In an earlier question What are the barriers to feasibility of stratospheric cruising for commercial air travel? (i.e. Concorde?) it was suggested that Concorde was not properly maintained as its analogue flight deck had never been upgraded.

Concorde production ceased in 1979. Fourteen Concordes saw commercial service. By end of operation in 2003 there were nine Concordes in use.

Excluding the military, has any airline or manufacturer ever retrofitted a new design of flight deck to an existing fleet of old commercial airliners?

  • $\begingroup$ I doubt the cost would be warranted to do that, unless some safety regulation came out of the FAA but most of the time you can retrofit only the new requirement without needing a full upgrade $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2014 at 8:42

4 Answers 4


While many times an upgrade is not economical for older airplanes, sometimes the new features make it worth the cost.

Two examples I found were Southwest upgrading their 737-300 fleet, and Delta upgrading their MD-88 and MD-90 fleet. The second article also mentions American and Icelandair 757 and 767 upgrades. The Southwest and Delta upgrades involve over 100 aircraft in each case, which probably helped to make the upgrades more economical.

In both cases, a major factor mentioned was the ability to perform required navigation performance (RNP) procedures with GPS and other modern features. As the FAA works to implement the NextGen ATC system in the US, these upgrades will offer more benefits for the operators.

Also, I'd like to comment on the following statement:

Concorde was not properly maintained as its analogue flight deck had never been upgraded.

Proper maintenance and technology upgrades are not always the same thing. Aircraft with older systems can be maintained just as well as newer planes. We have airplanes that are 50 years old or older, like the DC-3, which are still flying. While technology upgrades certainly have benefits, aircraft with analog cockpits are still operating just fine around the world. They may not be the most modern machines out there, but proper maintenance is what has kept them flying this long.

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    $\begingroup$ AFAIK the main reason for both programs you mention was to create fleet commonality between older and newer variants of the same aircraft (773-300 with NG for example). $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ It's also not THAT expensive. \$200-300k per aircraft in those two examples, which isn't small change but is still only around 0.25-0.6% of the cost of a new aircraft (Based on around \$50m for an MD-90, \$100m for a 737) $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ "Proper maintenance and technology upgrades are not always the same thing" -- I think the original statement means "properly maintaining your product", as a competitive and attractive offering. As you say, very different from "properly maintaining your aircraft", that is to say stopping bits falling off. Whether a high-tech cockpit would have maintained Concorde as a product is still debatable, I suspect. It was never re-ordered, I doubt that a fancy cockpit would have changed that in the face of the other relevant factors... $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 12:57

There's also the MD-10 upgrade to the DC-10.

The MD-10 program allows operators to retrofit DC-10s with a new, advanced- technology flight deck. Benefits of the retrofit include a two-person flight deck, weight savings, increased reliability, and commonality with the MD-11 fleet.


Just adding a little more info:

FAA Certifies New B757/767 Aftermarket Flight Deck Dreamliner-Inspired Large-Format Display System Enhances Situational Awareness


  • $\begingroup$ This is what I was just about to answer with. It was a pretty significant leap - it lowered the crew from 3 (2 pilots + flight engineer) to 2, and went to a full glass cockpit. It seems like one of the best examples of this sort of work. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 22:47

There's a couple of cases I know of to hand. UPS upgraded their 727 fleet with glass cockpits, there's also an STC for a full DC9 cockpit upgrade.


Vaslan developed an STC for a two man Boeing 727 cockpit on the re-engined B727-RE. This required automation of fuel management systems, hydraulics, electricals and pneumatic systems and repositioning these to the overhead P-5 panel. The pedastal was also extended rearwards.

There are a number of VIP B727s flying with all glass EFIS cockpit panels.

Usually a cockpit redesign will feature a suite of instrument products from one manufacturer for example like Rockwell-Collins, or Smiths etc and present it as an integrated platform.

I don't know who owns the STC currently but in theory if you wanted to the conversion could be carried anywhere out through a sub-contractor.


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