 60 Skyhawks to diesel, but they’ve been at it for more than 10 years, so that’s an airplane every couple of months. Yingling Aviation did a nice job on its remanufacture of the Skyhawk called the Ascend 172. Sales have been sluggish.

If I knew why, I wouldn’t be a candidate for becoming a starving airplane salesman. These airplanes are typically priced at about $250,000 or $150,000 less than a new version. Even though I’ve always felt this to be a good value against new, maybe the price delta isn’t enough. Maybe it needs to be half the price of new or maybe the people selling these need to have Kenny Ditchter’s view of where value resides in airplanes. Or maybe they’re worried about or don’t understand how paying two-thirds the price of new for an airplane that’s 30 years old will depreciate or how banks will loan on it. Maybe “nearly new” just isn’t quite good enough as actually new.

Or maybe no one has hit the sweet spot of asking price against some unique capability or performance. New, used or remanufactured, a Skyhawk is just a Skyhawk and Cessna is still building them. But Piper isn’t building Dakotas and if they did, they would probably cost every bit of $500,000, if not nearer to $600,000.

We’ll see how Premier makes out with its Dakota project. With a few minor exceptions, it presents as new. If I liked low wings and needed to fill the seats and the tanks, I’d certainly give it a serious look.

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