Keep it looking like a million bucks
By Joe Escobar
Although it may seem like a mundane job, taking care of the interior of an aircraft is an important task. To some mechanics, an aircraft interior can seem like a nuisance - something that just gets in the way and has to be removed to get to maintenance areas. But to the business people that use the aircraft, it is like a flying office. And while their land-based offices are usually maintained by a professional cleaning service, most times mechanics are in charge of the upkeep of the aircraft interior. Hundreds of thousands of dollars can be spent on a corporate or private aircraft interior, and mistreating it can quickly devalue that expensive investment. In this article we will look at some things to consider when maintaining interiors.
Making the right choice
Picking a user-friendly interior to begin with is probably the most important factor of all when it comes to interior upkeep. Many times the owner may have a specific design concept in mind, but may come to you for specific recommendations. It is crucial to give as much informed input into the interior selection as you possibly can. Do your homework and learn about the different systems and products out there. When possible, make choices on products and materials that will be maintenance friendly. As Mike Grecko, director of modifications for Stevens Aviation, says, "Anytime someone picks out an interior, I try to sway them to products that will be easy to maintain and try to dissuade them from anything that is going to be a maintenance nightmare."
Another thing to consider is accessibility to maintenance areas. Remember that having to remove and re-install headliners and sidewalls to get to maintenance items behind them can not only be time consuming, but can cause damage to those items each time they are removed. A design that takes access to maintenance items into consideration will make your job easier and keep that expensive interior looking newer longer. Keep in mind that the interior never looks better than the day it is finished. From there, it's all downhill.
Carpets are also an important choice. With a lot of traffic in and out of the aircraft, the carpet can take a beating. Also keep in mind that the traffic inside an airplane is concentrated in a small area. It gets worn and dirty a whole lot quicker than say a carpet would in a corporate boardroom where the traffic is spread out over a larger area.
"As far as carpet goes," Grecko adds "you want to pick out a carpet that not only repels dirt and makes it easy to clean, but also hides it. A speckle type of carpet will hide dirt a lot better than a solid color. With a solid color, every piece of dirt and lint will stick out."
Remember to plan interior well ahead of time. Material selection should take place at least six months in advance to ensure product availability.
Look to the manufacturer
Before we start talking about basic interior upkeep, an important thing to remember is to always refer to the manufacturers' instructions for cleaning and stain removal. What you think may be a harmless product could cause irreversible damage to the material you are trying to clean. Most interior shops provide maintenance tips and recommend products when they deliver the aircraft. If in doubt as to compatibility, contact the manufacturer or the shop that installed the interior for guidance.
Keep it clean
If interior choice is the most important factor in having a good looking aircraft, then keeping it clean is the second most crucial aspect of interior longevity. This doesn't just make it look nice, but it adds to its life. In fact, the proper cleaning of aircraft interiors is so important that a whole industry has arisen to help support this need. There are numerous companies like Wichita, KS, based Appearance Group, Inc. that specialize in aircraft cleaning. Not only do they offer scheduled cleaning services, but their experts know the tricks of the trade to help remove some of those stubborn stains that you may encounter. It may well be worth the money to hire a professional cleaning company to detail your aircraft on a regular basis. After all, delayed cleanings to an aircraft's interior can quickly accelerate the calendar date for an interior refurbishment.
As touched on earlier, interior carpets can take a beating. With so much traffic in a concentrated area, cleanliness is imperative. Matt Henry, president of Appearance Group, shared the importance of keeping the carpets clean. "Keeping a carpet clean while in maintenance can be a real trick. Preventive measures that should be taken include wearing interior booties over the mechanic's shoes while inside the aircraft along with some type of protective runner for the center isle carpet of the cabin. Carpets, more than any other aspect of an aircraft's interior require constant attention. Frequent vacuuming can be one of the biggest safeguards in keeping a carpet clean for the simple reason that dirt and debris left on the carpet become ground in to the fibers of the carpet and break them down."
If spots or stains appear on your carpet, the key to successful removal is prompt attention. "The biggest key to stain removal," Henry says, "is giving the stain immediate attention before it has the opportunity to set into the carpet. The highest concentration of stains can be found in three areas; the entryway, the galley and the lavatory."
Carpet or upholstery treatment
Treating your upholstery or carpets can help extend their life and aid maintenance by repelling dirt and moisture. If you're thinking about treatment take flammability and fabric compatibility into consideration. Although there are some fine commercial products that may work well for a car or home, they may not be acceptable for use on an aircraft's interior.
Grecko discussed some issues with treatment: "If a customer desires a treatment, for instance on carpet, we have the carpet manufacturer perform that treatment before we get it. You have to be careful with doing aftermarket treatment. Some products are very good, but if you get any moisture in them, it'll turn orange. And you can ruin the color of your carpet. And commercial products can affect the flammability. That's why we get it done ahead of time. So when the carpet comes in, it meets all FAA regulations."
That may work for the initial treatment, but the treatment will probably need to be reapplied, especially if the carpet is shampooed frequently. Again, it is important to go back to the manufacturer's recommendations on frequency and what product to use. If you use what the manufacturer recommends, you can't go wrong. You don't stand the chance of discoloring or ruining the carpet.
Henry shared some insight on fabric protection: "If there is one overriding problem with taking care of the interior of the aircraft, it is keeping the inevitable stains, ink marks, and spots from destroying the overall appearance of the whole interior. The question is, 'What product do I use?' While a layperson might consider a soil-guard product because it has multiple applications for household use, in aviation the demands are much more stringent. The most critical aspect of any fabric protection applied to the aircraft interior is whether or not it changes the burn characteristics of the interior material when tested to the specifications of FAR 25.853b. Another important aspect is whether or not the fabric protection contains silicones. Silicones often act as an agent to attract and hold dirt on the fabric threads."
As with carpet and fabric upholstery, properly cleaning and caring for leather can help ensure its longevity. "You should stay away from chemicals," Grecko says. "You have to be very careful with that because it could affect the dyes in the leather. You should use the leather care products that are recommended by the leather manufacturer. They will recommend a good product for their leather that acts both as a cleaner and preservative - something that gives life back to the leather."
On removing stains from leather, Henry adds: "When faced with a difficult spot on the upholstery (i.e. ink mark, grease, etc.), one must resist the temptation to use the strongest cleaning agent available. An approved leather cleaner applied with a soft applicator should be all that is used. Great care must be taken when working with these leathers because overaggressive products and technique can result in the discoloration of leathers and the reduction in flame-retardency capability. Solvents and like chemicals should be avoided when cleaning leather upholstery for that reason."
In the end, the bottom line is cleanliness. Whether it's seats, carpets, or accessories like gold-plated seat belts and trim, keeping all of the components in the interior clean will prolong their life. In addition, be sure to use products that the manufacturer recommends. What may appear to be a harmless cleaner could be deteriorating the fabric or even worse, adversely affecting its burn characteristics.
Top five tips for interior refurbishment
1. Plastic. Depending on aircraft, there are a lot of pre-formed plastic items on the interior that may need to be replaced. They tend to become brittle and warp over time. We recommend covering the replacement plastic items with carpet rather than painting them. That seems to let them hold up a lot better and if they crack they are not as noticeable.
2. Carpet. Be very careful when choosing this important interior component. You can't put cheap carpet in airplanes. Stick to carpets with at least 85 weight count. Lighter weight counts will pill easier and wear out faster. In addition, be careful with color selection.
3. Lighting. If your aircraft is in for interior refurbishment, you may want to consider changing the older incandescent and fluorescent lights in it to newer lighting systems such as LED. This can save money and headaches in the long run.
4. Accessibility to maintenance areas. Make sure you have easy access to maintenance areas. Consider access doors if possible. Be aware of the emergency exit area. You are limited to what you can put in that area. You can't impede the emergency exit area.
5. Cabinet choices. Laminate and veneer cabinets each have different maintenance considerations. Take that into account when making your cabinet selection.
- Mike Grecko, Stevens Aviation
FAA Advisory Circular 23-2