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Seldom does a company abandon an efficient- proven office space simply because the inside starts to show its age. Not when the hand of a good interior decorator can transform that worn space into something that looks- feels and smells brand new. After all- if that location still works- why bolt?

Dave Higdon   |   1st March 2005
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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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Interior refurbishment gives jets new look- feel and smell – and more.

Seldom does a company abandon an efficient- proven office space simply because the inside starts to show its age. Not when the hand of a good interior decorator can transform that worn space into something that looks- feels and smells brand new. After all- if that location still works- why bolt?

The same logic works for the corporate aircraft. What sense does it make to trade away an asset that’s still time and cost efficient simply because the inside shows the wear and tear of regular use?

Viable- reliable engines – as we noted last month – often can be upgraded to give the old bird new life- efficiency and utility. This month we look at the options available from the corporate aircraft equivalent of an office redecoration: An interior refurbishment.

With the past two years’ growth in demand for good- used aircraft- those good- pre-owned aircraft are growing in price. Just last year- 1-412 pre-owned business jets changed hands- up more than 13 percent from the 1-247 that changed hands in 2003. That higher demand means you might get a higher price for your used airplane now than earlier in the decade; it also means that you can expect to pay more for a pre-owned replacement.

While buying new does have its advantages- it also has its own expenses – not to mention the wait that comes with the lengthy backlogs most business jet manufacturers hold today.

For far less money than changing planes- however- the savvy corporate aircraft operator can opt for an interior refurbishment that- depending on the aircraft- can bring the benefits of new to that proven corporate bird. Regardless of whether an operator opts for simply reupholstering the seats and installing new carpeting- or instead decides on a total overhaul of the cabin- the choice of updating the inside of a business jet offers much of the sheen of new for far less expense.

Options abound

In fact- never have the options been wider for updating the interior of a business jet; it can be enough to overwhelm the average operator. That’s why experts from the field often recommend working with a specialty shop – once- that is- you have an idea of what you want done and how much you plan to spend.

For example- do you simply want to re-work the visible surfaces of the passenger cabin? If so- simply working with a shop to reupholster the seats- install new carpeting and sprucing up the bright work and woodwork may take your jet as far as you want- need or can afford to go.

However- today’s new jets often offer accoutrements unavailable when the majority of the jets flying were new themselves. Many new cabin systems developed in the past five years are available for retrofit to older jets though. Trying to outline the myriad options that exist for different jet types could fill another magazine- so we’ll keep our examination of those options general.

Among the options worth examining are new in-flight communications gear- in-flight entertainment gear- high-speed on-board Internet access- galley and lavatory systems. With so many considerations- learning what’s available for which airframe can be accomplished easiest by working with an expert.

For example- many new options exist to retrofit satellite phones- air-to-ground cellular and hybrid systems in older corporate aircraft. The consultant can help you sort out what’s approved for your airplane- then hash out which versions offer the best in their field.

Likewise- knowing what equipment might work with other technology can be useful in order to avoid duplicate or redundant systems.

For example- some in-flight communications systems also work with in-flight Internet hubs that allow executives to tap into the Internet wherever the plane flies.

As you might see from these examples- there can be a lot to consider.

Long-term plans

Maybe you’re trying to eke out a few more years in an existing corporate aircraft while waiting on a new replacement that’s already in the budget; perhaps you have no plans to replace the aircraft and simply want to give it new life by working over the inside finishings. Knowing what your long-term plans are for an existing jet should play a role in deciding on that interior refurbishment job you’re contemplating. After all- why put a lot of money into a business jet if you’re not planning to keep it at least until the depreciation cycle runs its course?

You should also have an idea of what you want to accomplish: A simple sprucing up is relatively easy; adding new capabilities or replacing other cabin items can be more complicated. Indeed- if your airframe lacks anything but the bare essentials- an interior refurbishment project is the perfect time to consider adding some capabilities.

Perhaps the jet spends so much time in the air that communications or entertainment systems make sense for those trapped in the cabin for several hours at a time.

As we noted previously- the options vary widely in in-flight cabin communications gear. Perhaps the cabin already has phones – but the system is old- expensive- maybe even outdated. Some new systems can work directly with an existing system’s handsets; some offer the convenience of cordless operation- much like the cordless phones in our homes.

Likewise- numerous options exist to give the cabin passengers access to the Internet – some satellite-based- others based on airborne phone systems- while others can be tailored to work exclusively with a company’s internal network- or Intranet.

And if in-flight entertainment equipment seems like a smart choice- the question becomes one of deciding what kind suits your needs – and which are approved for your airframe.

Is music all you need- or do you need a video- too? What kind of video? A system that can play DVDs on cabin displays- or one that offers live television via an antenna and on-board link?

Then the questions turns to one of service: Satellite from one of the commercial services you see on your home entertainment system- or something more specialized and geared toward business? Should individuals be able to choose what they want to watch on small screens at their seats- or is a single bulkhead-mounted screen enough to cover both business and entertainment needs?

These days- in-flight entertainment- communications and Internet access are popular options that give new depth to older aircraft.

All the Comforts

And so the list of options continues. For example- some airframes are approved for changes in galleys and lavatories. Although in many instances the factory-installed lav may be as much as you can get- in others the options available go much farther – up to and including shower facilities.

Ditto for the galley. The airplane may only support a small refreshment center as delivered. But advances in cabin technology mean that some upgrades can support keeping hot food hot – and not just drinks.

Seating is another area of near-constant advance- with options for cabin chairs that can recline fully into a bed and sofa systems that can be legally occupied during takeoff and landing – a status many an old OEM sofa lacked just a few short years ago.

An interior refurb is also the ideal time to check into a new arrangement of all this cabin gear. If you’re tired of the double-club seating that’s been in the jet- a smart designer may be able to offer an interior design that couples a single-club arrangement with a sofa and opposite-side chairs that can pivot toward the sofa for an effect more like a den than an office – while preserving some table surface for working like you’re back at the office.

And while your team has the insides out of the jet- you may want to consider changing items such as windows- shades- even cabin lighting- to work with all the other changes planned. New lighting technologies such as Light Emitting Diodes offer superior lighting quality along with longer life and lower power consumption.

Some new window systems offer automatic protection again the sun – further protecting your investment in new upholstery.

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

With so many possibilities- so many options and so many airframes- sorting out all the choices may sound like a daunting task. However- experts in this work are generally resident at all the best brokers- dealers and interior-specialty shops. They can help you sort out which systems are approved for your airframe- how well those systems have worked out in the real world- what the downtime will be- and the financial costs for the whole nut.

Don’t be afraid to shop – but do consider dealing with refurbishing providers already experienced in your aircraft. Shops with track records in specific aircraft models can usually offer more-realistic 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 about serving as a pioneer or test job for a shop with no experience in your airframe – or as a guinea pig for a new system that lacks specific approval for your aircraft. Winning an STC can be a time-consuming- expensive proposition for the earliest approvals; blanket approvals issued later can save time – and- of course- money – but being the first on the block isn’t always desirable.

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

Don’t neglect the expertise and capabilities of the original manufacturer. Many OEMs offer these services with the added benefit of knowing the airplane- literally inside and out.

In the end- the results of a well-considered cabin refurbishment can make that old plane feel- look and smell as good as new to your customers- your staff and you. Your customers need not ever know – unless your customers appreciate how efficiently you handle your own business. In that case- go ahead and share the news: 'Yeah- it’s got that new-plane smell- without the new-plane payment.'

Consider it a remodeling for your plane that’s equal to what you’d do with your headquarters office – without a change of address. To help you start your examination of interior upgrade options- we present a list of a few specialty shops to consider.



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