For aircraft technicians and engineers, airplanes are finely crafted machines. But to passengers, airplanes are interior spaces; long tubes lined with composites, fabrics, and plastics that whisk them from one destination to another.
It is a rule of thumb that the better-appointed the ‘airframe interior’ — for that is what the tube actually is — the more enjoyable the flight experience for passengers. Outfit the cabin with quality leathers, wood veneers, and other materials that passengers associate with luxurious surroundings, and the airframe interior becomes something special. Add flat panel HDTVs, Internet connectivity, and a host of other cutting-edge tech features, and the airframe interior becomes a centerpiece that reflects well on the aircraft’s owner/operator. Whether this respect is for respect’s sake alone or to favorably influence potential customers that the owner/operator has sent aloft doesn’t matter. What counts is that the airframe interior impresses all who travel in it.
Making this happen is the task of companies such as, Duncan Aviation in Lincoln, NB; Elliott Aviation in Moline, IL; Midcoast Aviation in St. Louis; and Savannah Air Center in Savannah, GA. All four firms specialize in the design and outfitting of business airframe interiors, either by renovating existing fittings or replacing them outright in line with customized cabin plans.
“The airframe interior design and decoration process begins when people contact us through our website or give us a call,” says Meghan Welch, Elliott Aviation’s interior designer. “We then sit down with them on a conference call and find out what they want to do inside their aircraft. We discuss their budget, because an airframe interior redo can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million depending on the complexity and materials used. We then work out a schedule and start drawing up plans based on their input.”
“During this initial stage, the design team starts compiling paint and material suggestions for the project,” says Suzanne Hawes, Duncan Aviation’s completion sales representative for Citation and Hawker airframes. “We work with natural materials such as wood and wool, because these materials tend to be more fire-retardant. We also like to use leather for the seating, and ultra-leather for the headers and window treatments.”
At the same time, the design team selects proposed electronics to meet the customer’s stated desires; items such as flat panel HDTVs, DVD players, satellite TV, audio systems, speakers, and LED lighting. Computer and telecommunications upgrades are mapped out at this point as well.
“We’ve noticed that clients are seeking a working office environment in their aircraft cabins,” says Rodger Renaud, senior vice president green completions for Midcoast. “They want high-speed data, BlackBerry connectivity, and phone systems that allow their flight time to be productive time.”
Once the entire concept has been drawn up, it is time to take it to the customer for their approval. This can happen in person or over the phone. In addition, Elliott Aviation uses a program called EnVision (samples of which can be seen on its website) to illustrate how the changes will look inside the airframe interior from a variety of perspectives.
The Midcoast and Savannah Air Center design teams travel the world to meet with customers and review the aircraft specification in detail. Fabric boards, 3-D renderings of the interior and exterior, and detailed drawings are discussed with the customer. “It is critical to get all approvals as quickly as possible to maintain the aircraft’s delivery schedules,” says Renaud. “The earlier we get approvals, the earlier we can start engineering and manufacturing. Cabinetry fabrication, for example, often begins before the aircraft even arrives at our facilities.”