““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
The Dope on Detailing
Business jet cabin refurbishment can cost a bundle. Replacing the carpet in a Gulfstream IV can set an owner back as much as $35,000. Reupholstering a dozen passenger seats costs another $120,000. And a complete cabin makeover can run from $250,000 to more than $2 million.
But an alternative to cabin refurbishment exists at a much lower price: For about $17,000 to $45,000 for a GIV, cabin "detailing" is a monumental step above what your local carwash offers.
"A lot of people think detailing consists of a wipe-down with a damp rag and running a vacuum over the carpet, but it's a lot more than that," said Bill Lyman, director of customer relations for Appearance Group, a Wichita, Kan.-based nationwide chain specializing in private aircraft detailing.
A good detailer will be bonded and insured and will make sure its employees are trained in aircraft detailing. All of its products will be approved for use on aircraft.
"We don't use any product that will affect the fire-retardant properties of any of the cabin soft goods," said Lyman. "In fact, 98 percent of the liquid applied when cleaning the carpet is removed as part of the process."
Appearance Group offers three levels of leather detailing. At the highest level, the seats and all bright-work trim are removed from the aircraft. A sample of the leather is taken from a seat and sent to Townsend Leather, where a computer analysis determines the exact composition of the original dye. Townsend then sends back the appropriate dye, which is applied to the seats after stripping and repair.
A total Gulfstream IV detail normally requires about five days and can often be done while the airplane is in for scheduled maintenance or an avionics modification. That's about 175 days less than a major cabin refurbishment requires.
Some maintenance centers offer detailing as part of a work package, either using their own staffs or contracting the work out to an independent detailing specialist. Private-Sky Aviation Services is among the companies that do the work itself.
According to PrivateSky founder Vincent Wolanin, the company's Fort Meyers, Fla. center offers a "fully refreshed and detailed" cabin as part of its maintenance work-scope package agreements. The job can extend to leather restoration, carpet deep cleaning, cabinetry polishing and exterior cleaning and polishing.
Is a total interior detail a reasonable alternative to a cabin refurbishment? It depends on what the owner intends to do with the airplane. With inventory of used aircraft at unprecedented levels and prices at all-time lows, many owners are choosing to keep the old wings a little longer and consider detailing money well spent.
The Allen Group in Visalia, Calif., recently detailed the exterior of a Boeing Business Jet in Orlando. The firm polished the paint, removed old wax and grime, washed the surfaces and applied protective coating. The aircraft owner had been quoted a price of $400,000 to strip, prep and paint the aircraft-10 times the $40,000 that detailing cost him, according to Allen Group owner David Allen. And Allen estimates the job has extended the life of the existing paint by as much as four years.
What a major detailing job might include
• Stripping the leather seats, repairing any tears and re-dyeing them to the original color
• Pulling out the carpeting, cleaning it and reinstalling it
• Repairing, removing stains and cleaning fabric-covered sidewalls, bulkheads and overheads
• Cleaning cabin windows, inside and outside
• Repairing minor scratches and dings in cabinetry, then buffing the surface down to its base and polishing it back to its original finish
• Removing, cleaning and polishing bright work such as metal trim for seats and edging
• Cleaning, polishing and waxing the aircraft exterior and applying a Teflon sealer