It is quite common – especially in the world of celebrities – that when someone reaches a certain age, they get a “little work done”. A little face lift, a little liposuction, a little lift here, a little tuck there, or even a hair transplant. Same goes for aircraft. The number one reason aircraft owners, airlines, and corporations make the decision to upgrade the interiors of their fleets are due to age and general wear and tear. And, once the cosmetic upgrades are complete, a younger, more vibrant, and more up-to-date aircraft remains – looking almost like new. Just like those celebs.
“We’ve experienced owners doing refurbishments primarily due to age of the interior, as well as desire to update to their current design taste,” explains Joe Bonita, managing director, Citadel Completions. “While they typically don’t operate their aircraft very often, allowing the aircraft itself to remain viable for very long periods of time, the interiors do need refreshing periodically.”
“The number one reason that owners and operators have for considering an interior refurbishment is wear and tear,” echoes Meghan Welch, director of paint and interior sales, Elliott Aviation. “Naturally, as the aircraft interior ages, it encounters wear and tear from passenger use, regular pressurization, and differentials in temperature. There are a number of items that an owner or operator can do to maximize the life of an interior, such as selecting high-quality materials during a refurbishment, regular cleaning with proper cleaning products and procedures, and stain-blocking.”
Other factors that weigh heavily on these refurbishments include the demand to stay competitive in the marketplace, the need to modernize interior systems such as in-flight entertainment, and transfer of ownership with the purchase of a used aircraft. Interior refurbishments offer a more cost-effective alternative compared to purchasing a new or used aircraft for clients seeking to update an outdated and worn aircraft interior or fleet. “The industry is experiencing a lot of used aircraft movement and customers are personalizing their newly acquired aircraft to better suit their style, character, and technology needs,” says Gordon Ross, director of interiors/regional MRO sales manager, Pentastar.
The Seven-Year Itch
A popular time-frame for customers to complete refurbishments is every seven to 10 years and the cycle is often driven by when the customer has the money to invest in its fleet. “Keeping up with the competition and what they’re doing obviously impacts decisions,” notes Grant West, vice president business development, interior products and aftermarket services, Collins Aerospace. “Or, if customers change their brand or service strategy, that will drive them to make changes.”
Oftentimes, a major refurbishment is coupled with a large maintenance check that requires the interior to be removed to accommodate the inspections associated with the check, such as a paint job or major avionics retrofit, allowing the customer to minimize downtime for an overall work-scope. This saves much labor and reduces the possibility of damage due to multiple removals of cabinetry, etc. A major maintenance event allows the customer to take advantage of some cost savings where interior removal and re-installation is done through the maintenance work scope.
“Currently in our hangar, we have an ACJ318 undergoing its six-year maintenance check and we are installing A 2KU-band connectivity system, as well. It’s a great opportunity to do both work scopes,” explains Daron Dryer, CEO, Comlux.
Sometimes personal taste fuels the change. Private jet owners will choose to update the interior when purchasing an older, used aircraft. “By refurbishing the interior, this allows the new client to better personalize the plane in their signature style, making it all their own,” says Ron Soret, vice president and general manager, AERIA Luxury Interiors. “Clients will make the determination based on the age and condition of the existing interior.”
Design a Mood Board
Each refurbishment is different, depending on the scale of work and customer preference. Some projects are simple accessory changes, while others strip the entire plane down to its raw state to complete an entirely new interior. “During the initial client meeting, we develop a concept with the customer and build from there,” notes Dryer. “After this meeting, we begin our research and design analysis work, which is a combination of both creative and logistic work. The design team pulls ideas from websites, literature, art, nature, magazines, and create a mood board to help spark inspiration for both the customer and designer.“
The customer’s design team are the primary drivers of materials chosen. However, Citadel says its designers are well-versed in VVIP interiors, and are accustomed to working either directly with customers or with their design teams. The company is finalizing its design center, which will be fully capable providing floor plans, renderings, and full-scale design packages to present to customers, as well as integrate with its engineering team upon execution. “This connectivity between design, engineering, and production are the critical links to our engineering centered approach to VVIP completions,” Bonita points out.
“We have a proprietary passenger arrangement tool that we use with our customers to help determine the best use of their cabin space,” explains West. “We work with airlines and their various design teams to find the best passenger flow, and then use some virtual reality tools to help them with their fabric selections, textures, colors, etc.” Collins Aerospace has its own Advanced Design Group of industrial designers who are experts at helping airlines make updates that best meet their branding goals. “Our engineers then balance their desired results with what can be achieved safely so updates can be certified.,” says West. “Airlines need a partner that can work with their teams to bring their aspirations to reality.”
Each customer is unique in what they want out of their interior. For example, some customers want an interior that is very practical and easy to maintain. They may want some less expensive material options such as laminate woodwork and machine-tufted carpets. Other customers may be looking to have a highly-custom, elaborate material with specialized woodwork with inlays, modifications to a floor plan, and custom carpet.
“The uniqueness of the customer is the reason that we have a design center, which includes software to help them choose an interior that they are going to love,” notes Welch. “We carry the latest samples of fabrics, leather, and woodwork to get an understanding of their preferences. Also, based on our experience delivering hundreds of airplanes, we have a large library of photos that a customer can use as a starting point. One tool we use that has helped many owners is a proprietary 3D modeling software we have called Envision. This allows us to load materials, woods, leathers, and carpets into our software system to create a photo realistic representation of what their aircraft will look like when complete.”
Pentastar has an in-house design center that makes it possible for a customer to pull their aircraft up on the ramp, enter the studio, and work one-on-one with designers. “We like to ask non-aviation questions about tastes and interests that may inspire a concept or design characteristic,” Ross says. “This has allowed us to do some great customization and design work that is truly unique to the industry.”
At West Star Aviation, they have on-site professional designers specially trained in aircraft interiors at each of its major locations. This team is brought in to work with customers once the contract has been signed, and the discussion on what they want their interior to look like begins. “We encourage the customer to come to the facility that their project will be accomplished at, sit down with the design team, and work through the process, going over each item approved and picking out each material required,” explains Debi Cunningham, vice president of marketing, West Star Aviation. “If a customer's schedule does not allow them to come to us, our design team can coordinate with the customers on their color choices and go to them with a full array of leathers, fabrics, carpets, plating, wood samples and sit with the customer at their location and at their convenience and build the interior project.”
We are living in the era of gray tones. This may seem “dull”, but it makes it very easy to incorporate smaller, inconspicuous color contrasts and get a lot out of it. Grays are so forgiving that it leaves a large palette of possibilities. “Having vendors that provide a wide array of customization to design and color also adds significantly to a customer’s selection process and we enjoy that availability with carpets, fabrics and leather suppliers,” explains Ross. “Technology is very big right now and includes anything from adjustable LED lighting to WiFi connectivity. With the technology that is currently available, we can make dramatic improvements to the passenger experience, including comfort.”
As far as seating is concerned, many airlines are working to increase passenger density onboard. Finding ways to maintain a comfortable living space for passengers while increasing the number of seats is key. Some airlines are also trying to increase the size of their premium economy cabins, as well as providing all-aisle-access, lie-flat seats for transcontinental narrow body and wide body aircraft. “In the premium cabin, we’ve worked with Qatar Airways and British Airways, amongst others, to provide privacy doors as part of their business class seating,” shares West. “As far as the cabin atmosphere is concerned, we’re seeing more requests for accent lighting to set different moods and highlight the company brand, as well as self-service areas where passengers can gather in previously underutilized spaces thanks to the addition of monuments and bars.”
Elliott Aviation has seen more customized, non-standard, interior material selections. This includes custom carpets, exotic veneers, and two-toned seats. A demand for multi-color LED interior lighting has also been a popular request. One of the company’s divisions, Elliott Technologies, produces a brand of multi-color LED lighting that can all be controlled with a mobile app, called Prizm cabin lighting. That division also produces a product of electronically dimmable window shades called Smart Vision Shades.
Seat design and finishes have changed at high speeds over the years. At West Star Aviation, custom seating was requested quite often by having the customer's car seat design, which has been everything from Bentley seat design, to the Ferrari seat design. Seat stitching is another custom piece, whether is the color-contrasting welt cords to the actual seat stitching color. As for finishes, Cunningham explains the company has seen “wood that was always a high gloss finish go toward matte finish, and leaving wood out and going to the carbon fiber look. Over the years, there have been so many custom type requests from alligator skin, to hard wood flooring, to lights that change colors, and so many things in-between; every aircraft is truly custom.”
“We find that many customers have gravitated towards cleaner lines, subtle three-dimensional textures on broader surfaces, and abstract patterns incorporated into carpets and art pieces,” Soret points out. “There is also increased demand for heavier integration of whites to evoke the appearance of a larger and brighter space. Recent requests to create aircraft interiors with a design and layout that projects a more residential and at home travel environment have come to the forefront of the latest design trends.”