Since the Premier team dedicated such an effort to the engine and airframe, it’s no surprise that it upgraded the interior to match. If anything, the interior treatment is even more complete than the airframe or the engine. Premier’s interior shop experts take the original seats and strip them down to the bare frames and then add high-end seat foam, reshaping the bottoms and backs, resulting in a finished product that Ahles says is not only “much more comfortable” than the original equipment but also comparable, he concludes, to what you’d get “with a new Meridian.”
When it comes to the avionics package, Ahles said each owner specs out the panel to their liking, and there’s a wide range of potential combinations. Premier offers everything from a basic six-pack of steam gauges to a glass panel built around Garmin’s new 500TXi glass and GTN 750 touchscreen GPS units. In the process, the plane leaves the shop fully ADS-B compliant and with ADS-B in, as well.
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As you would expect, while the true measure of a quality rebuild is what’s under the paint, it’s that glossy finish that everyone sees.
Premier partners with nearby paint shop Ormond Beach Aviation in Ormond Beach, Florida, and as with the avionics, the customer gets to spec out the paint colors, though Premier models its paint schemes current-model PA-28. Before it gets its first coat, every Dakota is stripped to bare metal and acid washed, including all the areas around the window surrounds, door edges and access panels, all with the singular goal of being prepped so it can be painted to the highest quality. Ahles is a believer in the high quality and compares the finish with those on brand-new planes, saying that, “Twenty years from now, these airplanes will still look terrific.”
While Premier Aircraft Sales started the Premier Edition Dakota program to stimulate sales of legacy Dakotas, Ahles said that if you’re lucky enough to already own one of these exceptionally capable airplanes, Premier is ready to work with you to upgrade it to your specifications.
“Should an owner bring us their Dakota, we can do any or all of our upgrades on their aircraft,” he said. “It’s totally up to the owner’s wants and wishes.”
As for the price, again, that’s totally up to what you want done. “I’d say it’s best to start with one of our detailed annuals and go from there,” he said. “That way the owner will know what condition the aircraft is really in and determine their upgrade path.”
The Premier Dakota can carry four full-sized adults and 72 gallons of 100LL while still having enough useful load for 100 pounds of bags so, yes, the Premier Dakota maintains the model’s reputation for being a great load hauler. As far as performance is concerned, the Premier Dakota compares quite favorably to the original. Premier has done some unofficial performance checks—remember, though, that these are essentially one-off refurbishments—and got some great numbers. At 4,000 feet, the Merlyn controller delivers a five-knot cruise boost while lowering the fuel burn by a half-gallon per hour. It also helps keep critical engine temperatures down below book numbers. That goes a long way to increasing range and cutting down on fuel costs.
While Premier isn’t likely to sell dozens of like-new Dakotas a year, it seems likely to keep a steady flow of business with an airplane that’s in many ways like new while being more comfortable and even better performing than the original, an airplane that owners tended to love in the first place.