Airframe and Powerplant

Taunting Goliath

December 1, 1999

Superior Air Parts enters the engine-overhaul market with a flourish

Aircraft owners facing an engine overhaul now have another option to consider, thanks to an ever-aggressive Superior Air Parts. As has been true for a long time, in addition to the field overhaul (large or small shop, take your pick), you can have original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) or factory-rebuilt engines from both Continental and Lycoming. What's more, Lycoming will sell you a factory-overhauled engine, and Continental recently introduced dramatically reduced pricing on new engines under the Aftermarket New banner.

Beyond buying from the OEMs, you'll find still other variations — notably, "boutique" overhaulers who perform processes or steps that aren't offered (or thought useful) by the OEMs. Add to this Chinese menu of possibilities a dramatically wide range of warranties. Some shops might offer six months and 500 hours, while Continental kicked over the applecart with a three-year, unlimited-hour warranty on its Aftermarket New engines.

Into this hotly competitive market has jumped Superior Air Parts with its newly hatched Millennium Certified Pre-Owned Engine program. As the name implies, this overhaul scheme aims to take used engine cores — yours or an exchange, more on that shortly — and turn them into near-new powerplants. Superior's main target is the factory-remanufactured engine, currently a popular choice for both Lycoming and Continental customers. Indeed, the Superior engine will be priced very close to — and in some cases above — an equivalent factory reman. Engines reworked by the factory still carry the advantage of receiving a zero-time logbook; the Superior engine will continue forward its total time in service from new or the most recent factory rebuild.

Because Superior is a parts producer and not an engine overhauler, central to the preowned scheme is the annexation of key overhaul shops around the country. Launching this parade is Western Skyways in Colorado. The salient points of the relationships are this: The overhauling facility will perform an engine build-up or overhaul to Superior's strict instructions using a predetermined list of new components. These components are specified by Superior by both type and manufacturer; no surprise, then, that whatever Superior makes will be on the engines, and only those parts that it doesn't produce may be sourced elsewhere. What's more, these shops must hold an FAA repair station certificate, have in-house A&Ps to perform the installations, and have engine-test facilities. In all, Superior expects to sign 10 shops to build engines in the United States.

Superior will give the customer the option of having his engine overhauled — as is the common practice with a field overhaul — or purchasing an overhaul-exchange unit. Superior already has a stockpile of cores — good-condition, run-out engines — from which these exchange units will spring. Ultimately, the company hopes that keep-your-core engines can be completed in four to six weeks; factory reman engines are running with that kind of lead time and, depending upon the engine specification, sometimes twice as long. Exchange engines will fall into that time frame initially, although Superior says that it hopes to build and keep a small stock of the more common engines — Lycoming O-320s and 360s, Continental IO-520s, for example — for immediate delivery.

One of the main advantages of purchasing a factory-remanufactured exchange engine is the ability to upgrade painlessly. For example, if you have a creaky old Continental IO-520 with an airmelt crank and a lightweight crankcase, you can trade through Continental for no surcharge as long as you're staying with the same model specification. (An upgrade to the larger-main-bearing IO-520-BB from the -BA, for example, results in a slight upcharge.) Similarly, Lycoming doesn't care if you send in an old-spec, narrow-deck engine for your reman late-spec model as long as all the parts are there.

Such magnanimity won't be the case with the Superior system. You will get back what you sent or be charged for the upgrades accordingly. Superior doesn't see this as a large impediment because many of the old-spec engines are out of the gene pool already, so relatively few customers will see additional overhaul expenses to get to the latest specification. The company is developing a database of upgrade costs so that it can estimate expenses accurately. Initially, Superior will simply adjust the core credit for exchange customers based on what it finds inside the returned engine.

Superior intends to set its engine apart from the rest by including the highly regarded Millennium cylinder assembly. With an investment-cast head and through-hardened steel barrel, the Millennium both looks and, by many accounts, performs better than OEM cylinders. Several overhaulers claim to have seen Millenniums run to TBO and still meet measurements for new limits. (Bear in mind, though, that the operators plunging through to TBO are doing so in the space of a few months, not several years. There are a number of engine experts who believe that frequent use is more important than cylinder-head material for making TBO.) Nonetheless, the Millennium has established itself in the marketplace as the prized product, commanding a notable premium over OEM parts. A good many owners, contemplating a field overhaul, elect to use the Millenniums even if the rest of the engine adheres closely to the OEM's design.

Beyond the Millenniums, each Superior engine will have critical parts replaced with new, including camshafts, lifters, and oil pump. Some accessories — magnetos, carburetors, Bendix fuel systems, and alternator, for example — will be new while others will be overhauled to new limits. Superior will be installing Slick mags on all of its engines unless a customer demands the Bendix/TCM mags. Aircraft Accessories and Divco, both in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have been drafted onto the Superior team for accessory and crankcase overhauls. Superior has a special agreement with these shops that its components will be reworked to new limits only.

You can also choose to have any of the participating Superior engine shops install your engine, or you can have it done locally. Superior insists that for warranty coverage, your technician must follow a detailed installation checklist so that no corners will be cut. In addition to this checklist, Superior will supply a booklet of periodic checklists to be performed and signed off by your local wrench. These inspections — at 25, 50, 100, and 500 hours, which will include your basic look-see, mandatory oil changes at 50 hours or four months, and twice-yearly oil analyses — must be followed for the warranty to be valid.

A strong emphasis on following procedures stems from Superior's generous warranty — five years or TBO, whichever comes first, applied to both parts and labor. Within that warranty period, Superior will pay for the repair or replacement of the core engine components because of defects in workmanship or materials. It is, currently, the most generous warranty in the business, and becomes the size-large carrot Superior hopes to hang in front of hungry aircraft owners.

As mentioned, Superior plans to price its preowned engines at about the same level as the factory rebuilts. For example, Superior expects a Continental IO-520-B to cost between $19,289 and $20,640; at press time, these figures were between $479 and $1,830 more than a Continental factory-rebuilt purchased through Air Power Inc., the company that sells Continentals and Lycomings for $300 over invoice. In an attempt to keep Superior-signed shops from engaging in a price war, the company has stipulated that all of the rebuilders will sell for the same Superior-dictated price, regardless of location. Superior will, however, still allow these shops to sell their own overhaul services and features alongside the Superior engines.

Where Superior really expects to make up ground is in the custom-overhaul end of this deal. It's hard these days to beat a factory reman. Particularly so if you've got an old-spec, troublesome engine — let the factory have that old clunker and start fresh with what'll be a about a 70-percent new engine. So Superior intends to sell its customers on service, warranty coverage, and the fact that they can get an overhauled engine with Millennium cylinders for about what it would cost through a typical mom-and-pop overhauler. A worldwide support network and Superior-based customer-assistance agents are big parts of the incentive package. In this way, Superior hopes to take the worry out of warranty claims and play up the image of personalized service and options that field overhaulers enjoy.

For more information, contact Superior Air Parts Inc., 14280 Gillis Road, Dallas, Texas 75244; telephone 972/233-4433; fax 972/490-8471; or visit the Web site ( Links to additional information about engine overhauling may be found on AOPA Online (