Flying hundreds of hours through varying weather conditions and air quality will impact all aircraft over time. Meanwhile, visible wear-and-tear to the interior can result from the many passengers who traipse in and out of the cabin. Over the long-term, just about any exposed surface will show signs of deterioration.
A radome-to-tailcone refurbishment complete with new paint and interior takes weeks to undertake and carries a high cost. But there’s nothing to say that a full-spectrum makeover project is the only path to restoring your aircraft's ‘like-new’ luster?
Instead, some operators take a phased approach to aircraft refurbishment, planning the steps in a logical sequence and – where feasible – tackling most phases during the aircraft’s downtime for an annual inspection or a manufacturer-defined phase inspection. In fact, three annual cycles could realistically cover all the refurbishment work, with the possible exception of paint, which would be a good step to make last.
This strategy enables operators to plan several smaller budget hits for the overall refurbishment, possibly saving money over a total refurbishment. Here’s how…
Involve Your MRO in Your Planning
The key to the phased refurbishment is to involve the necessary craftsmen and technicians early in the process, helping to plan this long-term process. Share your plans and hopes with your MRO shop at the outset.
This helps ensure the maintenance shop has all the necessary materials before you’ll require them to accomplish the next phase of your refurbishment project.
And the extra time could help the shop check the finished pieces and order any rework before it’s needed.
But which aspects of the work should be done first, and what should be left until last?
Bright Works & Lighting
Some of the most used surfaces are the controls for the aircraft’s systems such as the light switches, air-vent controls, seat belts and buckles, and the faucets in the lavatories. Most can be ordered and installed relatively easily.
Be aware that refurbishment of light controls and air systems requires removal of some panels in order to access wiring and air plumbing, but not necessarily the full interior panels. Minimizing the removal and reinstallation of seats and panels is one of the goals of advanced planning.
Carpeting & Paneling
Plans for the replacement/refurbishment of carpets and paneling will require some consideration. Ideally, these are items that will get minimum use before the end of the project since these are the surfaces that receive the greatest amounts of wear-and- tear.
Some MRO suggest their installation should come last, while others point out that one of the annual inspections could be used to get the measurements and make a selection of the materials to be used, making up the carpet pieces, side panels and headliners using the originals as the templates.
Once made and ready, these should be sealed and stored appropriately until their installation the following year.
The seats are what the crew and cabin occupants spend the most time using, and consequently those surfaces are exposed to plenty of wear-and-tear.
With measurements and a little study of the existing upholstery, a skilled shop can have the surfaces made up, new foam padding, and the trim ready to use as the seats are removed from the aircraft during an annual inspection.
From there the job primarily requires removal of the old surfaces and padding, replacing them with the new materials, and securing the upholstery to the frame.
Once seats, side panels, headliners and carpeting are made and standing by, it's simply a matter of the maintenance shop completing the annual inspection and returning the aircraft to an airworthy condition, complete with its new interior ready to work.
The exterior refurbishment could be the least disruptive, least time-consuming of all the steps: A thorough wash and rinse, buffing out any paint oxidation, touching up paint flaws, polishing the shiny metal surfaces (like the anti-ice system), treating the rubber deice boots, cleaning and shining the chrome legs of the landing-gear struts.
If a detailed buff can't bring back the new airplane look, however, it’s worth consulting with your paint shop about the time and planning needed for a repaint.
There's no shortcut around the work required to get a professionally finished paint livery. If you want something new, working with a paint-design specialist offers access to the best outcome. Not only will the design shop work with you on the colors and design, they'll also produce documentation for the paint crew to use laying out the final design.
Pick a Starting Point and Make a Plan
The interior shops and upholstery makers generally suggest prioritizing the entire interior refurbishment project by starting with surfaces that get the least human contact and utilitarian elements, such as galley hardware.
Follow up with restoration of brightworks and paneled surfaces, upgrading light fixtures and any in-flight entertainment equipment occupying bulkhead space. Hardware for in-flight connectivity, upholstery and carpeting come last since these surfaces get the most wear.
Painting will require downtime in excess of most other steps. Done properly, it takes a lot of steps, including masking off windows; removing control surfaces; flaps; landing-gear doors; radome and tailcone; prepping and painting; then letting the paint cure.
The final step to a phased refurbishment would be the rebalance ailerons, elevators and spoilers; reinstall those control surfaces and their control linkages, test for full functionality and return to service…