When Boeing introduced its iconic Boeing Business Jet, the company emphasized the aircraft’s 6,000-mile range. The airplanes, derivatives of the Boeing 737 airliner, were sold “green,” meaning without a finished interior or final exterior paint scheme. From the production line, they went to a cabin completion center, where Boeing estimated that buyers would spend around $5- to $7 million for customized cabins.
But they were wrong: the first BBJ customer spent $13 million for the cabin completion, rapidly followed by another who spent $17 million. The industry quickly discovered that while the customer might fly in the airplane, they live in the cabin. Even if a heavier cabin meant less range, the typical customer wanted the cabin to be right.
The larger VIP aircraft derived from the airliners of Airbus (Chalet 290), Boeing (Chalet 380) and Embraer (Chalet 130) all have one thing in common–they are delivered green from the production line and then sent to a cabin completion center that builds and installs the interior.
This is a complex, costly and lengthy process that begins as much as a year before the airplane arrives at a completion center. Designers and engineers from the center begin by working with the customer to specify everything from carpeting and seat coverings to the entertainment system and in-flight Internet connectivity.
It is always costly; and sometimes very, very costly. If a customer selects executive seats that have already been certified for flight by a government agency, such as the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) or the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), they may cost as little as $5,000 each. But if they opt for something new, it will have to be certified in a certification process that may cost more than $500,000. As to the total cost, a typical cabin in an Airbus ACJ320 may lighten the owner’s bank account by some $2.3 million to $28 million.
By its nature, cabin completion is a lengthy process. For months before the airplane arrives at the completion center, designers and engineers are ordering everything from carpets to window treatments from suppliers, and building cabinetry ready for installation. Then, the actual installation of all the interior components–sidewalls, lighting, cabinets, seats–will take as much as a year for a Boeing Business Jet, for example. For a larger model, such as an Airbus ACJ330, it may take two years.
Smaller Jet Cabins
In the world of smaller business jets, from the size of Bombardier’s (Chalet 380) Global 6000 or Gulfstream’s (Chalet 340) G650 and smaller, the customer typically is advised to select from an array of choices, from cabin layouts, fabrics and colors to the entertainment system. Some options, such as a cabin humidification system or electronically dimmable windows, may also be available at an additional cost.
While these interiors are completed by the manufacturer, there are always customers who want something beyond the so-called “cookie cutter” cabin. In such cases, many aircraft manufacturers will then work with the owner to select an independent completion center and work with that center to see that the customer gets what they want. There are, however, aircraft manufacturers that will not allow any aircraft to have interior completion work on a new aircraft done outside the company’s own facilities.
At this point, it is important to understand the difference between a cabin completion and a cabin refurbishment. A green completion means that the airplane comes straight from the production floor of the company’s cabin completion facility to an independent completion center, whereas a cabin refurbishment is typically an upgrade of an existing cabin, or elements of an existing cabin, in a used jet.
A cabin refurbishment can be as extensive as “a total re-rag”–meaning the old interior is stripped out and an all-new interior built and installed–or it can be as simple as recovering the seats or changing out the carpet. And there are many centers and cabin component suppliers that specialize in refurbishment, from an entertainment system upgrade to exterior paint.
Growing Refurbishment Resources
Five years ago, an aircraft owner in Asia who needed a cabin refurbishment had little choice but to fly their airplane to a center in the U.S. or Europe that specialized in such work. The cost of repositioning the airplane might run as high as $50,000, even for $5,000 worth of work. Fortunately there is today a growing cabin refurbishment presence along the Pacific Rim. Some examples are:
Jet Aviation Singapore (Booth P1216) is a well-established center with numerous repair station approvals and is an authorized service center for numerous manufacturers’ aircraft models. This ability to provide required maintenance, and at the same time cabin refurbishment work, reduces the amount of time that the airplane is out of service and cuts cost for the owner.
Ameco Beijing (Booth P110)–a joint venture with Lufthansa Technik (Booth H108), the German maintenance repair, overhaul and cabin completion giant–is new to business and private aircraft support but has been rapidly expanding its refurbishment capabilities. Like Jet Aviation, it has considerable maintenance capability as well.
Taikoo (Booth P312), better known in the West as Taeco (Taikoo Aircraft Engineering Co.), is based in Xiamen and is part of the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co. (Haeco). It is the first and only center with authorization from both Airbus Corporate Jets and Boeing Business Jets to do cabin outfitting work.
Refurbishment specialists from outside the region are also moving to increase their presence and market share along the Pacific Rim.
Talco (Booth P421), with its home base in San Antonio, Texas, is primarily a design and engineering firm but has close ties to a number of refurbishment centers in Asia. It is currently focused on large-cabin aircraft, such as Bombardier’s Global 6000, which is already in service in China. According to president and CEO Tom Langeland, there is a growing demand in China for new technology refurbishment. Most recently Talco has been involved in projects with Ameco, Jet Aviation and Taeco. The company also has an office in Hong Kong and local representation in Xiamen.
Aeria Luxury Interiors (Booth P121), based in San Antonio, Texas, was launched in February last year at the Singapore Airshow. The completion and refurbishment center, part of the ST Aerospace group based in Singapore, has already signed two projects: a BBJ that required a maintenance check and some interior work, and a refurbishment of a Boeing 767-200ER. That refurbishment is a major job requiring everything from new carpeting and seating to new LED monitors and galley modifications. The BBJ has already been delivered and the 757-200ER was scheduled for delivery to the customer this month.
SR Technics (Booth H307) delivered its first major cabin refurbishment last year. It included an in-flight entertainment upgrade and such amenities as an executive lounge and meeting room. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, SR Technics is owned by Mubadala Development Co. of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Associated Air Center in Dallas, Texas (Booth P716, with StandardAero), holds approval from the CAAC and in February last year delivered the first Boeing Business Jet to operate in China and a second in July. Both are owned by Beijing-based charter operator Deer Jet.
Canadian outfitter Flying Colours (Booth P613) of Peterborough, Ontario, has steadily carved out a market niche in China. The center specializes in doing green completion and refurbishments of Bombardier aircraft. By the end of 2013, the company expects to have delivered a total of 15 finished Challenger 850s to Chinese owners. Also in the last year, Flying Colours has done major refurbishment work on Global Express models for two China-based clients. To this end, the center has strengthened its relationship with the CAAC to ease aircraft cabin certification. “This is a real bonus for our clients as it means an aircraft can enter service as soon as it arrives,” said Flying Colours president John Gillespie.
For decades there has been talk of a seamless transition from home or workplace to the cabin of a modern business jet. For the most part, this has materialized as new cabin electronics, with high-speed Internet connectivity, wireless audio/video streaming, high-resolution video and use of personal electronic devices: smartphones, tablets, laptops and so on. That transition still isn’t truly seamless but this goal appears closer every year.
The key to smoothly functioning electronics is having a cabin management system into which all the other elements are tied, from lighting to entertainment to high-speed Internet connectivity. By way of example, one of Honeywell’s (Booth H200) most recent projects–a luxury facelift for an Asia-based Global Express large-cabin jet–was performed in collaboration with Lufthansa Bombardier Aviation Services and OHS Aviation Services. The maintenance required dismantling the entire cabin and a major interior facelift, including installation of Honeywell’s Ovation Select cabin management system and two 24-inch HD monitors, twelve 10-inch on-arm seat monitors and dual surround-sound zones.
Honeywell also offers its SwiftBroadband satcom system, which allows data transfer speeds up to 432 kbps; with the addition of a new Honeywell router, that speed may be increased to 700 kbps.
Rockwell Collins (Booth P417) recently saw its Venue HD cabin management and in-flight entertainment systems installed in an ACJ319 bizliner by independent completion center Jet Aviation in Basel, Switzerland. The package includes high-definition monitors and digital audio throughout the cabin, allowing passengers to enjoy Blu-ray movies and other high-definition content, such as real-time flight information on the company’s Airshow 3-D moving map.
The Satcom Direct exhibit (Booth H320) at ABACE is focused on its new Satcom Direct router (SDR). It is, says the company, the first to handle multiple satellite communication systems directly. A single box connects to all of the satellite systems and manages all the data transfer between aircraft and ground. It works with Inmarsat SwiftBroadband and ViaSat’s Yonder service, providing data transfer speeds from 432 kbps to 1.5 mbps, depending on the satellite system and the region of the world. It is not yet as fast as the typical home or office Internet connectivity, and certainly not as cheap, but it allows the user to remain connected all the time, from any part of the world. Even better, the SDR allows 3G cell phone use while the airplane is on the ground.
Of considerable interest to potential customers along the Pacific Rim is news that mobile satellite communications provider Inmarsat has signed a master distribution agreement with Honeywell for Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) satellite service. GX operates through the company’s Ka-band satellite system and is expected to begin business aviation service in early 2015, providing data transfer rates of up to 50 mbps.
As for in-flight entertainment, virtually all the latest technology is high-definition, frequently with resolution of 1080p. And in addition to Blu-ray, there are now some systems with sufficient storage to carry as many as 1,000 movies in high-definition.
Cabin wireless connectivity, video and audio streaming have become almost as common as the ubiquitous electrical outlet. Virtually every airplane delivered today includes a software application that will allow the passenger to use a personal smartphone or tablet to control all aspects of the cabin’s electronics, from window shades to the moving-map display.
What’s more, anything on the smartphone or tablet that the user wishes to share can be streamed wirelessly to the cabin entertainment system and made available to any other passenger. One cabin entertainment specialist is even about to come out with a system that allows the user to control the program using eye movement and hand gestures.
Cabin comfort is improving rapidly as well. Where once it was common to have a cabin pressurized at the equivalent of 8,000 feet, today 6,000 feet is the norm. Meanwhile, while at one time all cabins would have relatively humidity at a desert-like two or three percent, there are now cabin humidification systems that increase that level to more than 10 percent. Multiple suppliers are also providing cabin-air and water purification systems, and new sound-absorption technology has the average cabin noise in many new airplanes down to below 50 dBA (about that of the average office).
If the whole thing seems incredibly complicated, it is. In recent years, more and more of those purchasing new business jets have been retaining consultants who can manage the entire process on behalf of the owner–from selecting the right airplane all the way to customer delivery. A number of resources are available to help identify completion and refurbishment consultants. For example, the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA, www.asbaa.org) in Beijing; the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA, www.nbaa.org) in Washington, D.C.; and most aircraft brokers and manufacturers can also recommend consulting specialists for cabin outfitting.