Photo: Jet Aviation Basel Design Studio
Photo: Jet Aviation Basel Design Studio

Eight steps to a successful aircraft completion

Purchasing a small or midsize business jet is similar to buying a new car: you select interior components and exterior colors from a preexisting set of options and then simply wait for the manufacturer to deliver a product that incorporates your choices. Purchase a larger airplane, on the other hand, and it will reach you unpainted and with a nearly empty interior. (Such aircraft are called “green,” a reference to the color of the protective primer paint that’s applied to the exterior at the factory.)

Long before you take possession of an airplane like this, you must arrange for the interior completion and the exterior paint. You must make the appointments for a completion and paint with the aircraft manufacturer or completion shop as soon as possible after you finalize the purchase and receive a firm delivery date because most reputable shops have scheduling backlogs that can stretch out for several months.

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Turning an empty space into your dream cabin is a challenging and time-consuming task. The list of required and desired components and approvals is invariably extensive and detailed, with variances based on many factors, including cost, weight, durability, appearance, and FAA regulations. The completion center you select can help with all of this and will assign a team and team leader for your project so the same people will be able to assist you whenever problems arise, as they likely will from time to time.

Still, there’s much you need to do yourself. To assure a successful project complete the steps outlined on the following pages.

Photo Fotolia
Photo Fotolia

1. Select an outfitting facility.

Your first priority should be to find a completion center that has worked on your aircraft model or on models of the same size and complexity. Other factors to weigh include a center’s reputation, proximity to your home base, estimated schedule and labor cost, warranties, and contingency policies for unscheduled issues. (In the case of an older aircraft going through a complete renovation, you’ll also want to know whether the facility has additional capabilities, such as the ability to handle airframe, engine, and avionics maintenance and upgrades.)

2. Evaluate your needs.

The interior-design appearance, setup, robustness, and usefulness should reflect your plans for the aircraft—the purpose of your trips, typical stage lengths, and the average number of people per flight. Will only top executives use the aircraft, or will it be accessible to middle management, troubleshooting teams, and the company’s customers? Will it be available for personal use by family or friends? Will it be employed as a daily corporate shuttle? How frequently will it fly overseas and on other long trips?

The longer the typical journey, the more attention you should give to food storage and preparation areas, seats or sofas that can be positioned for sleeping, and separate crew and passenger rest compartments. Also, the length and purpose of trips will govern the extent and capability of electronics for phone, internet communications, and entertainment systems.

Dassault Aviation
Dassault Aviation

3. Assemble a team.

Completion centers usually employ design specialists to assist aircraft owners, but owners sometimes hire their own consultants to work with those specialists. If the flight crew includes a cabin attendant, he or she should also be present during the design phase to provide advice concerning amenities and safety features. At the same time the interior details are being planned, company pilots will be involved in selecting the additional communications, surveillance, and navigation instrumentation appropriate to the aircraft’s anticipated uses.

4. Pick materials and colors.

When a design is more or less finalized (modifications and adjustments are to be expected as the work progresses), it is time to settle on exact materials, fabrics, and colors for rugs, cabinets, seats, overhead and side panels, trim work, cabin-section separators, window shades (manual, electrical, or automatic dimming), desks and other tables, storage compartments, cup holders, and lighting. You’ll also need to select galley and lavatory accessories as well as the exterior paint scheme and colors.

As you make all these choices, you and the completion center will need to pay constant attention to weight buildup. Every aircraft has a specified weight allowance for the interior completion. If you exceed this allowance, the number of passengers or the amount of fuel you can carry on certain missions will have to be reduced so that the airplane’s maximum allowable weight is never exceeded.

Dassault Aviation
Dassault Aviation

5. Preserve the engines.

When an aircraft will be sitting for more than two months, as it will for an interior completion, operators need to preserve the engines. This is known as “pickling,” and it can be as easy as ensuring that oil is coating components properly or as complicated as removing and bagging the engines. Neglecting an engine that sits inactive for a protracted period can cause serious problems that aren’t covered by a maintenance plan, the completion center, or insurance. (Of course, pickling isn’t a concern if you’re having engine work performed simultaneously with the interior. Engine work, as well as avionics upgrades, might apply to a used aircraft that is in the shop for an interior renovation.)

6. Monitor the project.

Now it’s time for the interior to start taking shape. Someone from your flight department can monitor progress, or you can hire a consultant who specializes in this work and will represent your interests exclusively. In either case, the extent of the individual’s responsibilities must be clear. Does the person have the authority to approve changes in scheduling or costs and substituting of items in place of original choices? Or must these sorts of changes be cleared with the CEO or flight-department manager?

During the completion process, your representative will perform phase checks at scheduled times to confirm that all contracted items have been installed and verified for proper operation and appearance. Your rep will also ensure that the airframe insurance keeps pace with the increase in aircraft value as the interior develops.

Don’t be alarmed if an ordered part doesn’t arrive on time and downtime consequently incr-eases. Downtime beyond the contracted schedule will trigger previously agreed-to cost adjustments.

When the interior is finished, a walk-through inspection is conducted by a group usually consisting of the chief pilot, chief mechanic, head cabin attendant, representatives for major vendor suppliers, and the managing director of the completion facility. Sometimes, the CEO of the aircraft-owning company also joins the inspection team. Discrepancies will be noted and a resolution plan prepared. Again, any additional time needed for repair, modification, or replacement of items will be factored into the final completion cost, per the contractual agreement.

7. Paint the exterior.

Once all the principals sign off on the cabin and flight-deck work, the penultimate step in the completion process is exterior painting. The paint shop may be associated with the completion center and its job may be part of your contract with that center. Or the work may require a separate contract with another shop to which the airplane is flown.

8. Take an acceptance flight.

It’s been a long time coming, but now the new aircraft is ready for its acceptance flight, the final step before it is officially handed over to you. (Sometimes, an acceptance flight precedes the paint job; this avoids the possibility of paint damage at the completion facility if the airplane must return there for any revisions or maintenance to the interior.)

The acceptance flight will take at least two hours, because approximately 70 items on a checklist—from air conditioning to window shades—will need to be examined for functionality, appearance, and operability. The list will cover every aircraft compartment: flight deck, forward cabin, mid cabin, aft cabin, passenger entrance, bar/galley, lavatory, and baggage/closet areas.

For the test flight, storage areas will be filled with items typically carried on board. For example, silverware, glasses, cups, and plates will be put into their specially designed cabinet dividers in the galley. Lavatory, galley, and drinking water will be loaded for testing faucet, washing, and flushing functions. The flight will also serve to assess initial durability of the paint job, especially if the aircraft flies through precipitation.

Despite all the phase checks that were made on the ground as the cabin was forming, it is likely that glitches will appear during the acceptance flight. The final proof of proper form, fit, and function is a factor of the flight itself as the fuselage flexes, expands, and contracts or experiences turbulence. These motions might reveal rattles of cabinet doors or dishware. Narrow gaps between connections might expand. Deployment of oxygen masks and oxygen flow may not operate as intended. Phone or internet service may not work properly. Water leaks may occur. Folding tables may not move smoothly.

However, unless emergency or other essential items prove faulty, you might wish to sign off on the acceptance flight to get the aircraft into operation as soon as possible and arrange for relatively minor problems to be addressed later. After all, you will have just spent months overseeing the transformation of an empty cylinder into a custom-designed interior. Now it will be high time for you to enjoy the fruit of your labor—and expense. Happy flying.    

Constant Aviation Interiors
Constant Aviation Interiors


Minutiae Matters

Little things can mean a lot when it comes to completion of an airplane.

When a completion center employee noted that a customer’s aircraft was finished except for the installation of one flight-deck instrument and that another customer’s aircraft wouldn’t be finished for a while but had that same instrument waiting to be installed, he decided to do the first customer a favor: he took the instrument from the inventory stock designated for the second aircraft and had it installed on the first one.

Several weeks after that aircraft left the completion facility, however, the instrument failed and the owner shipped it to the vendor for warranty service. The vendor said warranty coverage wasn’t valid because the instrument’s serial number showed it belonged to a different aircraft. The problem was eventually resolved by the completion center for both customers but not without a lot of confusion and embarrassment. —G.G.



Be Careful What You Wish For

When an aircraft owner started working with a completion center, he specified that his highest priority was sound reduction. At the time, before the advent of lightweight electronic sound-reducing technology, noise control chiefly involved lead lining. This material is heavy, and the completion center explained to the owner that while using a lot of it would indeed make the cabin quieter, it would also contribute to making the aircraft exceed the recommended weight allowance, resulting in performance penalties. However, the owner continued to insist on maximum noise reduction.

On the acceptance flight, the good news was that the cabin proved to be one of the quietest the facility had ever completed. The bad news: not only did the soundproofing add considerably to weight but it made the aircraft so quiet that virtually every sound in the flight deck—from pilot conversation to warning bells, alert buzzes, and the constant beeping of the autopilot trim adjustment feature—could be clearly heard in the cabin. This interference became so distracting to passengers that it wasn’t long before the aircraft returned to the completion facility for a renovation. —G.G.

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