“After all of the specifications have been approved by the client, it is time to do the actual work,” says Hawes. “The aircraft is brought into the shop; often not just for interior work, but also a new paint job, avionics upgrade, and engine maintenance. After all, doing all these things at once reduces aircraft downtime, which is in the customer’s best interest.”
In all cases, trained airframe interior technicians start by stripping the interior of the airframe down to bare metal. They remove the seats, cabinetry, headers, and anything else that might be in place.
What happens to these components depends on the client’s plans and budget. In some instances, the existing fittings may simply be recovered and resurfaced, then placed back in their original locations. In other instances, they may be disposed of in favor of entirely new and more expensive fittings. This is why traditional cabinetmakers are prized by airframe interior decorators; both for their skills at creating new furniture pieces and re-veneering existing cabinetry.
This isn’t all: “About 40 percent of all airframe interior jobs see some form of new construction inside,” says George Bajo, Duncan Aviation’s completion sales representative for Gulfstream and Challenger aircraft. “It can be something small like a simple cabinet, or large like a brand new galley. That’s the beauty of an empty airframe interior: You can reconfigure the space to create whatever feel the customer is looking for.” Rewiring is also done at this stage, both for power and data transfer inside the aircraft.
Once any required construction is completed, the reinstallation begins. In goes the refinished and/or replaced headers, the 100 percent wool carpets, and the leather chairs. Flat panel TVs are plugged in, along with the rest of the entertainment/communications system. Final components are added to the galley and lavatories; final finishing is done to the cabinetry and other expensive fittings. Overall, this process can take anywhere from eight to 12 weeks; more if the customer decides to change things once it is underway.
Anyone who has flown in a custom-appointed airframe interior knows how spectacular the experience can be. If commercial airliners are ‘air buses’, then custom-appointed business jets are the limousines of the sky. The difference between the two experiences is just that great.
This said, finished airframe interiors can vary widely from each other as well. Although the norm is a mix of expensive wood veneers, subdued fabrics, and deep leather chairs that alternatively support you and swallow you up, there are exceptions that stand out from the crowd. For instance, “One client we had owns a 1950s-vintage Grumman Gulfstream G1 twin turboprop,” says Matt Richardson, Duncan Aviation’s completion sales representative for Falcon and Learjet airframes. “They redid the interior in a retro ‘50s style, with lots of purples, greens, and other colors that accurately reflected the G1’s heritage.
It was different, but quite stunning!”
“We notice the cultural influence of our clients on their aircraft interiors,” says Midcoast’s Renaud. “Our European customers choose materials that tend to be more vivid. A recent European client selected a bright blue leather for their seats. The finished product looked great.”
One thing is certain: Airframe interiors will continue to be the blank canvases upon which imaginative clients paint their visions of what luxurious air travel should be. From an aviation business standpoint, this is the beauty of airframe interior design and decoration: Virtually anything is possible when the client is willing to spend $1 million or more to make it happen!