Refurbishment ‘Gotchas’

Most people faced with a refurbishment project start by consulting with their Director of Maintenance, the industry experts, the facility that will be doing the refurbishment, and of course their accountant to get approval for this expense. Working together with this team, an interior design is created and a budget is set for the entire project.

Steve Watkins  |  13th August 2012
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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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Surprises that can impact your cabin refurbishment budget

Most people faced with a refurbishment project start by consulting with their Director of Maintenance, the industry experts, the facility that will be doing the refurbishment, and of course their accountant to get approval for this expense. Working together with this team, an interior design is created and a budget is set for the entire project.

All the materials, fasteners and equipment are then ordered and the aircraft moves into the hands of the crew that is going to make the interior look like a new airplane inside… at which point you can start to feel like you can relax and simply look forward to making that first trip with the new interior that has that new cabin smell.

The question is, are you ready for the numerous surprises that can suddenly accumulate and raise their costly and time-consuming heads along the way? The following are just some of the surprises that may occur during a typical interior project and can certainly play havoc with any budget.


As the aircraft is prepared for the new interior and equipment, the old one has to be removed. The surprises could start here. The shop could find the floor panel screw heads stripped out or maybe the nut plates that the screws go into have come loose and start to spin with the screw adding extra labor, extra parts and extra time to remove the interior.


Another surprise sometimes discovered when removing the old interior is that the brackets could be broken or cracked where the interior is attached and need to be replaced. This may sound like only a minor problem that simply requires going to the Illustrated Parts Catalog (IPC) and ordering the new parts at only the added cost of the parts. But what happens if the parts manual is reviewed and the required brackets are not listed in the IPC at all?

A subsequent call to the manufacturer of the aircraft could indicate that these parts were made, but never classified as a part for the aircraft and consequently are not in the IPC. There is no inventory to be found and the manufacturer will not start-up production just to provide you with this part. So now what happens? The company doing the refurbishment has to design, get approval for, and make the part(s) from scratch, potentially adding all of the labor costs to your bottom line that was not in the original budget.


Many times a refurbishment design includes relocating the lavatory to another area of the aircraft. The relocation design should be simple enough, but at some point, an avionics or cabin entertainment black box could have been installed and maybe not accounted for. This unit must be moved now to accommodate the new lavatory location.

In addition, as the removal of the lavatory continues, it is common to find corrosion. Depending on the extent, it may be enough to require actual replacement of bulkheads, brackets and other structures. The corrosion that is not bad enough to cause replacement still has to be removed and treated. Anything that is questionable may require an OEM’s Engineers or a Designated Engineer to design and approve a repair. All of this could be an additional cost if unplanned for, and require more down time to resolve and repair the issue.


The refurbishment facility usually orders the material for the seats when the quote is signed – but what if the material arrives in the wrong color? The designer may insist on the original color that was selected, but it may no longer be available in the exact same material that was originally selected. The choice of procuring the new material, due to different fireproofing requirements, may come with a substantial increase in per-yard cost. This is one more surprise that was not budgeted for, and you would be left with the decision to change colors to contain costs or pay the extra charge.


The refurbishment project can continue to unearth little discrepancies throughout the process, each and every one requiring additional labor, additional parts, and possibly extending the aircraft’s down-time. These extra expenses will most likely exceed your budget.

Moving towards the end of the refurbishment project, the facility will complete all of the paperwork and submit it to the appropriate authority for approval. You’ve guessed it…this is another area that can be full of surprises….

The data being used may not be complete; the fireproofing or the fire-blocking paperwork could be missing a page; or the electrical diagram could differ from what was actually done in the aircraft. All of these issues require more problem-solving, time and additional delays for the completion. The shop may not charge the customer extra for these paperwork issues, but the regulating agencies in aviation are not known for being especially sensitive to turn-times, so expect additional delays to result.


Finally you reach the point at which everything is completed and the interior looks just like it did in the design pictures! The functional checks and test flights are all that is left to do.

During a final test flight, a red failure code could suddenly appear on the panel or maybe on the cold soak flight, another failure code shows up, or something stops working. Troubleshooting will be required to find the problem and if the facility is a completion shop only, they might have to bring in experienced mechanics from another maintenance shop to find and fix the problem.

More surprises usually mean more expenses, and then there is the unpleasant task of informing the boss of another delay with the launch date.


Fortunately, there are several ways to minimize all of these potential surprises that can happen during an aircraft refurbishment. The first is to make sure that you contract a highly regarded industry consultant that will help navigate through all of the “gotchas” that can happen during a complex interior project.

In addition, make sure you work with a facility that is very familiar with your aircraft make and model, and then do your research by asking other colleagues for shop references and referrals.

The bottom line is that when you take your aircraft in for a new interior and equipment, all quotes include the following statement: “This is an estimated quote only, additional charges may be required.” Just make sure you have room in your refurbishment budget for all of the SURPRISES that can occur!

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