The Key to Success!
By Donald Ridge
If you have purchased a pre-owned aircraft and are like most aircraft buyers, you are probably eager to complete any necessary refurbishment work so you can start flying.
First, congratulations! You now own a tool that will make your business and personal life much more productive. The most important step for a refurbishment project that many people miss, however, is that you should live with the airplane for a period of time to truly understand what you need, before deciding what will be included in your aircraft’s upgrade. Many aircraft buyers simply rush into a refurbishment after the purchase and regret it once they begin to fly. So, taking the time to do a comprehensive evaluation on your new aircraft may be your key to success.
1. Starter Questions
I highly recommend that you take the airplane on several standard trips with the other principal users and discuss what works well and what doesn’t work for you and/or the other users. Some key questions to start with are:
• Does the seating layout work well? (Do you have the ability to conduct small meetings inflight? How do the seats feel after sitting in them for several hours?)
• Is the galley layout easy to use inflight and is there enough storage and preparation space for the food you are likely to be serving?
• Are the audio/video controls easy to use, and do they meet your needs and desires?
• If this is a long-range aircraft, make sure you discuss with the crew any requirements for proper in-flight crew rest and storage, and for emergency equipment.
These are all great areas to explore, and the answers will become evident after you have flown the aircraft for several weeks.
2. Multiple-Source Input
The next step after identifying all of your upgrade items is to bring in several design representatives from various shops so you can sit in the airplane and discuss your needs and budget. This could take some time to arrange, but meeting face-to-face will be worthwhile.
You will be able to explain your vision for the interior, and, in turn the design experts can share their experiences about what has worked and, more importantly, what has not worked in the past with similar aircraft interiors they have completed. This is also a good time to get references and view pictures of their previous work.
Most corporate airports have an interior shop, either onsite or very close, so it may make sense to default to using one nearby. Crucially, make sure the shop has recent experience in doing similar work. It is also wise to take the time to talk to several shops so you can get a feel for current trends.
3. Regulatory Considerations
I purposely emphasize the need for “recent” experience from a shop, because the FAA is constantly changing its stance on how interiors are certified. It is important to take the time to consider all regulatory aspects of the interior refurbishment as well as the aesthetic ones. Most current generation aircraft are certified to a dynamic crashworthiness standard.
The exact provisions your aircraft is certified to is very important to understand, as this can play a role in what you can do with the interior materials, seating arrangements, and even the placement of video screens.
The best place to start is to obtain a copy of the Type Certificate Data Sheet (TCDS) from the FAA’s website. Better still, have this discussion with the interior providers that you discuss the project with, and if they give you a blank stare then at least you have a list of vendors that should not be performing the refurbishment. There are a myriad of regulations to be aware of, so it is essential to have a discussion with the shop about regulations and how they plan to comply with them, as this will give you key insight to the shop’s level of knowledge.
4. Aligning Refurb with Maintenance
One more step that new owners tend to overlook in their rush to start the refurbishment project is the need to check for any major maintenance events that might be coming due in the near-term. Evaluating whether it makes sense to wait for an upcoming event or comply with it early with a refurbishment is crucial.
Most interior refurbishments can last anywhere from two weeks up to six months, depending on the size of the airplane and the scope of the project. The last thing you want to do is have the interior just the way you envisioned it and then two or three months later have it ripped out for a major inspection!
Keeping in close contact with your maintenance provider, and taking the extra time to evaluate the proposed interior with other work that may be coming due in the near future could save you substantial money and heartache.
Most, but not all, interior refurbishments are tied in with a new exterior paint job. So if you are planning a paint job, then make sure you take an even closer look at upcoming maintenance events, as many major inspections on the airplane require the opening of exterior panels, and nothing causes more despair to an aircraft owner than opening all the inspection panels after a fresh paint job.
These preceding are just a few of the items that, with a little extra time up front before your refurbishment project gets underway, could make the difference between a successful refurbishment and a disappointing one.
Donald Ridge is a Senior Analyst for JSSI and is based in Chicago. He previously worked for Aerodynamics Inc. in Waterford, Michigan where he held several positions throughout his time there. He began his Business Aviation career as a Gulfstream technician and worked his way through the organization to Director of Interior, Executive Director Service Group, Executive Director Customer Relations and Director of Maintenance 121/135 Air Carrier.