With a new generation of business jets and corporate airliners entering service and aftermarket activity strengthening, completions and refurbishment providers report strong demand for their services. Moreover, customers today are making fashion statements with their interiors, requesting unusual materials, bold colors, and other custom touches that put a unique stamp on their aircraft cabins.
“Clients want something completely different and individualized, from styled to wild,” said Marianne Parkinson, v-p of marketing and brand strategy at Constant Aviation. “They’re not as concerned about resale [value]; rather they’re more focused on their personal preferences and enjoying the interior to their specifications.”
Lori Johnson, marketing communications manager at Duncan Aviation, agreed. “It’s a change from the more generic and conservative trends in aircraft interiors we have seen since 2009,” Johnson said, citing “a marked increase in the requests for aircraft interiors personalized to the operator's tastes and usage.”
No need to travel to the static display at Orlando Executive Airport to see examples of current cabin fashion trends first hand. Completion and refurbishment companies exhibiting at the Convention Center are presenting multimedia displays of their interiors, examples of their rare materials and high craftsmanship, and their interiors experts who can explain all facets of the design, engineering and fashion trends that go into today’s aircraft cabins.
-Aeria Luxury Interiors customers “have been gravitating toward cleaner lines, subtle three-dimensional textures on broader surfaces, and abstract patterns incorporated into carpets and art pieces,” said Ron Soret, executive v-p and general manager. The VIP completion unit of ST Engineering, Aeria lands in Orlando having recently secured a full cabin refurbishment project for a Boeing 737 from a return customer, as well as receiving approvals to perform modifications on EASA- and Bermuda-registered aircraft. Aeria (Booth 1023) is also celebrating two successful BBJ redeliveries, both featuring Honeywell MCS 8000 Ka-band communication system installations. On the aftermarket side, Aeria is fielding increased requests for cabin refurbishment, CMS/IFE upgrades, and improved connectivity solutions.
Recent interiors feature “a heavier integration of white hues to brighten up spaces and to bring forth a larger appearance,” said Soret. He also noted “requests to create aircraft interiors that feel more homey, almost as if intended to forget one is flying.”
Aeria has also “landed a considerable amount of heavy maintenance and modification projects in 2018” along with its VIP completion contracts, and its hangar in San Antonio, Texas, will be “nearly full for the better half of 2019, with available slots filling up quickly,” Soret said. “It’s fair to say that the market for VIP completions is taking a turn.”
-New United Goderich (NUGI, formerly Goderich Aviation) reports customers are asking for “satin finish woodwork as opposed to high gloss, brighter, more neutral soft goods colors, and enhanced cabin connectivity,” according to Luc Masse, newly hired business development manager.
NUGI is spotlighting in Orlando its interior refurbishment capabilities, seen in projects such as its recent conversion, refurbishment, and repainting of JetsuiteX’s fleet of ERJ-135s. The makeovers included an ADS-B installation using a NUGI-developed STC.
The refurbishments complement the paint services the Canadian company has been known for throughout its more than 25 years in business. A full-service modification and maintenance facility with in-house cabinet and upholstery as well as avionics shops, NUGI (Booth 844) can offer turnkey cabin and cockpit upgrade solutions.
“We have tremendous refurbishment capabilities with a very good track record of quality and enjoyed a steady level of business,” said Masse. Yet with much of the market associating the company with painting services and overlooking the refurbishment side of the house, Masse said, “the company has yet to reach its full potential.”
“One factor that has kept the company off the radar of American operators is our location in Huron Park, Ontario, Canada,” Masse continued. “We may be perceived to be remote; however, our facility [located on a company owned airfield with a 5,000-foot runway] is within an hour’s flight from the American Northeast—well within an acceptable ferry distance.” He added the location “allows us to offer very competitive rates.”
NUGI also recently performed a complete interior refurb and paint on a Learjet for Northeastern Aviation, which was on static display at the NBAA Regional Forum in White Plains, New York, in June, and converted a Bombardier CRJ into a 15-seat VIP aircraft.
Newly appointed NUGI president Wee Hong Tang and the company’s sales and marketing teams are on hand at its convention center display where attendees can see videos documenting the recent CRJ and JetSuiteX Embraer ERJ conversions.
-Automotive styling is also driving design trends, with more customers wanting new stitch patterns and seat upholstery design “found in luxury cars such as Ferrari, Bentley, Aston-Martin, Jaguar, and Maserati,” said Tom Chapman, senior v-p of corporate aircraft at C&L Aviation Group of Bangor, Maine.
At its display in Orlando (Booth 2230), C&L is highlighting its new interior design and installation capabilities, and in-house ADS-B STC, together allowing the maintenance and repair company to offer turnkey upgrades that are “already bringing interior refurbishment business to Bangor,” said Chapman. “To be able to do this all in-house is big for us.”
Among the items showcased at its booth are C&L’s custom passenger seat upholstery design, and a before-and-after refurbishment display of a pair of aircraft seats that exemplify its “quality of work.”
The new interior design engineering division, C&L Engineering Services, was established this year to provide engineering support for the refurbishment projects. Concurrently, C&L moved its corporate aircraft maintenance into a dedicated 20,000-square-foot hangar. The added capacity has created more demand for refurbishments, “triggering plans to double the size of the upholstery and cabinet shops,” Chapman said.
With experience in regional jet sourcing and conversions, C&L is also developing a program to transform RJs “into high-end membership shuttles and private charter aircraft,” said Chapman. “That’s going to be a long-standing project.”
Additionally, C&L has added Cessna Citations (XLS) to its maintenance inspection approvals, joining those for the Bombardier Challenger 600 series, Hawkers, Beechjets, and King Airs.
C&L is also announcing at NBAA a partnership to provide additional support to sister company Sevenjet Private Travel, a maintenance facility specializing in turboprops and light jets located at Florida’s St. Pete/Clearwater International Airport.
-Robert Roth, president of Global Aircraft Interiors, agrees, “The automotive industry sets the trends for the aviation industry.” In refurbishing an Astra for a first-time buyer recently, “We matched the exterior paint scheme to the customer’s Ferrari, a spectacular white and blue color scheme.” In-house designer Nelson Medina handled the project.
About 80 percent of Global Aircraft’s customers have their jets on Part 135 certificates to generate charter revenue, while the other 20 percent are strictly Part 91. Among the former group, “We’ve seen a departure in the last couple of years," said Roth, with demand for “different colored leather inserts, and a lot of individuality, rather than basic charter, ‘beige-beige-beige.’” Additionally, “Grays and blues have come back.”
At its convention center display (Booth 2636) the company is showcasing its full-scale Gulfstream 550 cabin mockup, a 12-foot section of the interior outfitted with custom lighting, seats with Aeristo leather, ATG window shades, ebony woodwork from Hi Tech Veneer and other deluxe touches. “It showcases our upholstery, our cabinet work, and of course our entertainment systems,” said Roth.
In refurbs today, Wi-Fi connectivity is mandatory, as are USB ports at every single seat. “Everyone’s bringing laptops, phones, and so forth, and everyone expects to plug into the USB port,” said Roth. Meanwhile, with people bringing personal devices onboard, demand to have “the latest and greatest monitors” seems to be ebbing, especially among those who charter out their aircraft.
Overall, “People are expecting a higher level of quality and attention to detail these days” as set by luxury autos, and the completions and refurbishment providers have stepped up in response, Roth said. “Everybody really brought up the level of quality of workmanship.”
A year ago Global Aircraft moved into a larger facility at Long Island MacArthur Airport, with 50,000 sq ft of hangar space, co-located with a certified maintenance facility, expanding the services it can offer on site.
-At West Star Aviation, automotive touches are only the beginning of the demands. Customers today are asking for “custom everything,” said Debi Cunningham, v-p marketing and interior design: “Custom seat designs, embossed logos, contrasting inserts, and the car trend: customers are bringing their car seats in and wanting a similar design look and feel for their aircraft.”
Customers also want more flooring options. “Where carpet has always been the norm, we are expanding into laminates, vinyls, and real stone flooring that looks amazing, with minimal weight,” Cunningham said. “Customers are asking about these options now because they are looking for more.”
West Star, headquartered in East Alton, Illinois, arrives in Orlando amid “full-throttle growth and expansion,” said Cunningham, with the recent completion of its fourth full-service facility, in Perryville, Missouri; the extension of its satellite footprint to Scottsdale Airport (SDL) in Arizona; and its about-to-open new paint and maintenance facility at its Chattanooga, Tennessee, base.
West Star also recently completed notable exterior aircraft refurbishments, including a total wing replacement on a Hawker, and installation of winglets on a Citation, which Cunningham called “newer territory for us.”
West Star is co-exhibiting with subsidiary companies Avant and DAS. Meanwhile, West Star is also taking steps to confront the growing technician shortage, developing a program to “educate the younger generation about benefits of working not only for West Star but also within the aviation industry.”
-For a growing number of owners, a fashion makeover of the cabin isn’t enough. More clients “are requesting complete reconfigurations versus interior refurbishments,” said Marianne Parkinson, v-p of marketing and brand strategy at Constant Aviation. “Clients want high-end materials, luxury designs, and veneer styles that more closely emulate a living/entertainment environment versus a typical private aircraft.”
One popular refurbishment item is the company’s kibitzer seat. Introduced in a Global 6000 a few years ago, it takes its name from the Yiddish word for a spectator who offers commentary or analysis. Two kibitzer seats can be stowed within a credenza opposite the dining/work table, and unfold to create two additional seats across from the table. The kibitzer seats have become so popular, “almost all new large-cabin reconfigurations clients are requesting this add-on,” said Parkinson.
At the convention, Constant (Booth 2676) is highlighting the expanding geographical range of its interior refurbishment and modification services, complementing the work performed at its headquarters facility at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. This year Constant added interiors services to its MRO facility in Mesa, Arizona, following their rollout in Sanford, Florida, last year and Las Vegas in 2016.
-Comlux arrives in Orlando on the cusp of inducting the world’s first BBJ Max 8 and among the first ACJ320neos for VIP completions at its Comlux Completions facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, with both inputs scheduled for December. These corporate airliner buyers set “aggressive weight [limit] and [completion] downtime requirements,” said Scott Meyer, CEO of the Swiss company’s completions business. “The clients have waited so long to get their aircraft that they are not tolerant of a long completion cycle.”
At the VIP airliner level, “Customer demands are progressively evolving with technology,” Meyer said. “We are seeing more integrated galley/bars that really blend into the interior rather than the traditional hidden-away work areas, and there’s also a trend of new unique materials being selected and used.”
“Our challenges remain the need for a quieter cabin, more amenities—humidification, cook tops, pedestal seats, electro-dimming windows, glass and more extravagant materials—all while wanting more range and quieter cabins with a downtime tolerance of no more than 10 months,” he said.
Comlux (Booth 1812) is highlighting at NBAA its Comlux 3.0 initiative, which aims to accelerate integration of innovative technologies into company processes, exemplified by its digital program tools, 3D modeling implementation, paperless maintenance protocols, and digital manufacturing in the upholstery shop. The initiative is also at work at the show, as Comlux moves toward a paperless system, offering all its brochures and leaflets digitally, “easy to display, bookmark and share,” according to Comlux.
The Comlux display, a two-story pavilion capable of hosting multiple meetings, this year features a touchscreen with presentations highlighting its aircraft interiors work.
Meyer is leading the division’s management team, while senior management from all Comlux group companies are also on hand.
Meanwhile, back in Indianapolis, while prep work for the induction of the next-gen bizliners continues, technicians are working on a VIP ACJ330 widebody completion for delivery in the new year, and a BBJ cabin upgrade slated for fourth-quarter delivery.
To prepare for the expected inflow of Airbus Neos and Boeing Maxes, Comlux Completions has almost doubled in staff to 300 this year and is still hiring.
-In meeting its clients' personalization demands, Duncan Aviation (Booth 3896) is using brighter colors, custom carpets in larger-scale patterns, and custom seat designs that use two-tone leathers, quilting, welt cord and contrasting stitching to provide more unique patterns and looks. Unique lighting such as colored and color-changing upwash and downwash lighting, is being used to enhance cabin ambiance or to highlight design and interior elements which could include cupholders, galleys, wine coolers and even lavatory elements. Alternative finishes such as carbon fiber material, painted finishes, and metal and leather on cabinets are also gaining popularity.
Technology advances in cabin management and in-flight entertainment systems and connectivity solutions are generating a substantial amount of refurbishment activity, Johnson noted, and “driving design changes to integrate new touchscreen switch panels, larger HD monitors, and carry-on devices” into the refreshed interiors.
A full spectrum of the Lincoln, Nebraska-based MRO’s cabin refurbishment and upgrade options for business aircraft are on display here at the convention center (Booth 3896), and interiors specialists are at the ready to discuss interior trends and answer visitors’ questions.
-Flying Colours (FC), the Canadian Bombardier completion and modification specialist, has also noted shifts in customer preference for colors, materials, and seating—and not just in the stitching for the latter. Seats are getting thinner and more organic in shape, replacing the bulky traditional square shaped business class style, said Sean Gillespie, executive v-p, sales and marketing. Soft leathers on thinner frames give the structure a contemporary look, he added.
Additionally, “We’ve seen a change in color palettes recently with the white through gray palette in high demand. The wood veneers are also moving toward more exotic types, often stained in light grey or white. Matte and satin finishes on wood and metals are also proving popular.”
Changing tastes in color are helping bring new materials into the cabin. “We have worked with carbon fiber for a while, but we’re now experimenting with other materials, for example, fiberglass and Kevlar, to increase our color palette options,” Gillespie said.
Flying Colours (Booth 1735) arrives at NBAA amid major expansions, having just doubled the size of its St. Louis facility with the addition of 60,000 sq ft of space, while groundbreaking preparations for a fourth hangar at its Peterborough, Ontario HQ facility are in full swing.
Meanwhile, NBAA 2018 marks the North American debut of its new display area.
“It highlights our design and showcases our professional approach to our customers,” said Gillespie. “We hope that our existing clients will come and enjoy a coffee with us and prospective new clients will be attracted by our new corporate videos highlighting our variety of services.”
The booth showcases Flying Colours’s interiors, its special-mission and medevac modification programs and maintenance capabilities. The key message of its full-service offerings, said Gillespie, are that “a single aircraft can benefit from refurbishment, maintenance, avionics upgrades, and paint work services performed under a single roof.”
The St. Louis expansion was primarily to support cabinetry and monument manufacturing and finishing, and Flying Colours is already at full capacity and “looking at adding more space,” Gillespie said. “This also means we are recruiting heavily to support growing output.”
The new hangar at Peterborough is intended primarily for increased large-jet completion and heavy-maintenance demand and will accommodate narrow-body VIP airliners.
Flying Colours also added a dedicated paint booth at Peterborough this year to accommodate its contract paint work on Bombardier Global 5000/6000 fuselages for MHI Canada Aerospace.
The company is also touting its STC for ADS-B Out installations on Challenger models and Ka-band systems on Bombardier and Gulfstream airframes. Gillespie reports Gogo’s Avance L3 and L5 is “also becoming very popular amongst our North American customers.”
Flying Colours sold a minority interest this year to New Heritage Capital, a private equity firm. The investment amount “can’t be disclosed,” Gillespie said, but was “sizeable,” and is helping fund the Peterborough expansion, among other projects.
-Capital Aviation is fielding customer requests for lighting and interior-panel upgrades, the latter to a “smooth” look, while demand for interior materials is shifting to dark wood; light gray or tan seats; more custom carpets; and less gold plating, said Bill Boettger, president and CEO.
The interior refurbishment and paint services firm, is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018, and also received this year an STC for a 16g divan for Challenger 300/350s, Boettger said.
Upgrade projects at the DGAC-approved repair station at Wiley Post Airport in Bethany, Oklahoma, this year have included interior floor plan changes in Falcon 900s and Challenger 604s; WAAS/LPV and ADS-B installations on Challenger, Citation, Hawker and Astra platforms; and FANS-1A installs in Falcon 900Bs.
Capital (Booth 2012) is also displaying Protek 5000 insulation, which it recommends for noise reduction, better temperature control, and enhanced safety and is showcasing the material’s thermal properties in demonstrations at its display area.
Capital announced at the show it is partnering with Mexican repair stations to provide engineering, parts and technical support for avionics installations in Mexico and at its Oklahoma facility. Capital can handle as many as eight corporate aircraft simultaneously. Capital’s Mexico sales representative is at the company’s display.