““[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.’” ”
Outfitting Your Aircraft’s Cabin
The completion or refurbishment of a modern business jet refers to the process by which the cabin interior is finished or reworked. It is a complex project requiring specialized skills and artistic talent. Here are 10 tips to help you find the right experts and get the ball rolling.
1. Don’t wait. Assuming the private jet industry continues to rebound, available slots for a completion or refurbishment project will be limited. Take into consideration that before your airplane ever rolls into the completion or refurbishment center, a lot of work must be done, much of it requiring your attention. In fact, the outfitting process could begin six months or more before the airplane arrives at the center.
2. Decide what you want. Meet with your pilot and chief mechanic and make a list of what you’d like in the cabin. Do you want high-speed Internet connectivity? How about Wi-Fi, a high-definition entertainment system, moving-map display or Blu-ray player? How many video monitors and how large should they be? What kind of seats do you want? What about galley amenities such as a convection oven or trash compactor? What type of lighting, toilet and shower would you prefer? Divide your list into two groups–what you want and what you need–so as to make the best use of the available budget and time available for the work. Take your list with you when you meet with designers and engineers from completion and refurbishment centers.
3. Consider an independent consultant. Independent completion and refurbishment consultants are fairly common these days, especially with large and complex cabin-outfitting projects. A good one can manage the project–from picking the right airplane to the final test flight and delivery–and can save you a lot of time and expense. Further, independent consultants can work in that minefield between what you want and what the completion/refurbishment center says it can do. And they understand government requirements as well as the certification process for off-the-shelf items.
4. Shop carefully for a completion or refurbishment center. Tour centers you’re considering and talk with key individuals, like the director of completions or refurbishment and the heads of the cabinetry and upholstery shops. If the center outsources, get the names of suppliers that are likely to be associated with your project, and talk with them.
Question the center’s workload and slot availability. Also, ask whether the center meets all governmental requirements, and whether it is insured and at what level.
References? Every center is likely to have done at least a few satisfactory, or even superior, cabin projects. Call some previous customers and ask detailed questions.
The last stage of the selection process involves cutting the choices down to a short list and sending requests for bids. Don’t be surprised if there is a considerable range in the proposals you receive.
5. Pay attention to design and engineering. Once the project gets underway, it’s time to find out whether all those ideas on your wish list are even possible–and if they are, what they’ll cost. For example, reupholstering old 9g seats will be as much as $500,000 less expensive than installing new 16g seats.
This is a critical point in the completion/refurbishment process. Here is where you will make choices covering everything from lighting, fabrics, leather, colors and entertainment components to the cabin-management system, monitors and carpet. There are literally hundreds of details that if not specified early on will come back to take a major bite out of your wallet.
The designers and engineers will have their own questions. For example, do you plan to make the airplane available for charter? If so, the additional wear and tear will dictate the type of leather, fabrics, carpeting and wood trim you should select.
6. Think about the next owner. If your cabin is very unusual, chances are that it will appeal to a relatively small pool of buyers; anyone else will want a price break, because the first thing they’ll want to do after purchasing the airplane is have the interior refurbished.
7. Choose technology. Most owners will make choices based on compatibility, durability and ease of maintenance, whether it is the latest technology available and whether the systems can be easily upgraded.
One recent trend is to incorporate interface docks for personal entertainment devices. This began several years ago as passengers began coming aboard with MP3 players and looking for a dock that would allow them to view videos and listen to music on the cabin-entertainment system, using large in-place monitors to share content with traveling companions. This trend could go a step further as tablet computers and high-speed Internet connections render even in-flight satellite television irrelevant.
8. Agree on milestones. This is the standard means of marking the progress of a completion or refurbishment Project. Most completion and refurbishment centers will assign an individual, or even a team of technicians, to walk through at prearranged points in the process to ensure that the job is on schedule and the work meets specifications. These milestones typically represent points at which an approval is required before moving forward, and they may include progress payments.
Catching a problem or demanding a change at this point will almost always be less costly–sometimes much less costly–than at a later point. So look at everything, and closely. One jet owner visited the partially finished lavatory and discovered that when seated, there was no way the occupant could reach the bathroom tissue.
9. Take a “cold soak” flight. Don’t let the term throw you. The manufacturers call the flight that because the airplane is taken to its maximum certified altitude and put through its paces. Every drawer in every cabinet, every button and every switch is tested, most often by the completion or refurbishment center team. The list may include 200 items or more, all of which must be checked off. There are often two such flights, one for the company and another for the aviation authority’s representative. Small aircraft may require multiple flights. Larger-cabin jets might spend eight hours or more on a single flight.
The number of passengers on these flights is usually limited to individuals involved in the test program, the center’s own technicians and the aviation authority representatives who will certify the interior.
The second or third flight is reserved for the owner and/or consultant and guests. It will last the equivalent of the aircraft’s maximum range. On the way, the passengers will be served a meal, play with all the controls and examine the workmanship for any flaws.
10. Relax. Don’t worry if you don’t catch every little problem. That’s why you have a warranty, which normally applies for two or three years. That’s also why some completion and refurbishment centers will assign an individual to follow your airplane for weeks, even months, to ensure a prompt fix for anything that goes wrong.
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