Putting a new engine into an existing aircraft is becoming increasingly popular. Conversions are a great way to extend the life of an aircraft, while increasing performance and economics. Improvements run the gamut from improvement in range, climb rate, and a speed to better fuel efficiency and payload.
A PT6A conversion also gets you the latest engine configuration and a new engine warranty.
According to Frank Nel, Associate Director, Business Development and Strategic Planning, who is responsible for conversion programs at Pratt & Whitney Canada, customers that convert end up with an aircraft that performs like new but at a much lower price point. “If you are converting from a piston engine to a turboprop engine, for example, the benefits can be quite dramatic,” he says. “With a new turboprop, you get the latest in technology design and manufacturing, a great deal more power/operational flexibility, and much better fuel consumption."
What’s more, Nel explains, the associated range of the aircraft also increases. “The way the engine is configured and mounted on the aircraft also makes it much easier to maintain the engine and most tasks can be conducted on wing without removing the powerplant.”
A range of aircraft conversion programs with one thing in common
Aircraft conversion programs range in scope from a simple engine upgrade or including avionics, interiors and external livery. Conversion programs vary and are sometimes developed by airframe OEMs themselves, while others are developed by third parties.
But all conversions have one thing in common: they must receive a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) from the appropriate regulatory authorities (like Transport Canada or the Federal Aviation Administration.)
Choosing a Conversion Provider: Considerations
Cost of aircraft conversion
Choosing a conversion provider should be carefully considered. Nel says operators should shop around to see what’s available and carefully evaluate credentials what they are willing to pay.
“We always recommend that operators look to reliable conversion companies if they are considering getting the work done,” he says. “At P&WC we thoroughly vet potential conversion partners before we start working on helping them put the STC together. Our customers expect us to maintain P&WC standards at all times, and we do. So obviously, when we are asked to recommend a conversion company we provide a list of those we have fully vetted.”
Degree of aircraft conversion
In addition to the amount of money they want to invest, operators should consider to what degree they want to convert their aircraft engine power. Turboprops are typically more expensive than piston engines but they are in an entirely different class when it comes to power, fuel consumption and reliability.
Depending on aircraft use, decisions should be based on the most valued benefits.
Downtime during aircraft conversion
“There’s also the downtime of the aircraft to be considered,” Nel explains, saying that If the operator is converting from an older model turboprop to a newer turboprop that’s roughly the same physical size, it usually takes about a month to conduct the conversion from start to finish.
But if the conversion is from a piston engine to a turboprop engine then there are likely alterations required to the airframe itself which could require up to two to three months to complete, he said. “Obviously, the timeframe could be even longer if the entire aircraft is being converted and upgraded.” He explained that operators should get a clear idea of how long the conversion process for their individual aircraft will take, before they start the process.
Finally, Nel said prospective conversion customers should have a solid understanding of the customer service capabilities that will be placed at their disposal in terms of both the airframe and the engine.
“If an issue arises, you want to have the parts, people and expertise on hand to ensure it is resolved quickly and professionally, and ultimately an STC extends your aircraft’s useful and economic life.”