AIRCRAFT INTERIORS: TAKE A LOOK INSIDE
From the largest completion centers to bespoke purveyors, a range of interiors companies is at EBACE 2018 showcasing their latest cabin interiors innovations. Nick Klenske reports
As everyone knows, EBACE is the prime-time event for Business Aviation in Europe. Sure, the OEMs, MROs and FBOs tend to stand out. But any regular attendee knows that EBACE is about more than just abbreviations – it’s also about what happens on the inside of the latest business jets. Here, an important role is set aside for the cabin interior service providers, who stand at the forefront of making the inside of your business aircraft as sleek and elegant as the outside.
Of course, it’s the OEMs that offer the first range of interior options when you acquire a new business aircraft. Luckily for the picky flyer, there are many specialized companies that offer tailor-made solutions for customizing your aircraft from nose to tail, a number of which we highlight here.
Many of the well-known players in the interiors sector are one-stop-shops that provide all the services a business aircraft requires in-house. For example, along with offering FBOs, maintenance, flight services, charter and staffing, Jet Aviation also does completions. Late last year the company officially broke ground on a new 8,700 square-meter wide-body hangar project in Basel, Switzerland. The new hangar, which is scheduled to go into operation at the end of 2018, is suitable for wide-body projects up to a Boeing 747 and is being built specifically to meet increasing demand for wide-body completions and refurbishments.
The hangar will provide an additional 4,500 square meters of hangar space to accommodate a number of wide- and narrow-body aircraft simultaneously. The project also extends the tarmac by 5,000 square meters, while adding 2,000 square meters for shops and offices.
Canada-based Flying Colours was founded nearly 30 years ago by John Gillespie. Today, John’s two sons, Eric and Sean Gillespie, help run the company, which specializes in – among other services – green completions, refurbishments and executive conversions.
Although the company receives a lot of requests for cabin elements made from (exotic) wood, carbon fiber and fine leather, it has noted a growing trend that relates to the entire cabin. “There’s a trend for cabins to be ‘zoned’, with each section delivering a different functionality,” explains Sean. “As interior designers, this means we need to consider each cabin as a different project while, at the same time, make sure the aircraft’s overall look and feel remains continuous.”
A lot of inspiration and requests from business aircraft owners originate from the automotive and hospitality sectors, which have an interesting impact on aircraft interiors. “We notice that the popular zen-lines have transferred into cabin designs,” says Sean. “As the average age of a business jet traveler continues to become younger, this is likely to create other demands on board to accommodate a younger lifestyle.”
Recent news saw the company’s St. Louis, Missouri, location expand its footprint and capacity six-fold. According to Sean, it’s the first full infrastructure development since the company acquired the business of competitor JetCorp Technical Services in 2009. “It was needed as demand for our cabinetry and completion skills was outstripping our capacity, all of which coincided with a rise in demand for OEM cabinetry work,” he adds. “Naturally, alongside the cabinetry comes other work related to interior completions, including detailed upholstery of seats, bespoke galley creations, manufacturing of customized monuments, and the design of upgraded connectivity solutions.”
Even though the expansion was completed at the beginning of March, Sean says the company isn’t done yet. “We anticipate a second phase of development in the US later in the year,” he says.
The expansion follows hard on the heels of the announced investment by private equity firm New Heritage Capital, which was made in February. The Boston-based company became a minority stakeholder in Flying Colours, enabling the company to expand its service lines, infrastructure and existing facilities, as it did in St. Louis.
AERIA Luxury Interiors
Although smaller and perhaps less known than other interior players, AERIA Luxury Interiors is renowned for its relation to VT SAA, part of the world’s largest MRO services provider, Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering. VT SAA’s hub at its San Antonio headquarters provides AERIA with the ability to connect with other divisions throughout the ST network and leverage interior designs and products for its own projects.
Founded by the legendary aviation designer Dee Howard and originally known as the Dee Howard Company, the company underwent a complete makeover in 2012. Rebranded as AERIA Luxury Interiors, the company started focusing primarily on corporate airliner completions after having obtained the required approvals from Airbus Corporate Jets and Boeing Business Jets in 2014. Since then, AERIA has prided itself in calling aerial luxury its area of expertise.
In February, during the 2018 Singapore Airshow, the company announced that it had reeled in its third BBJ completion contract since 2014, a particularly steady pace considering the average turnaround time for a corporate airliner completion. After a series of meetings with the undisclosed owner of the Boeing 737-700, AERIA came up with a design that features a VIP stateroom and adjacent lavatory with a shower cabin – in addition to a separate office, passenger and crew galleys, and a dedicated staff zone. The design features wood, fine leather and fabrics, and an impressive amount of gold plating.
The aircraft arrived during the first quarter of this year at the company’s headquarters in San Antonio, the so-called birthplace of large cabin completions. Here, in the original orange hangers of DHC, AERIA has a 100,000 square-feet facility within VT SAA’s 700,000 square-feet complex. Last year, the company added a 10,000 square-feet upholstery and cabinet shop to this already impressive footprint.
It’s no wonder that San Antonio is referred to as the birthplace of large completions and cabin interior design, considering that the city is home to GDC Technics. As one of the first completions centers in the US to be approved by BBJ and ACJ, GDC Technics quickly established itself as a leader in interior completions for Heads of State and VVIPs.
At present, over 600 people work at the company’s 340,000-square-feet hub in San Antonio. After being acquired by Saudi Arabian MAZ Aviation, the company impressively expanded its bases of operations through a series of takeovers in Germany and Morocco. What’s more, the company has also substantially expanded its US presence through the leasing of close to 850,000 square feet in Fort Worth, Texas. This amount of space allows for simultaneous work to be performed on up to six wide-body aircraft. But the good tiding didn’t end there. In 2016, it was revealed that the company was involved as a Boeing subcontractor servicing parts to Air Force One.
Still States-side is Duncan Aviation, launched by Donald Duncan in the 1950s. The Iowa farmer started out as a Beechcraft distributor, after which fueling, MRO, avionics, accessory and painting services were added to the company’s portfolio. But it wasn’t until 1981 that the company took its first dive into the world of interior completions. Although today the company is more active in the MRO and avionics field, Duncan Aviation does have a long list of approvals for cabin interior projects, including for Bombardier, Dassault, Cessna/Textron Aviation, Embraer, Gulfstream, Hawker and Beechcraft aircraft.
Duncan Aviation works intensively on creating awareness about your aircraft’s lifespan, including its parts, avionics systems and interior products. As a result, it has created an actual manual, written by interior experts and titled “How to Extend the Life of an Aircraft Interior” – all part of its mission to make owners realize that regular check-ins are absolutely required if you want to get the best out of your aircraft. According to the manual, and as with any other vehicle, parts of an interior will wear out long before a next complete refurbishment is due. Through frequent and phased interior repairs, Duncan’s goal is to educate operators and aircraft owners on how to keep their interiors looking new.
Another noteworthy thing about Duncan Aviation’s services is that it hand-crafts nearly every aspect of an interior. This has led to several innovative products and signature collections, including its own seat design and upholstery, stone flooring, custom pop-up cabin dividers and interchangeable cabinets.
The company recently broke ground on a new, 222,000 square-feet complex at its Provo, Utah, location. The added buildings will predominantly serve the region’s increasing needs for MRO and modifications services and will also include an innovative paint facility. The company’s Provo location opened its doors in 2010 and has since then performed work of all types, including several interior projects for business aircraft from across Europe, the Pacific and the Americas. The $70-million-dollar facility will offer large hangar spaces, along with back shop and office space. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
Another very well-known player in the large-cabin, corporate airliner interior services sector is Comlux – short for comfort and luxury. Located in Indianapolis, Indiana, Comlux Completion has been performing interior work since 2009 on BBJs, ACJs – and even Sukhoi Business Jets.
In order to guarantee a clear vision and unified approach, the company launched its own VIP cabin design office, called Comlux Creatives. The team at Comlux Creatives approaches every new project through the company’s Five Senses concept, which takes the customer through a sensory journey across all five senses. First, the team of designers listens carefully to define the customer’s needs, after which they conceptualize those needs to express the personal taste of the customer. Next, the concept is brought together with materials so that the customer can touch what will be used, after which every small detail of the concept is put into drawings to show the customer how everything comes together. Finally, the journey ends with the sweet smell of success.
A lot of firsts have happened at Comlux over the last year. In April, the company delivered its first custom-made VIP cabin for a Sukhoi Business Jet. The cabin for the Kazakhstan-based aircraft was certified by EASA and features a configuration with 19 seats in a contemporary corporate interior. The front of the cabin features a VIP area with a four-club seating area and a side-facing sofa, followed by an executive section with 15 first-class seats in a two-by-one, three-abreast configuration.
The entire project took a year to complete and obtain certification. Comlux Completion CEO Scott Meyer said the project was the first of its type to be outfitted in corporate configuration and certified by EASA. “This made it especially challenging, given the completion operations happened in the US on an aircraft without FAA TC,” he says. “This once again showcases how Comlux can adapt and find solutions in any environment to best serve our customers.”
Four months later, in August of 2017, the company announced it had reeled in its first ACJ320 neo cabin completion project. The corporate airliner is expected for delivery in its green state in September 2019, after which Comlux will take approximately ten months to complete at its Indianapolis facility – one of the shortest completion cycles to date. “We are running several ACJ neo and BBJ MAX cabin sales campaigns right now and we are expecting to sign more contracts before the end of the year,” says Meyer.
Less than two months later, the company was awarded its first cabin outfitting contract onboard a BBJ MAX 8, slated to arrive in Indianapolis in the last quarter of this year. Again, the turnaround for this corporate airliner is set tightly, with a projected redelivery by the fall of 2019. “The first MAX 8 signature, together with the neo cabin contract, are paving the way in establishing Comlux as a leader in the VIP completion market and in building a bright future for our company and its employees,” adds Meyer.
Get Inside at EBACE
Of course, this is just the tip of the interiors iceberg – there’s simply too many companies doing too many things on the inside of too many aircraft for us to cover this short preview article. And really, there’s no better way to learn the latest on the interior business then to get inside an aircraft and see for yourself. So, when you’re walking the EBACE halls or exploring the static display, be sure to take a moment to poke your head inside!