Buying and selling used avionics sounds simple enough but there's a world of detail that can make or break a deal. Here are a few things you should know about conditions.
Know Your Conditions
The aviation industry has adopted a number of terms, codes and phrases to identify the condition of avionics, instrumentation and parts of aircraft. It's important to be familiar with these terms when buying or selling avionics. You may have seen these two-three letter identifiers in the descriptions of avionics listings across the internet. Among these are SV (Serviceable), AR (As Removed), OH (Overhauled), NE (New), NOS (New, Old Stock), NIB (New In Box) We'll also touch on yellow tags, green tags, red tags and 8130's.
Let's get familiar with these terms.
SV: "Serviceable" means that an item has been tested (often by an avionics technician, A&P, or IA and deemed to be in good working condition. This doesn't necessarily mean that every function has been thoroughly tested but is a good sign that the part will function as expected.
AR: "As Removed" parts are just as the title says. They may or may not be in working condition. This often means that the technician didn't take the time to test it before removing it from the aircraft. These usually won't include any traceability information. Be careful purchasing parts with this description unless buying from a credible source that will offer a warranty. If no warranty is offered, be aware that you may have just thrown those funds down the drain. Sometimes this can be worth it, if the price is right. It's always worth doing a thorough operational check on any "as removed" part before putting it back in service.
OH: "Overhauled" parts are often as good as new or at least the next best thing. An item may not be described as "overhauled" unless it has been disassembled, cleaned and any items requiring repair or replacement have been done according the the manufacturer's specifications. This work is done by the part's manufacturer or an FAA certified repair station. These will often be accompanied by an 8130-3 form. (See below for details on that.)
NE: "New" items are typically sold directly through a dealer. These items are almost always sold with a manufacture's warranty.
NOS and NIB: These items are often sold through a dealer but you'll also see aircraft owners or resale companies selling these items online. They could have been purchased through a dealer by an aircraft owner that decided to go a different direction and wants to make some of their money back. They could be sold from a dealer's overstock in order to clear some shelf space. You'll typically see these items going for 15-25% less than retail price.
Removed in working condition: While this isn't a "code", it is a phrase that's often used for an item that was pulled without any squawks. These items haven't been thoroughly tested to confirm every function but are often a safe buy, if purchased through a trusted seller and accompanied by a warranty. Typically, these items are removed by a shop that doesn't have the capability to test their functions. These may be lower valued items that aren't worth sending off for a fresh bench check that could cost as much as the part itself or they could be unpopular items that could take a while to find the right buyer. The seller may choose not to pay the funds for a bench test ($150-$180) when the item could sit on a shelf for months at a time.
Tag, You're It!
You've probably heard the term "yellow tag" and "red tag" but do you know what they actually mean? The color tagging system is a bit of a gray area in the aviation industry. To the FAA, it doesn't mean much but to aviation shops across the country, it's a useful tool to quickly keep track of the multitude of parts that make their way through a shop.
A yellow tag is used in the US to mark a part as airworthy or "serviceable". This means that to their knowledge, there were no known issues with the unit when it was removed from the aircraft. This is typically confirmed by an operational check before the item is pulled.
A red tag is used to mark a part that is not in working condition or non-airworthy. Sometimes these parts can be repaired but often the cost of repair is not worth it. So, these items are sentenced to life as boat anchors and shelf ornaments. There are also a few people that repurpose these into amazing pieces of art that make great gifts for your pilot friends. See https://redtagart.com/shop
Green tags are the most confusing of all. Their "official" purpose is to show that a removed part is in need of repair. However, we've seen many shops use them as identification tags, instead. While green "as removed" tags are better than an AR item without any traceability, they aren't the best option if you plan to resell an item. Many shops aren't thinking of reselling when removing items for an upgrade. The extra hour or so that it takes to run a part through the motions before removal and give it a yellow tag, is very much worth it when reselling. Side note: In Canada, green tags are used to mark an item as serviceable. The confusion continues, eh?
Finally, 8130's are the best option when it comes to buying and selling avionics. An 8130-3 is an FAA approved document which states that an item operates in accordance to the manufacturer's specifications. In other words, it's operating as good as new, or at least within the limitations that the manufacturer set. These must be issued by the manufacturer or by an FAA Certified Repair Station that has the capability to test or repair these items. Buy and sell an item with an 8130-3 with confidence. The only caveat here is that these forms (as well as the tags above) have no real expiration date. An item with a 10 year old 8130, isn't necessarily still in the same condition as it was when the form was issued. As a general rule of thumb, we like to see 8130's that are two years old or newer. Anything older than that is worth sending out for a fresh bench check. As with anything, this rule is dependent on a number of things. Was the item put back in service and then removed again? If not, was it properly stored or was it left exposed to the elements?
I hope this helps you with buying or selling used avionics. When you know better, you do better and there's always more to learn!
President, Skyman Avionics