Cabin Refurb: What Will Drive Your Next Upgrade

What are the key factors behind most aircraft owners’ decisions to refurbish their business aircraft cabins? Chris Kjelgaard asks Duncan Aviation and Elliott Aviation to share their collective observations...

Chris Kjelgaard  |  25th July 2022
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Chris Kjelgaard
Chris Kjelgaard

Chris Kjelgaard has been an aviation journalist for more than 40 years and has written on multiple topics...

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Refurbishment of interior panels from a private jet - Duncan Aviation


There are several common reasons why business aircraft owners and operators decide to have their cabins refurbished.

Even in today’s overheated pre-owned aircraft sales market, the fact that so many aircraft are being bought and sold is almost certainly creating a greater volume of cabin refurbishment business than would be the case in less heated market conditions.

The reason any given owner may decide to have the cabin of an aircraft refurbished will vary, depending not only on what that owner expects to do with the aircraft after refurbishment, but also on the look and functionality they want the cabin to have.

Reasons for refurbishment also depend on whether the customer is operating the aircraft privately or for business, or offers it for charter.

Other factors may be influential in determining the extent and nature of a cabin refurbishment. For instance, the geographical regions or areas in which the aircraft is mainly to be operated, and the typical durations of its flights, are likely to be important in determining the owner’s expectations of cabin comfort, functionality and service. 

If the aircraft is to be used mainly for transporting corporate executives, any refurbishment is likely to emphasize the ease of doing business from the aircraft while in flight. If the owner plans mainly to use the aircraft for transporting family and friends, the refurbishment is likely to emphasize in-flight entertainment options and passenger relaxation.

All of these factors play a role in deciding the work to be performed during a cabin refurbishment. But the basic seven reasons for performing the refurbishment in the first place remain — though only one or two (perhaps three, very occasionally) are likely to be involved in any given individual decision.

Some of the most common reasons owners decide on refurbishment are when they decide to buy or sell their aircraft, or they choose instead to keep the aircraft in service.

Refurbishing a Newly Purchased Aircraft

Possibly the most common reason of all for owners to have cabins of Business Aircraft refurbished is when they buy an aircraft “and want to make it their own”, says Suzanne Hawes, Completion Sales Representative for Duncan Aviation.

Buyers can’t always find aircraft which closely match their particular cabin requirements in terms of look, functionality, and comfort — particularly today, when many aircraft are being sold without ever being listed for sale on the open market.

A new owner may decide to have the aircraft’s cabins refurbished to their own taste immediately upon completing the purchase. Often the fact that a sizable portion of the interior furnishings may be removed during a comprehensive pre-purchase or post-purchase inspection of the aircraft may influence the new owner to have a refurbishment performed on the spot, or as soon after the purchase closes as is practical, says Hawes.

During such inspections, a factor often helping persuade new owners to have refurbishment work performed is that the inspection teams at MRO providers will spot “areas of concern” in the cabin furnishings and fittings, and advise the owners that repair or improvement work needs to be done in specific areas, notes Jerrod Pickford, Interior Department Scheduler at Duncan Aviation.

Generally, the larger the business aircraft that an owner buys, the greater the amount of cabin refurbishment work that they’re prepared to perform, says Hawes. But much depends on the condition the aircraft is in when the new owner purchases it, particularly in today’s market.

“We encourage buyers to know the current market for the aircraft, and if it needs a new interior, how much it will cost, for instance, for a soft-goods refurbishment,” she adds.

Refurbishing an Aircraft Before Resale

In normal pre-owned markets, some sellers choose to have the cabins of their aircraft refurbished before putting them up for sale, in order to have the aircraft “appeal to a broader prospect base” and thus maximize aircraft resale value, notes Meghan Welch, Director of Paint and Interior Sales for Elliott Aviation.

In such cases, prospective sellers want to make their aircraft as widely marketable as possible, so they tend to specify that the aircraft be refurbished with furnishings and fittings — carpeting, upholstery and armrest and sidewall drink-holder finishes — of neutral tones and design, says Welch.

Refurbishments Ordered by Fleet/Charter Operators

Fleet and charter operators often have cabin refurbishments performed for one of two reasons, according to Welch.

When buying used aircraft, each fleet operator wants the cabin interior of each aircraft in its fleet to have a look and feel which is unique to that operator, so any customer boarding any of its aircraft knowns immediately with which company they’re travelling.

Often the charter or fleet operator will choose a bright and warm interior color scheme, and emphasize the attractiveness of the interior by installing LED lighting throughout the cabin, Welch says. Such lighting generally has the advantage of being programmable to allow different settings and colorings to suit different times of day or passenger activities (dining, sleep and/or relaxation periods, or work).

Additionally, because fleet operators usually fly their aircraft much more frequently than non-fleet/private owners, when ordering cabin refurbishments they seek furnishings and fitting that are more durable and damage-tolerant, says Pickford.

This often means fleet owners choose darker-colored carpeting and furniture upholstery, and having furnishings made from hard-wearing materials such as ultra-leather, he says. Such operators also want cabin finishes to be easily repairable and replaceable, choosing thin veneers rather than solid hand-carved woods and granite counter-tops.

And, as a consequence of their relatively high levels of aircraft utilization, it’s also possible that some fleet owners have the cabins of their aircraft refurbished more frequently than private owners do.

Refurbishing for Business Use

In some cases, the customers buying used business aircraft whose cabins were previously configured mainly for private or family use want to use the aircraft primarily for business purposes, according to Welch.

These customers will have their aircraft refurbished after the transactions are completed – and, typically, this might mean increasing the Wi-Fi bandwidth to the cabin in order to allow business videoconferences to be streamed to and from the aircraft.

Similar to fleet operators, if the new owner intends to increase the amount of flying the aircraft does, upgrading the durability, maintainability, and quality of the furnishings and fittings becomes a consideration, Welch adds.

Next Time…

Having considered the need for owners to tailor the interior or a newly purchased pre-owned aircraft, to prepare a jet for resale, or the impact of charter use and/or business requirements as key refurbishment decision-drivers, Part 2 of this article  -  Considering a Cabin Upgrade? Three Valid Reasons  -  looks at the additional main motivators for an interior overhaul.

More information from:
Duncan Aviation: www.duncanaviation.aero
Elliott Aviation: www.elliottaviation.com


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