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The Refurbishment Process Explained

The corporate aviation market has certainly had its ups and downs lately- but nothing quite like what we have seen in the last two years. This has forced many aviation departments and companies to make decisions they wouldn’t normally have considered doing - some as drastic as shutting down flight departments- or holding-off from the purchase and sale of aircraft due to the instability of prices.

The intent within these pages is to look at another option available to many of the above aircraft owners and operators - to keep the current aircraft and put it through a refurbishment program- giving the aircraft an extended lease of life- and the owner the satisfaction of enjoying that ‘new’ smell- secure in the knowledge that they have saved millions of dollars when compared to buying a new aircraft.

Of course- the above scenario is not the only reason to plump for a cabin refurbishment. It may very well be that you are in a position to take advantage of the current buyer’s market- you’ve found an almost ideal aircraft at a very reasonable price- and have some money left with which to match the interior to that of your dreams - thereby making your new purchase your ideal aircraft!

Aircraft for the most part age very gracefully when properly attended to. Of course having the latest and greatest technological advances installed is often hard to resist- and many owners/operators of business airplanes today enjoy the benefits of these in their cabin.

Perhaps you operate a 10-- 20- or even 30-yearold aircraft: It meets your mission profile- it gets the job done- so why not give it a new lease of life and enjoy the benefits of some of these great technological advances in your aircraft. Many of the latest advances are generally available in some form or another for retrofit and upgrade in your current aircraft (more on this in our September issue).

Another major benefit- however- to updating the cabin is that new and modern materials- furniture and equipment tends to weigh substantially less than the units they replace- and in many cases this results in additional capabilities for carrying more fuel or passengers (or a combination of both). Let’s imagine that you have reached a decision to update and refurbish your aircraft - to get that new aircraft look and smell back in your cabin. Here- we will look at the process involved in undertaking such a project- minimizing downtime and limiting potential cost overruns.

1. PLAN
I am a big fan of the KISS method - and in aviation it still applies. Begin by writing down what it is you want to accomplish in your aircraft including the acceptable budget for the project. Break-down your project into the three main areas for upgrades and updating - avionics- interior and exterior (for the purpose of this article we focus on interior).

It is generally assumed that the investment will be recouped during the resale of the aircraft- and although in many circumstances this may be the case- it is definitely not always. If you are looking for purely value enhancements then stick to the basics. Irrespective- there is plenty to consider while in the planning phase. The interior refurbishment can be a large project or a relatively small and simple project depending what you look to achieve from it.

Generally for planning purposes- it is divided into two main areas: Hard and Soft Goods. Hard goods are just that: hard items such as galleys- lavs- door- credenzas- and more. Soft goods are defined as carpets- sidewalls- seat covers- and so forth. In most cases the average refurbishment will consist of replacing soft goods such as the carpets- sidewalls- ceiling panel (or panels) and seat covers- be they leather or other. Then the woodwork can be lightly sanded and re-varnished to give that new look. In some cases the wood can be sanded and re-varnished to a darker or lighter tone according to the owners’ preference. But this should be discussed in depth with your service center because there are limitations due to the type of veneer used- previous varnish- etc.

Other hard goods to be considered are items such as monitors- DVD players- iPod docking station and communications- among others. Again many of these products are now lighter and better that the older units you may currently have in the cabin - so give them consideration.

Although the main focus of this piece is the cabin refurbishment process- we should not overlook that the aircraft fuselage should reflect the interior of the aircraft - and nothing will advertise a revamped interior better than a new paint job. Over the years- your aircraft will have flown through dirt- dust- rain- sleet and even salt if it’s based near the coast. In addition- while simply sitting on the ramp in the sun- the average paint on an aircraft will have a life-span of up to seven years. If you’ve done the work to the inside- why not top up the work package with a new eye-catching paint job? Aside from the above matters- downtime is always a major factor during a refurbishment project- so plan and give yourself and the service center plenty of time to prepare.

On average- I have found it is best to start planning a good six-to-eight months in advance- and give the service center a good head-start- because many of the units you may want installed require long-lead times to order in. This is especially true on the new technologically-advanced units installed on new aircraft- because the bulk of the vendor’s production is geared to the OEM and not necessarily to the refurbishment industry.

Generally the best time to schedule a major refurbishment is during a maintenance visit- since both the refurbishment process and maintenance inspection require that many items must be removed- inspected and replaced and they often overlap each other. You’ll find that much downtime and expense can be saved by killing the proverbial two birds with one stone.

2. PROPOSAL
Let us imagine you have decided on the new avionics you want installed- what interior items you want replaced and have also opted to top it off with that exterior paint job. You have a major inspection due in eight months time- so now is the time to put your requirements in writing.

During this stage you will outline what you want accomplished- and then submit it to various service or refurbishment centers. Don’t be afraid to request two or three proposals- even if you deal with the same center all the time. Different proposals will outline information that you will find very useful - and remember it’s their job to solicit work- so the refurbishment centers will gladly comply.

Some centers will even offer suggestions that you may not have even considered- thus saving you funds and downtime in the long-run. (Examples of this are West Star Aviation’s Falcon 50-4 MOD upgrade package which will re-engine- replace avionics with Collins ProLine and provide a cabin makeover (see the June 2010 issue for in-depth information)- and Sierra Industries’ program for the Citation 550 and S550 offers to replace the engines with Williams FJ44- cockpit panel upgrades and new interior. There are new programs always being developed so your service center will have the most upto-date information.)

You should include your maintenance issues- and ensure the proposal includes provisions for Service Bulletins and AD compliance research. Carefully review the proposal with your Flight Department and get them all involved. There are items that a pilot will miss but a flight attendant will catch- since they are the ones working in the cabin most of the time.

Or a mechanic may catch an item that requires more follow-up concerning the upgrade. The important issue here is to carefully review the proposal- because ultimately this will be the reference document and contract between the aircraft and the service center- so strictly apply diligence to this area.

3. MONITORING
Here is an item of discussion that raises many questions and much confusion. Some operators feel that service centers know their business and that there is no need to monitor them- while some are at the other-end of the scale and have their crew; maintenance people and anybody involved in the aviation department monitor the aircraft.

Yes it is true that service centers and refurbishment facilities know their business- and will usually allocate a customer service coordinator who will be the main point of contact. That person will oversee all of the other departments working on your aircraft.

Remember- though- that this is a big project - so there is nothing wrong with having someone from your team monitor the work too. The big question concerns who you send to monitor the work? The answer is pretty simple- and linked with your instinct: Whoever you feel most comfortable with - be it a flight crew member- maintenance mechanic or aviation manager or director. Remember- however- that this is something that is NOT done on a regular basis by your crew.

Don’t be afraid to hire a professional consultant- who does exactly this on a regular basis.

4. FINAL DELIVERY/ACCEPTANCE
Having navigated your way through the planning- proposal and monitoring phases of having your aircraft refurbished- the project has reached a stage of completion. You have been notified to accept the aircraft from the service center: a nerve-racking stage of the project for many operators because they don’t want to miss any issues- while also they don’t want to create any additional downtime. Will the aircraft be delivered snag- or squawk-free?

If the project was properly monitored then it should be. If there is out-standing work required- ensure it is well documented and described- and that a plan of action follows with a strict timeline from the service center. This will ensure that any additional work will be accomplished within a certain timeframe and that warranty will be covered during this period- and even extended for the particular item.

There is no reason for any aircraft operator or owner to leave a service center without being completely satisfied. The service center has a lot at stake in your aircraft- and will want you to come back some day- a satisfied customer from past experience.

DO send in your comment cards and recommendations if you are satisfied with your aircraft. A lot of people were responsible for working on your aircraft and it is important (not to mention common courtesy) that they be made aware of- and you have acknowledged- their efforts and craftsmanship.

CONCLUSION
You’ve read it in these pages plenty of times before- and you’ll read it again now: Be Diligent! Calculate the pros and cons of each item you want in your refurbishment project.

Consider the following: will I get a return on my investment; will it make my aircraft safer; more reliable; and most important- is this something I really want? If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions- then go ahead and plan.

Of course- it always is of great benefit to hire a completion consultant. The opportunity to have a fully-trained expert in the field of interiors working for- and representing the owner/operator during the interior process is essential. As we outlined above- though- the input and cooperation of the flight crew is equally important since they know the operation and what will satisfy the owner/operator.

The consultant will work with you and your crew to determine preferred upgrades and updates and help you through a potential labyrinth of issues arising out of all four of our outlined phases of the project (above).

And that leaves you to ultimately enjoy walking aboard your 10-- 20- or even 30-year-old aircraft and smelling that new plane smell - safe in the knowledge the project was planned and managed well.

The following list is by no means the only aviation service and vendor providers in the industry- but a simple list of companies that the author has worked with during the writing of this and other articles.

CABIN UPGRADES:
Banyan Air Service:
www.banyanair.com
Cessna RIGHTNOW Interiors:
www.cessna.com
Duncan Aviation:
www.duncanaviation.aero
Elliott Aviation:
www.elliottaviation.com
Hillaero Modification Center:
www.hillaero.com
Stevens Aviation:
www.stevensaviation.com
Western Aircraft:
www.westair.com
West Star Aviation:
www.weststaraviation.com

John Brodeur is an Aviation Consultant with experience in Completion Management- Interior Design- Maintenance- Sales and Acquisitions- along with being a Pilot and A&P for business aircraft. Mr. Brodeur can be contacted at Tel: +1 647-448-4748 (cell) or Email:
john@avbro.com


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