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Modernizing Your Aircraft (Pt II)

An outline of why getting the balance between Quality, Cost and Schedule is crucial to the modernization of your aircraft.

Kevin Hoffman   |   15th December 2014
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Kevin Hoffman

Kevin Hoffman is President and Chief Executive Officer, Aerospace Concepts, LLC, offering...
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Quality – Schedule - Cost

In last month’s article we sought to answer how you decide whether to modernize and upgrade your aircraft or hit the ‘reset button’, purchasing a new asset equipped with the latest technology and up-to-date authorization on all regulatory issues. Assuming you’ve elected to upgrade, following are some of the key issues to consider with respect to Quality, Schedule and Cost.

Each project’s ultimate Cost is directly affected by the desired Quality and completion Schedule. Ideally, we would like to be in the middle of a triangle with each of these three factors at one of the points – but just how realistic is that?

Quality is a difficult subject to understand and even more difficult to measure. What makes a quality product? Can you design quality into a product? Who measures quality, and on what standard should it be based? When judging quality, the place to start is by understanding the areas and dynamics required to create a quality product.

Design and Specification

Design and the specification are key components in securing a quality upgrade, and these are governed by:

  • Design and Installation practices and procedures. The aircraft upgrade specification should include very detailed information covering Design and Installation procedures, Quality Control and Inspections, Documentation, Quality and Certification as well as pre-delivery inspections.
  • Conformity to the specification. Conformity means obtaining the exact interior you specified. This is a tedious, time-consuming process, but it can help avoid items ‘falling through the cracks’ because people rushed to deliver the aircraft or the work was completed based on out-of-date drawings. Conformity requires that someone stays on top of all drawings and specification revisions to ensure that changes are addressed in an efficient manner.


Inspections

Continuous inspections covering every aspect of the upgrade process, and especially during certain key phases, are critical to securing quality in the finished product. Inspection areas should include items such as the seats and leather, the seat build-up, as well as the cabinetry at all phases of build – starting with the basic monument build, through the veneer lay-up, the inspection following the varnishing, and finally inspecting the cabinetry for “fit, form and function”.

As an example, simply making sure adequate time is allowed for the veneer and varnish to cure (avoid cracks) can prevent costly problems down the road – sometimes a year or more following completion of the work.

Work Environment

Work environment and ambient conditions vary between modification facilities. Is the facility visibly ‘quality conscious’, or are inspectors willing to sign their name to a sub-standard product? Do they have the latest state-of-the-art paint and spray booths? If not, how are they compensating for this shortfall?

In general, modification facilities have extremely good working conditions and skilled staff who take great pride in their work. It is, however, naive to think that all modification centers are equal.

The Owner’s Expectations

A key area of quality is understanding the aircraft owner’s expectations and delivering, if not exceeding them. This is an area where an experienced program management group that understands an owner’s expectations and the facility’s capabilities can effectively guide the upgrade process.

Program Management Team

Quality is highly dependent on the program management-team supervising the project. This team’s expertise should include various disciplines and specific skill sets. Furthermore, since they represent the owner’s interest, the management team should be physically present at the modification center to oversee the work with a positive, win-win approach that balances high-quality with a timely delivery.

The cost of any upgrade project depends upon the scope of work and, to a lesser extent, the delivery timeframe. As an owner, you need to have as many details as possible planned out in advance – before the aircraft enters the process. This means obtaining a detailed scope of work outlining everything - including the specification, design, bill of materials, options and service bulletins to install, as well as additional work related to updated certification requirements, etc.

This critical step in the refurbishment process is likely to require a great deal of work, but the details are important to gain a solid understanding of the cost and project schedule.

Critical Questions

Do people expect to pay more for higher quality and does quality trump schedule and cost? Based on our experience with customer expectation, quality is always the primary driver until either the schedule becomes unacceptable or the cost reaches the point of diminishing returns.

How should you approach this discussion with the aircraft’s owner, your project management team and the service facility? The answers come down to the owner’s expectations, the level of quality they expect, the price they are willing to pay, and the time it will take to deliver the final product.

If it were available, everyone would want the highest level of quality completed in the shortest time-frame – free of charge. Realistically, an owner can, and should, expect a very high level of quality; should be willing to sacrifice some time; and perhaps incur some additional cost, in order to obtain the desired quality.

How much additional time and cost is a decision the owner must make, and the point of diminishing returns is often the ultimate limiter.

Aligning Expectations

When a project suffers a cost and/or schedule overrun, the primary culprit is usually the difference between what the client expected to receive and what the facility understood the client wanted.

The process of balancing Quality, Schedule and Cost can be complicated. Professional guidance and assistance in this area is critical to ensure the owner’s expectations are met, if not exceeded. Fortunately, there are entities that can expertly guide you, and ultimately your aircraft, through an upgrade process. They can also help owners determine if their quality expectations are reasonable, or even realistic, and can usually save their clients more money than the fee they charge – not to mention reducing the owner’s stress during the upgrade process.


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