Air Transport World

Cutting the 727's front-end costs; the 727 is the last narrowbody in extensive use with a three-member cockpit; here's how that can be rectified.

Cutting the 727's front-end costs

The enormous Boeing 727 fleet in airline service should have a lot of life left in it. Indeed, the very first 727-100 still is earning money for United Airlines, 23 years after its delivery. However, many believe the structural life of the airplane now far exceeds its economic life.

Two sets of threes are at the root of the 727's lack of economic longevity--three relatively noisy and thirsty engines and three costly flight deck crew members. The last expense goes beyond the immediate cost of crewing the airplane to include recent airline problems finding sufficient experienced pilots. Many of the pilots already on airlines' rolls are not manipulating the control yoke, but rather are monitoring oil pressures and transferring fuel tankage as second officers on 727s.

Two solutions

A solution to this particular waste of human resources is being offered by two companies who will take your 727 and in a few short weeks convert the front end into a room for two with a view. Both programs were announced at this year's Paris air show.

Page Avjet of Orlando, teamed with Kollsman, the instrument and systems manufacturer, say they will gain FAA approval in June to modify 727s to a two-pilot aircraft for around $1.5 million. The mod will be available through Page Avjet and a number of licensed modification centers outside the U.S., or as a kit for airlines to do it themselves, a route many potential customers appear to favor. Page Avjet is doing the engineering, Kollsman is building the electronics.

Valsan Partners, with offices in New York, Connecticut and Washington, also offers a two-pilot modification, expecting FAA approval by the end of 1988. Valsan was established last year to offer airlines an engine conversion that would quiet the 727 enough to allow it to qualify as an FAA Stage 3/ICAO Chapter III aircraft, picking up performance and a 12% fuel economy improvement along the way. Valsan cites increasing pressure to eliminate or sharply curtail Stage 2 aircraft.

Recently Valsan decided to offer a two-pilot conversion to customers getting the engine modification. Cost of the engine change is around $8.6 million; addition of the two-crew change would add an estimated $950,000. Valsan also plans to offer a 180-in. stretch of the aircraft for about $2.5 million and winglets--as yet unpriced--as two separate modification programs.

But what sounds like a good idea with a short payback period has its doubters predicting little demand for these modifications. Problems noted include crew retraining and simulator modifications, doubts about the validity of the quoted prices and questions about investment in an asset of declining value. Boeing has provided no support for either project, each having the potential to delay airlines' purchase of new aircraft. …

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