Faced with millions of combinations from hundreds of colors, textures and finishes available for your next business jet cabin refurbishment, Dave Higdon asks how you can narrow the choice to get the cabin that’s right for your operations…
The aircraft owner couldn’t decide which was harder when confronted by a wall of colors, textures and finishes in the refurbishment shop—picking colors and fabrics for redecorating his house, or specifying what colors and materials to use for refurbishing an aircraft interior…
In front of him were hundreds of options for the side-panels alongside an equally dizzying array of fabrics and leathers for the seats. Another section of the room offered a range of options for metal trim finishes. “And then there's the carpeting!” he said. “It's all a little overwhelming – but at least we don't have to deal with paint colors and livery today.”
The existing interior of the owner’s aircraft showed the accumulated wear of a decade of trips and was in need of something more than a ‘light touch-up’.
Leaving the shop carrying several thick binders of samples, swatches of fabrics, leathers and carpets, what he wanted was a way to streamline the process, narrowing the choices to find the options that he really needed.
“The most important thing is to start asking questions early on,” explains Rodney Wilson, founder and president of three-year-old Air Capital Interiors.
Wilson's approach is informed by more than a decade of helping jet buyers ‘spec’ their interiors while working for a major business jet OEM across town from his interior shop's East Wichita location.
“First, how are you going to use the airplane,” he elaborated. “Will it be personal use or business use? If the owner is planning on business use, will the aircraft be transporting executives or hauling oil-field workers out to their rigs?
“If the airplane is going to be infrequently used, you have a lot more options,” he explained. “If it's going to be heavily used, then you will need heavier-duty materials. Only after making that distinction do you get to personal preferences – i.e. a light and airy cabin or a dark boardroom style. Sometimes customers have a car they want to mimic, too.”
But the last thing Wilson wants to do is overwhelm the prospect with the dizzying array of options. “I find it helpful to not put 50 different metal finishes or fabric swatches in front of customers. So we try to minimize the variety of options,” Wilson added. “Sometimes we do put samples in front of them to help them to narrow down the choices - but never before the more fundamental questions are answered.”
Wilson along with some other interior shop executives offered other questions that need answers before colors and textures can be selected. Among them, questions about the resale prospects for the airplane. An owner planning to sell shortly after refurbishment may want to lean toward lower-cost work and materials.
“While the work is somewhat permanent, like a house materials can be changed at any time,” Wilson notes. “It's just a matter of expense.” Owners who plan to keep the airplane long-term may be more willing to spend more to get what they want, the way they want it.
Is the customer or prospect using their own designer? If so, who calls the shots? The consensus of those surveyed points toward the design shop doing so, as approved by its client.
Next, is the project time-sensitive or is there a time factor in play? Sometimes the customer will tell the interior shop that the airplane is going to be down for a period. “If that downtime starts in a month, that leaves precious little time to work with the customer on selections, gather the selected materials and finish the work before the airplane is due to return to service,” Wilson notes.
Does the customer want exotic or rare materials, like wood veneers with straight grain lines, or carpeting with an intricate design weave?
These decisions will have a bearing on the time factor – along with the cost. For example, carpets can vary hugely in price. Sometimes customers want something exotic that can run to hundreds of dollars per square yard and take weeks to have custom woven. The job has to factor in all of these considerations.
A controlling factor can be the availability of materials, notes Wilson. “The materials that suppliers keep in stock can drive customer choices, as can design elements the client wants that take extra time to produce. Custom-dying wools, custom cabinetry – these can all add time and expense.
“Getting veneers can take some time, and we try to know what our suppliers have in stock. The only difference in getting veneers for a small Citation or a BBJ is the scale of the order,” he explains. “We try to work only with vendors who can hit a schedule and keep commitments, so we can be assured of having what we need, when we need it.”
In the end, all the shop executives agreed, they can fulfill just about any wish an owner expresses – so long as it doesn't conflict with FAA regulations. “If money is no object, we can do anything. If money is an issue, we have a more-limited range of choices. Regardless, we try to avoid overwhelming the customer with options.”
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In just under three years, Air Capital Interiors has worked on about 400 aircraft jobs covering more than 50 aircraft types ranging from Cessna Skyhawks to Gulfstream GIVs. Wilson notes it’s essential to know what kind of customer he’s dealing with…
“The key to satisfaction is no surprises,” he outlines. “Sometimes the more difficult customers have all the time and all the money in the world – and it gets hard for them to narrow down choices.
“Other customers have fewer resources, and we work to help them make choices matching their budget. You get every customer type in all airplanes, whether a King Air 90-series or a BBJ.” Wilson continued, “What I learned in specking airplanes for customers is that their expectations must be met.
“If they've gone through the process before, they tend to be easier to work with and not overwhelmed,” he explained. “If it's their first airplane, it can be a lot tougher and more likely to overwhelm them with choices. So we try to cover the basics. It helps to know what direction they want to take.”
To help both novices and veterans, most shops work with something akin to a tick list, or check list. Wilson supplied his example of that guide.
Scope (Often Driven by Above)
“Sometimes you start with a customer and find that you need to look at a broader range of options than they originally considered,” Wilson noted. “We have to be flexible because in the end making the customer happy is our most important goal.”
Whether a small piston or a large business jet, the end goal is the same – a finished job that makes the customer happy and brings them back for their next interior refurbishment job.
“Specking airplanes is not an efficiency exercise,” concludes Wilson. “Sometimes you start with the last thing on your mind and go forward; other times the customer has a particular design element incorporated into the airplane and you work from there. The outcomes are the same; but how you get there is always a little bit different.”