an inside look at an inside job

March 25, 2019

Whether it’s keeping up with the latest technology or creating a unique interior design, today’s bizav interiors sector is all about finding innovative solutions for meeting the customers’ increasingly great expectations. Nick Klenske provides a glimpse into the market

The interiors sector has become the standard-bearer for innovation in our industry – coming up with new solutions and designs to make better use of available cabin space and to provide the passengers with a comfortable, optimized flying experience. As a case in point, I remember visiting the then-recently opened Dassault Falcon showroom at Paris-Le Bourget several years back and being wowed by the innovative approach the company took to interior design. Essentially a combination of a traditional and virtual showroom, the facility uses state-of-the-art, interactive technology that lets the customer design the interior of their aircraft on the spot.

Your interior journey begins in a central room, known as the specification area, where you are surrounded by high-definition screens and advanced 3D tools that interface directly with Dassault’s very own digital modeling software – which allows you and your team of designers to design the cabin with swipes of a screen. From here you move to the showrooms, each of which is dedicated to a specific cabin feature: seats, in-flight entertainment, galley appliances, lighting, paneling, etc. I remember thinking that not only was this an innovative approach to interiors, it was also an innovative approach to customer engagement.

“These facilities enhance and streamline the total spec and design experience and bring it to a level that is unlike anything available in Business Aviation today,” said Dassault Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier, speaking at the time. “Our customers now have a very accurate vision of the aircraft interior they are designing, several months before the first part is even manufactured.”

All of this from an OEM and not even an interiors specialists! You can only imagine the level of innovation that the specialists are up to. For those who are lacking in such an imagination, no worries, here BART International gives you an inside look at an inside business.

Designing Luxury, Catering to Needs

For Comlux Aviation, innovation is about using the time and resources available to create something luxury and technologically cutting-edge. “Every day we have to find innovative ways to balance the customer’s need for luxury with their technological needs,” says Comlux Executive Vice President of Operations and Chairman Comlux America Arnaud Martin. “On the one hand they want an aircraft that is one-of-a-kind, but on the other this same aircraft must have all the latest technological features.”

According to Martin, this means making the best use of available space and making more room for other features – as was the case with the company’s design of specific pocket doors it recently installed on an ACJ 330. At the same time, it also means having the very best in interior designers at your disposal, thus guaranteeing your customers the one-of-a-kind design that they so desire.

For this, Comlux has brought in the big guns: Alberto Pinto Design, DesignQ, Unique Aircraft and Winch Design.

Earlier this year the company announced that it had teamed up with these industry designers to develop multiple interior design and floorplan concepts for the next generation narrow body interiors and, specifically, the Airbus ACJ neo and the BBJ MAX 8. To qualify, each designer had to develop unique rendering concepts for the two aircraft, including materials, styles and concepts. “This is something that has never been done before in our industry,” says Martin. “Comlux recognizes that every client has different tastes and styles, and by partnering with these design companies we can help foster innovation for all our clientele.”

Another company that keeps design close to heart is AERIA Luxury Interiors. The company is known for creating aerial spaces suited for heads of state, titans of industry, corporations and individuals who expect and appreciate impeccable taste, luxurious comfort and richly appointed accommodations. “Our designers work with a deep understanding of the form and function of VIP aircraft interiors, composing works that range from airborne palaces to sleek executive environments,” says a company representative. “For us, a successful interiors involves the orchestration of the highest caliber materials and components, assembled with exquisite attention to detail and flawless craftsmanship – resulting in an environment that delights the senses as it surrounds its occupants with unabashed luxury.”

A Customer-Centric Approach

This idea of providing the customer with a one-of-a-kind design is a theme echoed at StandardAero. Here, successful innovation is the result of attention to detail, good communications and having a customer relationship built on trust. “The starting point is always to establish trust with the customer,” explains StandardAero Director of Sales, Avionics, Modifications, Paint & Interior Don Milum. “Every customer comes with an idea of what they want in their head. Our job is to work with them to understand what it is they want and to find solutions for making it a reality – and none of this can happen without that initial foundation in trust.”

Although the timeline differs for every project – spanning from less than a month to half a year – the process is generally always the same. It starts with an initial meeting with the customer and subsequent discussions. These discussions in turn result in computer designs, which are then discussed with the client and approved or modified. Next comes a review of available materials, followed by the engineering team bringing in the drawings for discussion, review and, depending on the outcome here, to be sent to production.

Another similarity across all projects is a trend for details. “With today’s customer, the devil really is in the details,” says Milum. “Instead of the in-your-face flashiness of yesterday’s gold plated interiors, today’s customer’s lean towards the subtle and simple – clean lines and stainless steel to provide a sharp, sleek cabin interior.”

Milum also notes a shift away from multi-system interiors and instead towards providing the infrastructure needed for the passenger to utilize his or her own devices. “Our team is always looking for innovative solutions that allow the passenger to interact with the aircraft from their own device,” he says. “That and finding ways to fit the latest, largest, high-definition monitors possible!”

This customer-centric approach to interiors can also be found on the VIP and Head of State completion side. “The interiors of Head of State and VIP aircraft are a reflection of the owner’s personality, priorities and brand,” adds Associated Air Center Vice President of Business Development Chip Fitchner. According to Fitchner, an interior isn’t a choice between being more productive or having a luxurious interior, but finding the right balance of both. “A successful interior encompasses both productivity and ultimate comfort,” he says.

Likewise, RUAG Aviation also puts a focus on designing interiors reflective of customer demands. “Ensuring our customer is able to realize their vision of the ideal cabin interior is our passion,” says RUAG Aviation Munich Head of Business Jet Sales Mark-André Mann. In late March, the company completed an upgrade and restyling of a recently purchased Bombardier Global 5000 registered in India. The upgrade involved installing a custom configuration featuring an additional divan. In order to optimize the aircraft’s downtime, RUAG also performed IFE upgrades and a restyling of additional interior elements.

“Cabin interior modifications on newly delivered aircraft happen quite often, as some customers change their mind on certain elements of the interior design shortly before or during factory delivery,” adds RUAG Aviation Director of Cabin Interior Services & Design Robin Freigang. “As customer expectations are very high during a factory delivery, we work closely with the OEM and the client during this phase.”

At AMAC Aerospace, its new state-of-the-art workshops are manned with the best craftsmen in the industry and outfitted with modern cabinet, upholstery, sheet metal, composite and avionic workshops. “We’re authorized to upholster, inspect, install TSO tags and ship completed seats directly to end users, or install them in the aircraft as part of the completion or refurbishment project,” says a company spokesperson. The company’s hangars at Switzerland’s EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse can accommodate multiple narrow and wide-body aircraft – including a Boeing B747, B777, B787 and the Airbus A340, A330 and A380 – along with select small business jets. The tactical interlinking of hangars and workshops ensures superior time management and manpower allocation for all in-house projects.

Unfortunately, having this ‘manpower’ or talent, is becoming an increasing challenge for the sector. On this topic, some interior companies are taking a proactive approach. For example, GDC Technics’ Learning Center – an independent subsidiary housed in its facilities – offers custom courses aimed at fulfilling specific client needs, along with a full roster of standard technical and qualification classes. Three newly built classrooms accommodate up to 20 students per class, and a six-station professional-grade lab facility provides hands-on training. GDC Technics offers fully in-house design, engineering, manufacturing, installation and certification of major modifications on aircraft structures, systems and cabins.

Makeovers for Aging Aircraft

Like much of the market, the interiors sector has taken a hit during the economic downturn. Although sales of new aircraft remain down, interior companies have benefited from a pick up in the pre-owned market. “Many customers don’t want to buy a new aircraft, but at the same time they want to keep their older aircraft looking new,” says Flying Colours Executive Vice President Sean Gillespie. “Needless to say, this is good news for interiors companies.”

Here, according to Gillespie, the trend is to update an aircraft’s connectivity capabilities, part of what seems like a never ending quest for the latest, fastest and most cost effective solutions. Similar to what StandardAero sees, Gillespie agrees that the trend is towards the subdued. “Customers want to invest in top end materials to give their cabins a similar design to their homes and their offices,” he says.

Speaking of retrofits, Flying Colours just announced the signing of its launch customer for the innovative INAIRVATION pre-engineered retrofit cabin solution for Bombardier Global aircraft types. INAIRVATION, a joint venture between Lufthansa Technik and F/LIST, is the first provider to offer completely integrated business jet cabin solutions with interior design company DesignQ and cabin lighting specialists SCHOTT AG.

According to Flying Colours, the initial retrofit will incorporate the nice HD Cabin Management and Inflight Entertaining system (IFE/CMS) from Lufthansa Technik, which will be integrated into new ergonomic side-ledges. The Global Express will also see near complete reconfiguration of its interior, from replacing its seats with Global 6000 frames covered in a variety of exotic leathers to a lighting system incorporating a rainbow spectrum of options. A stone granite floor will be installed in the galley entrance area and carbon fiber veneers will be laid on the cabinetry to enhance the new interior’s contemporary style.

“Having worked with this customer before, he trusts our engineering design experience and knows we will effectively realize his cabin vision,” says Gillespie. “Although we explored a number of options with him, he chose the INAIRVATON concept knowing that, combined with our interior capabilities, it was the most cost and time efficient solution.”

On the topic of Lufthansa Technik, the customer has recently quadrupled its investment in innovation – from EUR 50 million over the past five years to EUR 200 million for the period up to 2018. “Innovation offers more than just tremendous potential for differentiating ourselves from the competition, it’s also a source of profitable cost savings for both Lufthansa Technik and its customers,” says a company representative.

One outcome of this investment is the company’s Virtual Cabin Visit, a system of ultra-modern 3D technology and virtual reality that allows customers to ‘see’ the complete cabin – and provide input – well before the final product. The system is the culmination of several R&D initiatives.

The Cabin Connectivity Sector?

We’ve mentioned the importance of connectivity in the cabins, but how much of today’s interior work is devoted to cabin avionics as opposed to traditional interior design? Has technology disrupted the sector to the point that we should start referring to it as the Cabin Connectivity sector?

According to Jet Aviation, the shift isn’t necessarily an increase in interest for avionics and connectivity projects in relation to general interior refurbishment and modifications, but that there is generally more demand for such upgrades. Put another way, a chair design tends to have a longer shelf-life than the latest technology – which seems to evolve daily. As a result, there’s a non-stop demand to upgrade a cabin’s connectivity to the latest offerings.

“Our Refurbishment, Modifications and Upgrades (RMU) division has been very active, particularly in regard to new avionics upgrades and connectivity developments,” says Jet Aviation Basel Supervisor Maintenance Interior Design Simon Koenig. “But the reason behind this differential interest has more to do with parts becoming obsolete as technology moves forward and increasing market demand for HD technology, internet communication and the next generation of Apple, for example – that and the fact that owners generally want and expect the same service they get at home in their aircraft or yachts.”

That isn’t to say customers aren’t also upgrading their interior designs – to the contrary. It’s more of an issue of customers being practical about when they do these upgrades. “Soft materials require a longer ground time, so such modifications are typically combined with a heavy maintenance check,” adds Koenig. “With more of a budget dedicated to cabin accessibility, a soft interior modification is really budget sensitive. When they do opt for one, carpet is one of the items that an owner is more likely to change more frequently.”

Innovating Answers to Great Expectations

Whether it’s keeping up with the latest technology or creating a unique interior design, today’s Business Aviation interiors sector is all about finding innovative solutions for meeting the customers’ increasingly great expectations.

“All completion projects have one thing in common, the focus is on providing premium quality above all else,” says Jet Aviation Basel Senior Sales Engineer Ettore Scari. “As industry standards and system capabilities have risen, so too have customer expectations.”

So how does one meet such great expectations? Based on what we’ve heard here, whether regarding aesthetics, comfort, quality of manufacturing or materials, design and use of cabin space, cabin noise levels, maintainability and system performance, the answer is always to look towards the details and innovate.