Kit cabins offered as way to reduce cost

 - July 29, 2008, 7:00 AM

Completion and refurbishment centers are in a constant search for more efficient ways to work. And now growing in favor, despite mixed reviews in the past, is the idea of a modular cabin in kit form, ready for installation.

Creators of these cabins resist the term “kit,” which they believe implies a bland “cookie cutter” approach. They emphasize that while these interiors are built as shipset kits ready for installment, the components are modular in design, allowing for a variety of cabin layout configurations to choose from, and with sufficient flexibility for considerable customization.

B/E Aerospace was one of the first to recognize the possibilities, introducing its Premium Cabin Concepts program in early 2000 for Challengers. The interior was designed, engineered and certified to be fabricated outside the aircraft, then disassembled and installed in approximately six weeks at a cost of about $2 million. That would cut the typical downtime for a major Challenger interior refurbishment by about 16 weeks. A prototype cabin was installed in a Flight Services Group Challenger 600 in March that year and an STC was received in July.

While the idea was sound, the timing wasn’t. “It was the right product at the wrong time,” said Mark Krosney, group v-p and general manager of B/E’s Business Jet Group. The concept was a good one, he explained, one that requires a systems integration approach, logistics planning, design, product management and significant certification expertise. With this approach, said Krosney, “We believe we can save at least 30 percent of the cycle time for a major refurbishment. We’ve tailored this one for Challengers, but the concept is applicable to any aircraft.”

A year after B/E’s program, Jet Aviation at West Palm Beach, Fla., introduced an interior kit approach that promised to turn an older Gulfstream II or III cabin into the equivalent of a Gulfstream IV interior at a fraction of the cost. The company completed its first airplane, a GIII, in December and at the time envisioned a large potential market among some 400 GII and GIII operators.

The foundation of the Jet Aviation refurb was provided by AAR Composites of Clearwater, Fla. The shell was essentially the same as that being provided to Gulfstream Aerospace for its GIV and gave passengers a full inch more headroom and a slight increase in cabin width. The “fly away” cost, according to Jet Aviation, is in the $1.5 million range.

But the timing was unfortunate. The bottom dropped out of the GII and GIII market shortly after the program was introduced and the company outfitted only the one airplane.

Bombardier offered a somewhat similar upgrade called the “31 in 35” program. The idea was to offer operators of the older Learjet 35s an opportunity to upgrade to what was a Learjet 31A-equivalent interior. The $350,000 facelift was aimed at an aging fleet of some 700 Learjet 35s, and further down the road Bombardier was planning a “60 in 55” upgrade that, at a cost of about $400,000, would accomplish the same result by creating what would be a Learjet 60 interior in an older Learjet 55.

Bombardier, in fact, has also been a pioneer in the interior kit concept. The company has for years had entire Challenger interior kits manufactured by Infinity Partners in Denton, Texas, and shipped to Bombardier’s Tucson, Ariz. completion center for installation.

As for the Learjet program, a spokesman said the Wichita Learjet facility has thus far done one 60-in-55 upgrade, for the Konfara Co. of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Gulfstream Offers Premium Interiors Program

All these programs were based, to a greater or lesser degree, on a baseline shell kit and modular components that will allow some customization to meet customer demands.

Now, with the recession still holding the industry in its grip, new efforts are being made to market similar modular-kit interiors.

Gulfstream Aerospace began offering its Premium Interiors last September. According to Larry Flynn, vice president of product support for Gulfstream, “We are very focused on Premium Interiors.” Gulfstream is also offering the package to buyers of its new aircraft. “Customers who are upgrading existing airplanes will prefer our new Premium Interiors solution to traditional aircraft refurbishment because it shortens turnaround time, provides ample choices of materials and upgrades and greatly improves cost control,” he said.

Premium Interiors come in three levels–silver, gold and platinum. The silver interior makes use of many of the aircraft’s existing components, including seating, cabinets, galley equipment and lighting. This upgrade includes new cabinet veneers and hardware, upholstery, carpeting, a new sink, improved countertop and upgraded entertainment equipment. The aircraft exterior gets new paint.

The gold interior offers a more comprehensive update with all the elements of silver, in addition to a floor plan reconfiguration, new cabin insulation and a new galley or replacement of the galley assembly. The cabin management system and satcom complete the improvements.

Platinum cabins are essentially a complete renovation, from the cockpit to the aft pressure bulkhead. The entire cabin is redesigned and furniture, fabrics, cabin systems, soundproofing, lavatory and galley are replaced. The cockpit gets reupholstered seats and new carpet and the instrument panel is repainted.

“It’s win-win, for us and for the customer,” said Flynn. “The real benefit is that with standardized parts and interior components, maintenance and trouble-shooting are simplified; it offers some real advantages over the highly customized one-off interior designs.”

At its completion and refurb center in West Palm Beach, Jet Aviation is enthusiastic about a new Falcon 50 major cabin refurbishment that begins with the installation of a new linear shell kit. The composite kit is key to the transformation of an old Falcon 50 interior into what Jet Aviation claims is the near-equivalent of a Falcon 50EX cabin. The program is also available as an upgrade item for the Falcon 20 and Falcon 200. Pricing for the kit alone starts at about $150,000.

It weighs less than the interior it replaces, offers improved thermal-acoustic properties to reduce cabin noise and the finished cabin has almost three inches more headroom and an additional three inches of width at window level.

To promote the idea, Jet Aviation posted a weekly progress update on the company Web site as the Falcon 50 went from old to new. The marketing idea apparently worked. Jim Harrison, Jet Aviation’s manager of interior completions, said the interior shop has been responding to “considerable interest” in the kit. The interior shop completed the aircraft in 11 weeks and delivered the airplane in late February.

Harrison added that interest in the kit has been high and the center has already begun installing the kit interior in a Falcon 20.

Duncan Gets STC For Astra Interior Kit

At Duncan Aviation, the interior shop earned an STC in May for an interior upgrade kit for installation in the Astra and Astra SP, as well as for the Astra SPX for which it was originally designed.

Duncan, as the provider of Astra SPX interiors before Galaxy Aerospace was bought by General Dynamics (parent of Gulfstream Aerospace), built more than 35 such packages, some installed at Duncan and others at the old Galaxy facilities in Alliance, Texas.

The interior package includes:

• a shell package designed to create the feeling of a more spacious cabin;

• new lighting of a contemporary design;

• pleated window shades with manual slide-across handle;

• galley design to maximize limited forward cabin space;

• pocket doors that stow entirely into the bulkheads to create wide access to the flightdeck and lavatory;

• customized thermal/acoustic sound- proofing kit;

• cabin seats by DeCrane seating division; and

• lavatory with infrared sensor faucets and removable vanity for access to aft avionics stowage.

Duncan is also doing cabinetry in kit form for Embraer’s Legacy Executive, a business jet version of the ERJ-135 regional airliner. The kits come in about nine different designs and fit a variety of cabin configurations.

According to Duncan v-p of completions marketing Shelley Ewalt, the company has been working with the Brazilian OEM for more than a year on the project and had started work on the first shipset, meant for the Legacy demonstrator aircraft, when it received a stop order. It turned out, said Ewalt, that Embraer had a customer who wanted his airplane “now.” So the interior components intended for the demonstrator will go to the customer, and Duncan is waiting for design changes.

The Legacy kits include galley and lavatory cabinetry and all incorporated entertainment, wiring and plumbing and will be sent as partial shipsets to Embraer for installation. Ewalt said Duncan hopes to see orders for as many as 12 to 15 shipsets a year.

If the market improves, the modular kit interior concept may become an industry standard in business aircraft refurbishment, and even in the completion of green aircraft cabins.

“It’s a good idea,” said John Rahilly, v-p of sales and marketing for Dassault Falcon Jet’s Wilmington, Del. service center, adding that it is an idea that Dassault might consider.

“It’s a way to reduce down time and to work more efficiently. It’s good for the refurbishment center and it’s good for the customer. When the economy begins to improve and those used airplanes start to move, we’re going to see this concept become very popular.”