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Overcoming capacity and capability strains in the aviation completion centers industry.

While OEMs are buzzing with full order books - they and their shareholders are delighted at the fact they are sold out until 2010 and beyond - this is not the case for the actual aircraft buyers or for many others within this industry- largely because of capacity and capability problems.

On some of the larger wide-body aircraft the production cycle stands in the region of 60-000-plus man-hours to build each aircraft- with an additional 40-000-plus man-hours required to develop- design- build and install the interior. The majority of this workload is handled by the OEM- but a new trend is developing where third-party completion centers are now providing aircraft completion service for the OEM. The OEM is in a production cycle manufacturing process- whereas the interior completion is not conducive for this process due to individual tastes and requirements. OEMs would prefer a production process where the buyers would choose from floorplan A- B or C. This would keep costs and manpower requirements at a more controllable level and enable capability to manufacture aircraft interior components during the production cycle. OEMs would love to follow the famous Ford production cycle of the 1920s- “You can have any color you desire- as long as it’s black”.

The problem is that a standard OEM-offered interior for a wide-body aircraft such as the Global Express XRS or Gulfstream 550 simply won’t do for the majority of the buyers. These buyers generally require interior customization which doesn’t fit in the “production cycle” of the OEM. This in turn places burdens for the OEM- resulting in them turning to third-party completion centers to take on interior completions on their behalf.

With extra interior workload transferred to another facility- OEMs are freed-up to build interiors for those buyers content with the standard interiors. (Boeing and Airbus are capable of building many BBJs or ACJs- but the real problem lies with who will complete them - hence the fact that only four to six aircraft per year are available for corporate sales).

New opportunities
When there is demand- opportunities are inevitably created - hence new players enter the field. This in turn has presented more opportunities for the smaller ‘mom and pop’ centers to offer specialized completions- and for other companies to enter the business on a smaller or larger scale. Nevertheless- projects undertaken still require proper manpower availability and expensive real estate including hangars large enough to house the aircraft.

As in any business there are companies that see the profits but fail to properly evaluate the amount of work required. While money will build a great facility- it’s the people with the experience that will produce a truly outstanding interior. Naturally- with many aviation completion centers busy with OEM work- it is getting more difficult for the owner/operator looking to refurbish their current aircraft to book a work slot or position at a reputable shop. It’s well known that a complete aircraft interior project from an OEM is much more lucrative than a refurbishment project for the completion centers - so it is understandable that some of the current leaders in completions are unable to take in refurbishment projects due to the demands from the OEM aircraft being completed.

Showing diligence
In today’s climate- when the owner/operator is considering a new completions company- additional diligence must be followed in order to ensure that company has the capability to complete the aircraft as desired.

The work required in a refurbishment might be as simple as changing soft goods such as materials- leathers and rugs- or it could be as complex as changing hard goods including the woodwork- galleys- wardrobes- cabinets- etc. This is where a consultant will come in useful for the owner/operator. The flight crew has the responsibility- knowledge and training to fly- maintain and operate the aircraft. But they do not have the experience in judging wood finishes- identifying proper leather textures- inspecting materials and areas simply not preformed on a daily basis that a reputable consultant is accustomed to.

The need to have a fully trained expert in the field of interiors working for- and representing the owner/operator during the interior process is essential. The input and cooperation of the flight crew is equally important since they know the operation and what will satisfy the owner/operator.

As in any market driven by demand one must exercise prudence when selecting a new company. The majority of the new interior or aircraft refurbishment centers are very capable and have the proper resources- but there are a few horror stories of aircraft coming out of a shop requiring a complete re-paint- or seating material that didn’t have proper flammability documentation and had to be replaced.

With the current strains on capacity and capability- the requirement for an expert consultant becomes even more important. A consultant with experience in interior completions will assist in evaluating the potential completion center to ensure they have the resources and capability to perform the necessary work on your aircraft. In turn- you need to ensure you choose a consultant that has the experience- with verifiable references.

Choosing your consultant…
With today’s technology- the Internet makes it relatively easy to research a prospective consultant. You need only check out their website and contact the references. The consultant should ideally have at least 10 years’ experience to ensure they have been exposed to many different problems and situations linked to this sector of the industry.

Better yet is a Aviation Completion Management firm with staff members that have different levels of experiences. By utilizing a completion management firm the owner/operator would have a paint expert overseeing the painting of the aircraft- followed by an experienced woodworker inspecting the build-up- finishing and installation of the cabinets- galley and woodwork. Choose your consultant as if you were hiring them full time. Ask the same questions you would a potential employee and you won’t be disappointed.

Due diligence has never been as important as it is now in finding a suitable consultant- and refurbishment center. There are many centers competing to capitalize on the many refurbishment projects needed- and great care and preparation must be followed to ensure the owner/operator is satisfied with the work after it is done. With due diligence and proper preparation a beautiful refurbishment project can be realized- even in today’s climate of capacity and capability problems.

This article was written by Aerospace Concepts (John Brodeur) which specializes in Completion Management and Interior Design of large cabin business aircraft. In business since 1998 ACL has managed the completion of over 50 widebody aircraft including 40 Global Express aircraft. Photos used within this article are copyright of Aerospace Concepts. Mr. Brodeur can be contacted at Tel: +1 647 448 4748 (Cell) or by email at john@avbro.com.

More information from www.aerospaceconcepts.com

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