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Talking To The Principal About COTS

January 2021

An aircraft-grade Espresso machine is a high dollar item with a price tag beginning near $15,000 and a lead time averaging 12 weeks.  

It almost makes you want to ask, “Why can’t I put my home espresso machine or any other off the shelf appliance in my aircraft?” The short answer is, you can. But it’s not as simple as shopping at the local appliance store and plugging it in.

In this issue of Talking To The Principal, we are discussing COTS units, how they compare to aircraft-grade units, and the advantages and disadvantages of having them installed on your aircraft.


COTS (commercial off the shelf) appliances are becoming a popular option among operators looking to refurbish their aircraft’s interior. Although they are a lower-cost alternative and more readily available than aviation-grade units, they are labor-intensive and require many extra steps, including engineering, fire testing, and load analysis, before being approved for installation.

For safety reasons, the FAA has added requirements before these units can be cleared for installation on an aircraft:

Avionics Safety: COTS units have to go through extensive ground testing procedures to identify potential electromagnetic interferences with the aircraft’s cockpit avionics.

Fire Safety: All units endure extensive burn testing to ensure they are not a fire hazard while in flight. For this reason, we require operators to purchase at least two but recommend three exact COTS units. The first unit is used for the burn test, while the second is to install, and the third kept as a spare.  Although not required, a spare is nice to have if the installed unit begins to malfunction. These tests are required again unless you can find the EXACT COTS replacement unit installed on your aircraft. For further fire-safety, custom-engineered fireboxes are required and installed to hold the COTS unit in the galley and stored behind galley doors.  

Electrical Safety: New electrical wiring and components are may be necessary when installing COTS units. These might include additional breakers, door microwave switches, power inverters, and in some cases, a new pressure transducer cut-off switch. Depending on your model aircraft, installing these new electrical components involves extensive wiring and the removal of the galley

Aircraft-Grade Appliances

Although aircraft-grade units are more expensive and have a long lead time, made worse with current pandemic conditions, they are simply plug-and-play. Designed for use on an aircraft, they come with all the necessary testing, no additional components or wiring required. They can be displayed on the galley counters and, if it ever becomes necessary, are easily swapped out for a new unit.   


The installation of aircraft-grade vs. COTS units during interior completions depends on how extensive the interior workscope is.

COTS units are becoming more popular with aircraft that are going through an interior reconfiguration. In comparison, aircraft-grade appliances are still a popular installation on aircraft having a completely new interior with custom galley installed.

Talking To The Principal Series

The principal owner of an aircraft is often not involved in the day-to-day operations of the asset. They rely on the expertise of the Director of Maintenance and flight department to make these tactical decisions.

However, they do keep a sharp eye on the bottom line and, from time to time, may want to know more to understand better the cost of maintenance and service of their aircraft.

We've developed this series to arm you with valuable information to quickly and satisfactorily address these questions.

Previous Series Topics:

November: Talking To The Principal About Safety Management Systems

December: Talking To The Principal About Cabin Management Obsolescence 

If you have topics you would like to see covered in this series, please send your suggestions to Intelligence@DuncanAviation.com


SPAIM Matt Spain Completions Sales Rep Challenger, Global Lincoln, NE (LNK) +1 402.479.4127