Plane Sense On Cabin Refurbishments: That New Smell

Everyone loves that new aircraft smell - but to keep the interior feeling and smelling like-new, a refurbishment probably lies ahead, somewhere in your future. It is a fact that interior refurbishments of pre-owned aircraft offer more choices than an ice cream parlor. The difference is that with each interior choice, there is usually a cost impact directly associated with it.

Steve Watkins  |  13th August 2011
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Steve Watkins
Steve Watkins

Steve Watkins is Technical Services Manager, Western Region for Jet Support Services, Inc. (JSSI). Steve...

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That New Aircraft Smell
How do you recapture it, and keep within budget.

Everyone loves that new aircraft smell - but to keep the interior feeling and smelling like-new, a refurbishment probably lies ahead, somewhere in your future. It is a fact that interior refurbishments of pre-owned aircraft offer more choices than an ice cream parlor. The difference is that with each interior choice, there is usually a cost impact directly associated with it.

Unlike choosing chocolate or vanilla at the ice cream parlor where the cost is similar, choices like fabric versus leather upholstery, pile versus Berber carpet, veneer composition versus burl wood cabinets, and a plethora of other choices can directly impact your refurbishment budget.

Carpet and upholstery materials must meet current regulatory fire-proofing requirements, so making the right choice at the beginning of the process is important, and often means paying more now (versus being non-compliant later). Each interior choice has cost implications, so they must be made with your budget in mind.

There are, however, other considerations to keep in mind when developing a refurbishment budget - and these go beyond the direct costs of the materials and installation. Future maintenance and inspection implications should be considered, for example, as well as meeting all regulatory requirements.

When planning your refurbishment budget, it is also easy to overlook the potential for other maintenance requirements that might be discovered during the process. These maintenance requirements could range from a defective window shade to a worn-out seat rail. Each of these items must be addressed by either repairing them or replacing them all together, and most of these expenses will NOT be included in the quote that you receive for the original refurbishment.


Of course, repairs are normally less expensive than replacements, but sometimes it makes more sense to spend the extra cash at the time the defect is discovered, and replace the parts during the refurbishment process. As an example, that window shade that does not open correctly can be repaired, but will the shade’s condition be acceptable with a new interior? Is there a more reliable shade available?

Perhaps this would be a good time to upgrade to electric shades from the older manual ones. These types of questions will arise throughout the refurbishment process, and the most effective way for the aircraft owner to manage this entire process is to have a representative designated to answer them. A competent representative will help prevent either excessive replacement costs or the retention of too many undesirable repairs that may result in a sub-par interior that might negatively impact your aircraft resale value.

Most of the time, owners choose to refinish cabinetry rather than replace it during a refurbishment project. As part of the planning process, determine if each cabinet meets the aircraft usage requirements, and ask yourself whether a new design or new location would work better in the cabin? Do you need the cabinet at all?

As another example, many aircraft were originally equipped with a Fax machine cabinet, but with the WIFI internet systems available today, there is rarely a need for a bulky Fax machine. Perhaps there is a better use for that space.


One of the most over-looked factors when an interior is being designed for the larger-cabin class aircraft is the layout of the interior and the ease of access to the aircraft components for maintenance and inspections. The entertainment systems are constantly changing, so make sure you have the interior designer build-in extra space and capabilities for future installations.

Like all other maintenance to be performed on an aircraft, the interior refurbishment requires a substantial amount of planning, cost estimating, color coordination and, of course, a little luck that your new interior will look and perform as you want it to. The more pre-planning you do, the less luck you will need.

Happily, there are exceptional agencies and consultants that can assist in all aspects of developing a custom-fit refurbishment plan for your budget. Some of these consultants are affiliated with, or are part of an internal department of the refurbishment company. In either case, hire a consultant that can assist you with all of the choices and critical decisions that must be made, and who can reasonably predict the related cost implications now and in the future. Working with an experienced professional that has managed hundreds of successful refurbishments should eliminate the possibility of an aesthetic- or financial-disaster in the end.

In my years of maintaining aircraft, it has become apparent that engineers and interior designers expect every mechanic to have three elbows in each arm and twelve inch fingers, with one finger being a flashlight and camera, one finger a Swiss army knife, the other two as rigid as a steel bar or as flexible as string... and don’t forget the opposing thumb on each hand!

As a mechanic, I am always wishful that the designers and refurbishment professionals would make sure there were ample maintenance and inspection accessibility of the cabin once everything is installed.

There are times that an electrical component could be moved to the other side of a bulkhead, or an access panel could be installed to prevent the necessity to remove part of the interior that is not designed to be removed for routine maintenance. In my past maintenance endeavors I have run into floorboards that are not removable due to the location of the lavatory or galley. This un-removable floorboard then requires extensive labor to remove major interior components to complete the inspection.

As an example, I recently managed a Gulfstream G-IV 96-month inspection for one customer at JSSI. The inspection required an additional $40,000 in labor charges because the mechanics had to remove and reinstall the interior to perform the inspection. This should illustrate how important it is to not only look at the desired placement of the interior components in relation to equipment components, but also research the inspection requirements of the aircraft and the locations of those installed components.

By taking the time to consider maintenance and inspection requirements prior to refurbishing your interior, you can help to prevent excessive labor costs in the future. We’ll conclude with a brief recap of the refurbishment planning process:

• Be sure to plan ahead - both for the refurbishment and the usage of the aircraft in the future.

• Use an industry interior professional to assist you in the planning of design, functionality, materials and colors.

• Be sure to appoint someone to make final decisions during the refurbishment process and prevent excessive delays and expense, as well as achieve the interior look you desire.

• The materials that can be used are numerous and vary greatly in both quality and cost, but be sure to have the best fire protection you can afford as there are no fire hydrants and it can be difficult to evacuate and clear the area at 40,000 feet.

• Remember that each item installed could require frequent removal to perform routine maintenance and inspection with the possibility of each removal causing damage or creating a problem with the new interior.

• Understand that your quote for the refurbishment is just an estimate. Plan for other variable costs relating to other maintenance items that will be discovered during the process.

• Also, don’t forget to check for any upcoming inspections or replacement items that could be performed while the interior refurbishment is taking place. This could significantly impact your overall maintenance costs by performing an upcoming inspection at the same time, saving you money and reducing down-tim

Keeping in mind the above points, you can recapture that new aircraft smell and stay within your budget!


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