There are several potential centers who could undertake your new jet’s cabin completion – but which is the best for you? Dave Higdon highlights some of the key considerations when making your choice…
You can't judge a business aircraft without experiencing the interior from the intended passengers' perspective.
The nap of carpeting; the glittering brightworks and polished grain of the woodworks; the suppleness of the upholstered surfaces – even the cabin's aroma triggers a sense of luxury and comfort.
Of course, stimulating the senses isn't the ultimate quality that leads owners and operators to select an interior (though it does play an important role). Performance is ultimately the key. Every aircraft offers its own version of convenient transportation for its cabin occupants.
But not all provide the accouterments needed to support businesspeople trying to keep their travel days as productive and efficient as possible while in transit.
Gaining those benefits doesn’t happen by accident, but by design; the deliberate, concerted efforts of a completion team working to translate the owner's expressed needs and interests into a comfortable, practical space supporting those needs.
And achieving the desired outcome means selecting a completion center that is well matched to both the machine and its owner's missions. Here, we specifically address the main cabin from aft of the cockpit bulkhead to the furthest-aft space of the fuselage.
On new production business aircraft, in most cases the factory defines the flight deck, the choice of vendors, systems and the cockpit layout. But that leaves the majority of the plane's interior – and its exterior – ripe for customization.
We spoke with a variety of interior shops and completion centers to get their takes on how to ensure the best possible outcome from the work of completing a new business jet. The following is a culmination of those discussions.
‘Green’ aircraft move into the hands of the completions center long before the final hand-off to the owner; time that reflects the scope and quality of the work ahead. Consider, for example, all the decisions facing an owner in the process of informing the completion goals:
- Input in the design of the cabin layout;
- Selecting seats/seat upholstery, carpets, sidewall treatments and other furnishings;
- Defining what’s desired from the connectivity and entertainment systems;
- Selecting the lighting;
- Galley and lavatory fixtures;
- Exterior paint (both livery design and color combinations).
Opportunities for customization of smaller aircraft interiors tend to be more limited with the aircraft OEM often creating packages of standard interior layouts and configurations, each with options for selecting colors of fabrics, carpets, upholstery and (sometimes) side and overhead panels – all factory finished.
Who Should Undertake Your Cabin Completion?
One school of thought favors using the aircraft OEM to handle the completion work. As one interior-design engineer asked, “Who knows the ins and outs of that new jet better than the company responsible for designing, testing and winning approval for the aircraft, and now closing the circle with serial production?”
The OEM will have a head-start on the knowledge and documentation of the aircraft that’s needed to win approval of the interior package from the regulatory authorities.
Nevertheless, approved service centers offer another source of valuable expertise on specific makes and models. And many an independent shop that’s experienced in the make and type can also offer a potentially good fit for a completion job.
Above all else, look for experience in the make and model requiring completion, along with demonstrable expertise in designing, making and installing an interior package for the aircraft.
Who Will Coordinate Your Cabin Completion?
Business Aviation offers a wide variety of specialty shops, and the completions sector is one of them. Companies exist who specialize in elements of completion work. Some make the furniture, others manufacture the seats and divans, still others the galleys or entertainment/connectivity systems.
Many other companies cover the entire spectrum, handling the design, sourcing and installation of interior packages. Not needing to move the airplane to different vendors has its advantages – including less wear and tear, more time-efficiency, and fewer ferry permits.
Some capable shops excel at serving as a prime contractor, handling design and installation, while contracting with other vendors for certain elements of the project. For example, if the owner favors a specific seat design that’s available only from a specialty manufacturer, nothing prevents the client from splitting up the project.
Regardless, someone with knowledge and experience should oversee and coordinate the overall project to ensure compatibility with products from other vendors and help avoid the possibility of overlooked paperwork and approvals.
What’s the Timing and Scheduling of a Completion Project?
Arguably the most volatile aspect of selecting a completion job has to do with scheduling and coordinating the timing of various elements of the work.
Selecting and scheduling the completion work should ideally begin when the purchase contract is signed. Having a delivery date for the green aircraft some months or even years into the future gets you to the starting line.
Upon acceptance of the green aircraft, the clock starts to run on the completion work.
Depending on the aircraft size and the complexity of the interior and paint packages, the completion shop may have the aircraft for several months – even 18 months or two years.
Finally, it’s better having the completion package wait on the aircraft's delivery. Making the furniture, building the seats, the upholstery work, interior panels and lighting, the IFE and IFC hardware's installation all have their own lead times and position in the installation process, and this must be well thought through to avoid unnecessary delays.
Ultimately, you’ll find expertise, knowledge and talent are all elements to weigh when selecting a completion center for your next new jet project. If you keep these at the core of your planning, you’ll be well placed to select the best shop to undertake your next completion project.