Tips For Refurbishment
A keen understanding of the market and your choices can help keep you on schedule
By Greg Napert
If you work for a corporate operator, chances are pretty good that at one time or another, you will be involved in a refurbishment project for your corporate aircraft.
Some maintenance departments prefer to take a hands-off approach to the refurb; however, knowing how and when to get involved in the project and knowing what is available in the marketplace can make you a hero. Everything from preparing records in advance, to helping expedite decisions regarding the configuration of the interior can speed the refurb project and reduce downtime. Further, your decisions can help impact the repairability of the aircraft when it's completed — something that will affect you for years to come.
State of the refurb industry
Several important changes in the refurbishment and completions marketplace have dramatically affected the approach to getting your company's aircraft refurbished or completed.
A great deal of consolidation in the industry, as well as the purchase of several completion centers by aircraft manufacturers, and a significant backlog due to a prosperous economy means that a bit more shopping may be necessary before you can find what you want in terms of interior selection and scheduling.
But options, to include pre-configured, pre-approved interiors (see Page 79), as well as new facilities that cater to custom interiors are still available. One of the most recent entries into the custom refurb market is McKinney Aerospace in McKinney, TX.
Dean Murray, VP Sales and Marketing for McKinney Aerospace says, "The rise in fractional share ownership programs and large corporate jets such as the Gulfstream V, Global Express, and Boeing Business Jet have created a bigger market for the larger jets. This eliminates choices for the corporate jet operator who is looking for the requisite amount of experience on his refurbishment project."
He continues, "It seems that the refurb market is becoming the customized product provider. The OEMs, for the most part, have really gone with a business model where they want to only offer two or three floor plans, but the refurb business offers an infinite number of configurations. This is a business where we cater to the high-end customer that wants that customization."
Facilitate a team approach
As director or chief of maintenance, one of the biggest impacts that you can have on your refurbishment project is to bring together all the individuals that will be involved in the project (owner, CEO, chief pilot, chief of maintenance, etc.) at the beginning of the project so you don't have someone changing things at the end of the project. Questions you need to ask include what your thought process is on your passenger load and your typical trip.
Murray says, "It sounds ridiculous, but there are some operations that don't even bring in the principal of the company until the completion of the project is a couple of weeks away. Then, they're surprised that the principal wants changes to the interior.
"So our first recommendation is to pull together all parties and ask the practical questions. Bring these individuals together in a conference with the facility that is going to do the refurb to make sure you're all reading from the same page. This is also a good time to pull together a wish list of things that you want to put on the aircraft for all parties involved."
Murray explains that this is an ideal time for maintenance to have input because they are the people who will be maintaining the equipment. "Any time that you can have an equal playing field where people can speak candidly, you can eliminate many of the problems that you will have up front. Unfortunately, there may be personalities that are strong that drive things one way or the other, but you have your best chance of making everyone happy at the end of the project if you try to sit everyone down for an initial meeting," he says.
Creating a specification sheet will help compare apples to apples
While you have everyone together, it's a good time to develop a specific list of what will be done to the aircraft during the project. Murray explains, "One of the inherent problems that we have to live with on the refurb side is inequities in the bidding process. Particularly, you can be at a disadvantage if you don't have all of the information and the customer is not asking for the same thing from each refurb center. Or conversely, the refurbishment centers are not offering exactly the same thing in their bid."
Also, be sure to accurately represent the condition of the aircraft and allow for unexpected repairs. A lot of times what will happen is that the information that is provided doesn't represent what's actually on the airplane, and that throws a wrench into the equation.
"In a perfect world, someone would build a very specific bid package and then all of the operators would bid on that specific package," Murray says.
Put your ducks in a row
David Kitchings, corporate strategist for McKinney says that the next most important thing that maintenance should do before they take their airplane to a refurb center is to have all of their paperwork and maintenance records together for the inspection department.
"They need to have electrical plans along with any changes since they purchased the airplane and back to new or completion if they can. These plans will provide electrical load analysis and schematics that are needed. Also, all flight logs, listing of avionics equipment in the aircraft, and even items that were removed from the aircraft - anything that an engineering firm or engineering department would need to satisfy the FAA during the completion process," he says.
Absence of these items will mean higher costs for the refurbishment project. It makes it difficult for the refurb center to complete a project when they have to go back to the OEM and spend time researching records. "We have even had instances where we've had to have an engineering team come in and create new electrical load analysis or schematics. This can add substantially to time and cost."
Murray adds, "We've also had aircraft in here where it's been three weeks before we can get the electrical prints. That will put us behind schedule from the start."
Plan necessary maintenance
If you have any inclination at all that you are going to do maintenance work or inspections or bulletins or paint, or anything outside of the refurb workscope while the aircraft is down, let that refurb center know so that everyone can coordinate that project.
Arrange an extended visit toward the end
Finally, Murray says, "We like to encourage the participation of the chief of maintenance for the operator as much as possible, but it's not necessary to babysit the aircraft during the entire job. Instead, we recommend they come in occasionally during the refurb so they can answer important questions and get them resolved so the project keeps moving. Also, it's valuable towards the end of the project for them to see how the interior goes together so they get familiar with the location of components and power supplies, etc., that may be hidden by interior materials or cabinetry. This can be very educational and help them a great deal so they know how to remove and install components or how to access power supplies and such."
This last three to four weeks should be considered a "training session" that is invaluable for the maintenance crew. Murray says it's also useful to take photos, for future reference, of key access areas and key components.
"Communication is really the key point," he says, "and we try to provide tools such as flow charts and production schedules to let our customers know when things are happening and when we expect things from them."
A new concept in completions
The kit-built interior
In the last couple of years, a new concept has emerged in interior completions. The concept is a pre-manufactured kit that is ready to install.
Two examples of these kits that are available are from Nordam in Tulsa, OK, and B/E Aerospace in Miami, FL.
Both Nordam and B/E use a mock-up or "jig" into which the interiors are assembled and precisely fit prior to even touching the aircraft.
Nordam provides these kits only to specific manufacturers at this time, but B/E has taken a different approach and has pre-approved the kit for installation in the refurbishment marketplace.
The major advantage of the kits are the significant reduction in downtime for the operator in the case of refurbishment and higher production rates for manufacturers and completion centers — a very attractive concept that helps the manufacturers reduce backlog and sell more aircraft.
One of the disadvantages, of course, is that the operator is somewhat limited in their configuration of the interior. Changes to the layout of the interior are not allowed as this would require re-approval of the interior, which defeats the purpose of the kit.
However, the kit concept does allow the flexibility to select a wide variety of fabrics, materials and finishes of the customer's choosing, so long as the configuration of the interior remains the same.
Interior suppliers put it all together
According to Simon Kay, director of re-completion for B/E Aerospace, the company has been in the business of providing interior products such as seating, lighting, and furnishings for aircraft interiors for the last 12 years. In the Fall of 1998, B/E decided that, since it was offering all of the products needed to complete Canadair Challenger Series interiors (galleys, seating, cabinets, lighting, etc.), it could assemble all of these products and provide a complete STC'd package to refurbishment centers. In March of 1999, B/E launched the program and announced it at the 1999 NBAA convention later that year. The company is now ready to offer interior kits to completion centers.
The actual physical assembly of the interior is done in Miami at B/E's AMP facility, and that's where they also build the cabinets and seats. The kit doesn't include the cockpit or the liner panels in the baggage compartment.
B/E allows for varying tolerances from airframe to airframe by incorporating special adjustable fasteners and isolators. The only other area of concern for fit is in the windows. The window shade system B/E uses has an adjustable back so you can align the back on the physical window of the airplane. You would almost never see a tolerance difference greater than 1/4-inch, and there is adjustment capability well in excess of this for adjustment.
The only items in the interior that are not manufactured by B/E are the electronic cabin management system and entertainment system which are provided by IEC International in England (formerly Hunting Avionics).
Kay says, "The electrical system is actually very advanced. It is a computer-based digital databus system. The cabin management and entertainment system all run off this digital databus, which is an RS485 bus. All of the components are looped to this bus, and all we need to do is basically run power and ground to the bus. It's all controlled by programmable touch-screen panels (LCD and Monitor style). The simplicity of the electrical system means that we have one fourth or a fifth of a conventional completion set of wiring in there. It's more reliable and saves weight."
Kay explains that the kit comes as a completely pre-built package with attach bracketry, wiring harnesses, plumbing, oxygen system, and everything that's necessary to interface the interior package into the airplane. It is then removed from the jig component by component, crated, and shipped.
"We not only assemble the entire kit, our fixture is designed to be used as a fitting tool and is wired for power and basically, the entire electrical system for the aircraft will be pre-tested and pre-run in the fixture. All the harnesses will be checked, all the components will be checked, and everything will be working. Prior to delivery, the customer and/or the completion installer will be encouraged to come and inspect the interior in the jig to be sure that it meets their expectations. You will actually get to sit in it and turn on the equipment and use the galley equipment to be sure you are satisfied with it."
In the case of the Challenger, B/E has developed four floor plans and three different levels of equipment and trim — so there's a matrix of 12 choices. However, the beauty is that all of these choices are encompassed within one STC. So, the refurb center doesn't have to have any of these choices re-approved or re-certified.
"Our basic trim package is actually quite luxurious with leather chairs and a veneer; however, the veneers are more simple with a straight grain and countertops are Corian®. At the high end are the burls, the fancy inlaid marble countertops, and calveskin leathers and those kinds of exotic items."
Right now, B/E is promising a 14-week lead time for a finished interior kit. This gives the customer time to select the colors, quality of leather, veneer, etc. These selections are available within the pricing matrix. "We basically give the customer a price range for finish materials and they can stay within that range or exceed it at their own expense. In terms of finishing materials, we can pretty much use anything that the customer wants without affecting the STC."
Kay continues, "We are going to have pretty much all of the components ready for assembly during that 14-week time. The interior will be in the jig approximately 8 weeks. Six weeks is the lead time for ordering materials, building cabinets and seats and so-forth."
Kay says that the owner of the aircraft can realize significant savings and come out with a very nice looking interior.
"Principally, the way it works out is the actual package costs a bit more than if you did a low-end custom refurb and replaced everything in the interior. However, when you calculate the savings resulting from the reduction of downtime (only 6 weeks is needed for installation on a Challenger versus 18 to 24 weeks in a custom shop) you will find that you realize significant savings. Additionally, the lead time will be longer with a custom shop. Lead time can be up to 16 weeks for a custom job, where it is 14 weeks for our kit. We have figured that we can save the operator of the aircraft 20 to 30 percent on costs and the refurb is performed at a third of the downtime or less.
"For the completion center, they can simply turn more interiors through their shop and increase their profits. They can do four in the same amount of time that they could do one - and they don't need a full completion crew of 23 or 24 people!" Instead, they can perform the installation with 12 people. The margins aren't as great for each job, but they improve with the number of them they do."
"Probably the biggest factor," says Murray, "is the completion center significantly reduces their risk. If anything in the interior breaks, it's covered under B/E's warranty."
Managing a Successful Refurbishment Project
A successful refurbishment project requires:
• Pursuing the highest regulatory compliance
• Managing the project during the job
A successful refurbishment project requires planning in the beginning. Many potential problems can be avoided by answering as many questions as possible in the beginning of the job. The Chief of Maintenance must build consensus internally and with the refurbishment center. This consists of:
• Clearly defining the budget
• Clearly defining the work scope
• Clearly defining the available timeframe
Corporate operators must be realistic in the amount of money that will be required for a high-quality interior refurbishment. Talking with other corporate operators who have just completed refurbishment projects, as well as getting bids from refurbishment centers, can establish a benchmark. Further, make sure the refurbishment centers are addressing all the issues and using the same pricing parameters. You do not want to be lured in with a low bid that will be increased later because of extra charges. The project budget should also include funds for change orders during the job. Used aircraft will have hidden damage that should be repaired during the refurbishment project. Also, as the design plans become a reality, there will be changes that require extra funds.
The work scope must also be clearly defined. This first requires internal consensus in the organization. As many maintenance managers know, it is very common for differing opinions to emerge as to how a corporate interior should be refurbished; however, once the job is priced, a clear and concise work scope must emerge. Then, this work scope must be articulated to the refurbishment center. Issues that must be addressed include:
• Overall design scheme,
• Price ranges for materials such as fabrics, entertainment equipment and appliances
• Modifications to floor plans or furniture that will be required
• The entertainment system that is desired
• Work besides the interior refurbishment that will be accomplished, such as avionics, paint and maintenance
If these issues are not addressed at the beginning of the job, then you are setting yourself up for increased charges later in the job. Further, if the complete work scope is not articulated in the beginning, the time frame for the job may be affected because rework will be required. Also, if you intend to have work completed in addition to the interior refurbishment, this must be communicated so the refurbishment center can coordinate with other departments or vendors. During this stage of the project, consensus building is an important skill for the corporate operator to use.
Finally, during the planning stage, the time frame for the project must be clearly defined. Do not force the time schedule as this will only result in rushed work that will disappoint everyone involved. Interior refurbishment projects take time. Determine a realistic time frame and then have the refurbishment center commit to that timeframe. Do not schedule a trip for the airplane within a week of the original delivery date. One of the nuances of corporate jet refurbishment projects is the unknown. Something may be found during the project that will have the potential to delay the project. Also, make sure the refurbishment center has scheduled a cold soak test flight and included time after the FAA visit and test flight to repair squawks prior to delivery. This should typically take three days.
Pursue the highest regulatory compliance
In today's market of intense regulatory compliance and inconsistencies in the implementation of FAA regulations, the corporate operator must choose a refurbishment center that has the highest regulatory, certification, and documentation standards. Yet, it is very common for corporate operators to choose refurbishment centers that are not an FAA-certified Repair Station. When choosing who will perform the work on your aircraft, several issues are important in future dealings with an FAA audit, aircraft inspections, or sale of the aircraft. Will the modification be performed and documented to current FAA regulations or policy? Has all testing for fireblocking and flammability requirements been met? Was the modification performed to FAA-approved data or received FAA FSDO approval? Did you receive all necessary approval documentation, logbook entries, weight/equipment list changes, engineering reports, and FAA forms 337, 8130-3 or 8110-3? A certified Repair Station will not be the cheapest route, but in the long run, it will be more economical, safer, and smarter.
Manage the project during the job
You can help the refurbishment center deliver you the highest quality product within a reasonable time frame by doing the following:
• Request a delivery schedule at the beginning of the job and request that this schedule be updated should anything change
• Have all key milestones identified at the beginning of the job, including dates for these key milestones
• Request regular updates on the project which should be at least twice a month, possibly weekly
• Require that all change orders or additional work be submitted for a signature, but you also must be ready to address the change order quickly
• If a milestone or the schedule is not met, require that you are given the reason in writing along with an action plan and a new date,
• Visit the facility throughout the project
• Answer questions the refurbishment center has as quickly as possible
• Ask for continuous updates regarding the refurbishment centers communications with the FAA
• Have an action plan for interior maintenance and warranty after the airplane leaves the refurbishment center
Refurbishment projects are complex and difficult to manage. As such, if the corporate operator requires information and structure during the project, it will help the refurbishment center manage the project. It is also typical for a refurbishment project to end with open items. These are typically minor but do require follow-up by the refurbishment center. As such, it is important that an action plan is created for each open item with dates for the resolution of the items.