Project Update: A success story

January 24, 2008

Project Update: January 24, 2008

Picking a good shop to do extensive work on an airplane is incredibly difficult. Most owners spend more money on a paint job, interior refinish, and engine work than they do on a new car. And you can drive a new car. Picking a shop comes down to reputation, references, and, usually, a first impression.

Lucky for us, Jim Horowitz reached out to offer the services of his shop, Oxford Aviation, long before the project ever started. Horowitz and Oxford Aviation were already a known quantity, having painted AOPA’s first redone sweepstakes, the Good as New 172 in 1993, and the Spirit of Liberty, a Socata Trinidad GT that the Air Safety Foundation auctioned off in 2002. Oxford is a rural Maine success story, and both paint jobs were expertly done, so we had good confidence in the shop’s ability to pull off such a huge project. When it comes down to it, this is probably the only way to have full and absolute confidence in a shop—a personal experience with it in the past.

Beyond that, Horowitz clearly understood the scope of the project before we even started. He was able to address important questions about timeliness of the work, the capability of the shop (everything but the panel), and most important, that what we were trying to do was possible.

From the first moment we dropped off the airplane to Oxford Aviation in late November, it was clear we had made the right choice. The crew in the shop already had a detailed project timeline and complete interior and exterior design ideas ready to go. It showed us they were ready to get down to business, and that they were thoroughly excited to put their mark on the airplane.

Hit the ground running

Taking Oxford’s lead, we hit the ground running that first day and haven’t stopped since. We left the shop in the afternoon and within 24 hours Oxford Aviation had already done a slew of tests on the Archer and were starting to take it apart. We were having a hard time keeping up! But, like every major refurbishment, there have been some initial project issues.

First, there are decisions. Many decisions. It seemed so simple going into it. Drop off the airplane, decide what we wanted to have redone, and sit back and watch the show. But things are never that easy. Do you want new wheels and brakes? How about new wheel pants? What colors would you like in the interior? A nice formed seat seems comfortable, but is it worth it? This is just the beginning. After the decisions comes the work.

Getting parts for an airplane is not like ordering parts for your family sedan. Ford makes millions of oxygen sensors. The auto parts stores stock them. And if they don’t, chances are there’s a good aftermarket option. Such is not the case in aviation. The market is relatively small and having stock costs money. Sure manufacturers have parts in stock, but they may not have that one crucial part you need for the airframe. And it will take them a month to get it. To top it off, you can’t go to paint before it comes. There’s a moral here: start early.

If you’re a new airplane owner thinking about a refurb, or if you’ve owned 12 airplanes and have never ventured into the type of territory reserved for the sweepstakes airplane and its faithful followers, there are many things you can do to head off these, and other types of hangups.

  • Have a full plan beforehand. This is critical. Work with the shop to ensure you have a clear idea of what you want to do weeks, if not months, before you drop off the airplane. It saves everyone headaches as the project goes along. It means you have a great chance of getting the airplane back when the shop says you’ll get it back.
  • Work to arrange parts as soon as possible. Usually, this is the shop’s job, but you can help. Make calls and insist on getting solid delivery estimates. Sure, things will pop up during the work, but you can help to minimize the delay by making sure the widget you need was ordered weeks before it needed to be fitted on the airplane.
  • Communicate. This is a two-way street. Communicate your needs and preferences to the shop early and often. Insist the shop keep you updated on its progress and needs as soon as issues crop up. Staying on top of the project will help everyone.

Horowitz and his professional staff have been in contact on a daily basis and continue to keep us updated on their needs. We also hear almost daily from Penn Avionics, which doesn’t even have the airplane yet, and Penn Yan Aero, which just received the engine and already has it apart and cleaned up. Now it’s up to us to get them all the tools they need to finish the job.

Next week: The winning paint scheme

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Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly | "Flight Training" Editor

AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.