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Main Cabin Makeovers

Dave Higdon   |   1st February 2006
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Main Cabin Makeovers

Refurbishing interiors returns jets to as-new condition...or better.

One piece of good news to come out of an otherwise soul-challenging 2005 reflected the increased sales and growing backlog of planemakers. The bad news on the flip side of this good news; longer waits- in many cases- to get a factory new corporate aircraft. Even finding a desirable pre-owned airplane may be harder- given increased demands in the used airplane market.

For many an operator- the best solution to replacing a road-weary aircraft means keeping the existing machine and giving it the equivalent of a home-interior makeover. Such an aircraft interior ‘remodeling’ offers the savvy operator the equivalent of an all-new jet – at least in the back cabin.

Couple an interior refurbishment with similar upgrades to the cockpit and powerplants and you’re looking at an airplane often equal to a new machine in all ways – except the size of the investment.

Even if the engines and instrument panel need no tending- the cabin refresh serves as the equal to an all-new interior for your office – it looks- smells- feels and functions like new… at costs far less than moving to a new office in a new building at a new location. And the limits of what you can accomplish extend only to your budget and what’s legal to install – and legal covers a huge territory.

With three straight years of higher demand for used aircraft- prices for good pre-owned aircraft are at sellers’ levels.

The year just past brought another very active year in sales of used jets. Though final numbers aren’t yet in- the pace at the end of the third quarter was strong enough that forecasters predicted a strong gain over 2004’s sales of 1-412 pre-owned business jets- a number which exceeded 2003 by more than 13 percent.

That higher demand means you’d likely get a better price for an old airplane now than a couple of years ago – but it also means that you’d likely pay a higher price for a pre-owned replacement to what you currently fly. And though purchasing something brand new does have some benefits- buying new also brings its own expense – along with the wait that comes with the larger backlogs most business jet makers hold now.

Conversely- the savvy business aircraft owner may choose an interior upgrade that- depending on the aircraft- can bring the benefits of new to that already trusted corporate bird. And regardless of how you choose to proceed – with a simple application of new upholstery and carpeting or a total cabin makeover – choosing to update your business jet’s interior offers much of the advantages of a new aircraft at far lower costs.

Options abound

Options for interior upgrades are the broadest ever – so much so that deciding what to do and how to proceed can be close to overwhelming. To help owners avoid the gridlock of too many options- many experts recommend working with a specialist – once- that is- you narrow down your budget and settle on a basic plan. Even then- it’s smart to be flexible and keep your options open.

For example- do you just want to rework the cloth in the cabin? If so- simply working with a shop to reupholster the seats- install new carpeting and spruce up the bright work and wood work may take your jet as far as you want- need or can afford to go. However- often more options exist for older jets than when they were made- options that offer accoutrements unavailable at the time of manufacture.

Additionally- many new cabin systems have appeared on the new jet market that can be installed in older models. In this feature- however- we’ll focus our examination on those options in general.

Among the options you may want to consider are a plethora of in-cabin communications hardware- in-flight entertainment systems- high-speed on-board Internet access- and improved galley and lavatory gear.

Considering the variety of options available- learning what can be employed in which airframe is easiest to tackle by consulting an expert. For example- the options for retrofitting satellite phones- air-to-ground cellular and hybrid systems in older corporate aircraft seem to expand by the year. A consultant can help you sort out what’s approved for your bird from among the available options- then help you narrow that field to what will work best for your needs and budget.

Likewise- knowing what other gear works with other systems is useful to help avoid unneeded duplicative choices. One example involves in-flight communications systems. Some work with in-flight Internet hubs that allow executives to tap into the Internet or their office Intranet wherever the plane flies- while also serving as a voice link to phones on the ground.

As these examples show- there are lots of options from which to choose.

Long-term plans considered…

You may be trying to squeeze a few more years out of an existing corporate aircraft while waiting for the eventual delivery of a new replacement already on order; you may- conversely- have no plans to replace your existing aircraft and want only to renew it by refurbishing the main cabin and its furnishings. First knowing your long-term plans must be part of the decision-making process when contemplating an interior-refurbishment job. Think about it. Why pour money into a business jet if you’re planning to let it go before you enjoy the tax benefits of depreciating that investment?

You also should know what you want to achieve. Sprucing up a cabin’s upholstery is simple and relatively inexpensive; more complicated – and more costly – is adding new capabilities or replacing cabin items such as cabinetry- lighting- galley or lavatory.

If the current cabin offers only the essentials – a place to sit and a coffee pot – an interior upgrade may be the ideal time to add capabilities such as telecommunications and high-speed Internet access.

If the jet spends so much time flying that the back-cabin occupants are isolated from the outside world for hours on end- that communications or entertainment systems may make more sense than if the jet seldom flies legs longer than 90 minutes. As noted earlier- in-flight cabin communications and entertainment options vary widely.

Maybe your bird’s cabin already has phones – old- outdated phones with high use costs. Systems exist that provide more-modern- less-costly service while retaining that existing system’s handsets. Others offer the convenience of cordless operation in the cabin similar to the cordless phones common in our homes and ground-bound offices.

Similarly- a wide variety of options are available that provide in-cabin access to the vast Internet. Some employ satellite connections; others connect through airborne phone networks; still others may be set up to exclusively connect to a company’s internal network.

For in-flight entertainment- the question centers on deciding what needs you want to cater for – and which systems are approved for your airframe. For example- is music the only thing you want? How about video? If that answer is an affirmative one- what kind of video? A system that can play DVDs on cabin screens or one that offers live television? From here- the question turns to one of service: satellite from one of the commonly available commercial services you see at home or something more specialized for business viewers?

Finally- should individuals be able to choose what they want to view on small screens at their seats? Or will a single bulkhead-mounted display be sufficient to cover both business and entertainment demands? These days- in-flight entertainment- communications and Internet access are popular options that give new depth to older aircraft.

All the Comforts

Some aircraft models are eligible for updated galleys and lavatories- improving on two of the basic human comforts that enhance the experience of flying by corporate aircraft. In some cases- the factory-original lavatory may be the end of the option list. In other cases- though- the options extend to sinks and shower facilities with hot and cold running water.

The same guidelines apply to galleys. The aircraft may accommodate only the small refreshment center installed at the factory. But recent improvements in cabin options mean that some aircraft can support upgrades to keep hot food hot and cold drinks cold. Another area of continuing advance covers cabin seating hardware. Some new seats can actually recline into a bed; some sofas can be used legally during takeoff and landing – approval many an OEM sofa lacked a few years back.

There’s no better time than an interior upgrade to explore what new gear can be used in your cabin – and how the furniture is arranged. Tired- for example- of the double-club seating in your company aircraft? Changing the cabin layout of a business aircraft isn’t- as you know- as easy as rearranging furniture in an office on the ground. But a savvy interior designer can often create an interior design that couples a single-club seating area with a den-like area sporting a sofa and opposite-side chairs that can pivot toward the sofa. And the design can still preserve some office-like desk space for actually working like you’re back at the office.

You may even want to consider changes to windows- window shades- cabin and work lighting while the interior is going to be out of the aircraft. New lighting technologies – among them Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) – deliver better-quality illumination- plus longer life and lower power drain.

New window systems offer automatic electronic darkening that better protects the interior from the damaging effects of Old Sol and simultaneously protect your investment in the new interior. As you can see- there are plenty of options available that offer the benefits of advances in seating- systems and safety.

Pulling it all together

Are you overwhelmed yet? If so- you’ve got plenty of company. Given the breadth and depth of available options and airframes- sorting out all the permutations can be daunting. That’s why interior experts generally work at the best brokers- dealers and interior-specialty shops.

These folks spend their time staying up to speed on the latest advances so they can help clients sort out what systems can work in which airframe. These experts also generally know how well systems work in the real world- as well as the downtime to expect and- of course- what it’ll all cost in the end.

Shopping around is wise – I can’t buy anything substantial without immersive research- myself. So don’t fear shopping around. You’ll learn plenty. But once you’re up to speed – or believe you are – consider consulting an expert or- at least- providers already versed in your type of aircraft.

Shops experienced in specific aircraft usually offer better estimates of time and cost because they’ve ‘been there- done that’. Someone else paid the freight for the shop to develop that expertise – you get to benefit from the experience of others.

Think long and hard before becoming a pioneer or test job for a shop with no experience in your airframe – or as a test subject for some new system that lacks specific approval for your aircraft. Winning new STCs can be time-consuming- expensive and frustrating. Working under the authority of blanket approvals already issued usually saves time and money.

Conversely- it’s not unusual for manufacturers to offer incentives for early buyers- incentives that may make it worthwhile to be an early bird.

Finally- remember the expertise and capabilities of the original manufacturer when considering an interior upgrade of any level. Some OEMs offer these services with the added benefit of knowing the airplane through and through.

Once completed- a well executed cabin upgrade can make that tired old bird function better than ever before. Customers may never notice you’ve simply dressed up the old workhorse.

But should they notice- the business-savvy ones should appreciate the fact that you manage your own business with a sharp eye to the bottom line- cost efficiency and functionality.

So don’t be bashful – share the news: 'Yes sir- we regained that new-plane smell without taking on a new-plane payment.' After all- who wants to spend more money than needed – let alone wait for the privilege until your number comes down the backlog?

To help you start your examination of interior-upgrade options- we present a list (opposite) of a few specialty shops to consider.

interior refurbishment


Note: This list is not a comprehensive listing.

Associated Air Center:


Atlantic Aviation:


Aviation Concepts:


B/E Aerospace:


Bizjet International:


Bombardier Completions (U.S. & Germany):


Business Jet Aircraft Completions:


Capital Aviation:


Dassault Falcon Service (U.S. & France):


Duncan Aviation:


Eagle Aviation:


Elliott Aviation:


Flying Colours (Canada):


Gore Design Completions:


Gulfstream Aerospace:


Hillaero Modification Center:


Innotech-Execaire (Canada):


International Jet Interiors:


Jet Aviation (U.S.- U.K. & Switzerland):




Landmark Aviation:


Lufthansa Technik (Germany):


Marshall Aerospace (U.K.):


Mena Aircraft Interiors:


Midcoast Aviation:


MJ Aircraft Interiors:


Penta Aviation (Canada):


Premier Air Center:


Raytheon Aircraft Services:


Rose Aircraft Interiors:


Savannah Air Center:


Southstar Aircraft Interiors:


Stevens Aviation:


Total Aircraft Services:


West Star Aviation:


Wing Aviation:


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