Aviation has seen incredible technological growth over the last 15 years, which isn’t surprising. All sorts of technology, like phones and computers, are hardly recognizable when compared with their former models. We answer calls on watches, we pay at registers with our phones, and our cars are learning to drive on their own.

Similarly, avionics upgrades have improved drastically. Nowadays, a small Cirrus aircraft off the showroom floor is more sophisticated than an airliner was a decade ago. If you own an airplane over ten years old, you might start to think about integrating some of this incredible new technology. But should you? Will it improve your aircraft’s resale value?

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How To Start Upgrading Your Aircraft Avionics

Whether you’re planning to replace your panel, a couple of components or refurbish your interior, we help you understand your options.

STCs & An Experienced Shop Are Your Best First Steps

First, we have to understand the laws behind upgrading your aircraft avionics. You can’t just change whatever you want about your panel, as something either won’t get along with others well or it will be unsupported. Everything you add or upgrade will require a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This certificate allows for an aircraft to be modified from its original designs.

If you fly a popular model of aircraft, you’re in luck. Like Cirrus and Piper, well-loved manufacturers will have more upgrade support than smaller companies. If you fly a less popular aircraft, make sure your upgrades are compatible or even available.

Next, you need to find an experienced shop. This is hands down one of the essential steps when upgrading your aircraft. Make sure you find a shop that understands how to upgrade your particular aircraft. It’s best if they have a long track record of working with your type of aircraft and your desired upgrades. It’s more common than you would think for aircraft to be retired from service because of poor avionics installs. When you choose to upgrade your plane, you’re installing parts that are not configured for their original design.

Choose Your Desired Upgrades

Are you interested in upgrading your aircraft but don’t know where to start? Here are some of the most common avionics upgrades pilots make to older aircraft.

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Glass Panel Conversions

Old analog gauges in aircraft are increasingly being replaced with LED screens. Using air pressure and gyroscopes, these older gauges communicate necessary information, like airspeed and altitude. Electronic flight instrument systems, or glass cockpits, present the same information using a digital display.

While analog gauges and LED screens perform the same functions, many pilots appreciate the ease of flying with a glass cockpit. All of the information you need is right in front of you with a digital panel, and a pilot no longer needs to scan and search for everything they need. However, many glass panel upgrades include backup analog gauges in case of an electrical failure.


Newer airplanes have incredible ways to communicate with other aircraft and traffic controllers. For example, datalinks allow pilots to share with towers and perform automatic communications. Instead of voice radio, text-based messages allow for greater understanding and a decreased margin of error.

Older models don’t have this technology, and many pilots appreciate the increased safety and ease of this new communication technology.

Safety Features

Some safety features, now available in small aircraft, were previously only available for commercial aviation. Smaller planes now have terrain awareness, helping pilots avoid impacts with the ground. Traffic collision avoidance systems monitor the airspace around an aircraft for other aircraft that equip an active transponder without the help of air traffic controllers. Experienced shops can upgrade older aircraft with these safety features and ensure a smoother ride for future flights.

Will Your Aircraft’s Resale Value Increase With New Avionics Equipment?

There are dozens of avionics upgrades that can upgrade your flight experience – but do they add to your aircraft’s resale value? Not necessarily. Upgrades can quickly get expensive. With parts and labor shortages, upgrades are more expensive than ever.

Additionally, technology is constantly changing. You might install a new upgrade only for the next best technology to come out a year later. It’s challenging to stay on top of changing technology, and your new upgrade can become outdated fast.

Our advice? If you plan on keeping your plane, go ahead and make the upgrades that catch your eye. Choose the upgrades you want to see on your aircraft and make your own flying experience more enjoyable. If you’re happy with your current aircraft, we suggest avoiding unnecessary upgrades. You more than likely won’t see a return on your investment. Besides, your future buyer might not care about any changes you make. If they’re really interested in a particular feature, they will upgrade the plane themselves.

If you are interested in upgrading your plane, you can do several things to best impact your resale price. Look up what equipment is currently in use at the most popular flight schools in the country. If flight schools, like Embry Riddle, are training with certain avionics upgrades, you can add them to your plane. New pilots graduating and looking to purchase their aircraft will like an aircraft with familiar features. Similar upgrades will allow these young pilots to transition and easily make your aircraft more desirable.

VREF Online Is Aviation’s Most Trusted Valuation Guide

Upgrading your aircraft is an exciting opportunity to breathe new life into an old aircraft. But, you should only upgrade if you’re looking to improve your own flight experience.

If you want to attract the highest bidders for your aircraft, take your first steps with VREF Online. VREF is a trusted resource in the aviation industry and has provided accurate valuation services since 1994. Contact us today to get started and learn what your aircraft is worth.