specialized interior companies give aircraft a personal touch
October 24, 2019
Manufacturers take aircraft exteriors seriously to make a good first impression. But time spent inside the aircraft lasts far longer and leaves a more permanent impression. Here, an important role is set aside for the cabin interior service providers. BART Executive Editor Nick Klenske takes a look at what the leading interior companies have been up to
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, as it’s what’s on the inside that matters. Although applying this approach to Business Aviation may be a bit of a stretch (let’s face it, most of the exteriors of today’s business aircraft make a great first impression), the interior is where an aircraft is able to express its unique personality.
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. For those looking for something that goes above and beyond, there are many specialized companies offering 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 interior completions. The company’s in-house design studio has over 40 years of experience in VIP private aircraft interiors. Working independently and in partnership with external designers, the Studio designs and supports completions and refurbishment concepts and provides detail design and feasibility studies and design management services. This summer, the company appointed Grischa Schmidt as the new Senior Director of the Design Studio, a role that sees him managing a team of 16 designers.
“The Design Studio is a key part of the comprehensive in-house services that we offer, and Grischa’s wealth of experience in aviation, marine and automotive design will ensure that we continue to provide exceptional interior design solutions for completion and refurbishment customers,” says Dirk Sapatka, General Manager Basel.
Earlier this year, the company delivered three extensive refurbishments on a Boeing 747 and two Gulfstream GIVs, all of which included Ka Band installations. In addition, the company successfully implemented and delivered its first Ka Band installations on Gulfstream G550 and G650 aircraft.
Canada-based Flying Colours is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Founded by John Gillespie, today, John’s two sons, Eric and Sean, help run the company, which specializes in – among other services – green completions, refurbishments and executive conversions.
The company kicked off its anniversary year by announcing the addition of a 100,000 square feet to its Peterborough, Ontario facility. As a Bombardier ASF and authorized completion center, Flying Colours is experiencing unprecedented demand for its high-quality work. The construction of its largest hangar yet will accommodate aircraft up to executive airliner size for maintenance and interiors work. A second dedicated aircraft paint shop, along with expanded design suites for customer meetings, will complement the expansive facility.
In the spring, Flying Colours confirmed renewal of its agreement with Bombardier Business Aircraft’s Service Centre at Seletar Airport to provide interior services at the OEM’s Singapore facility. The renewed relationship between the two Canadian companies confirms that Flying Colours will continue delivering the full-service interiors offering, including preliminary inspections, repair work, modifications and refurbishments, to complement Bombardier’s comprehensive line and heavy maintenance services.
“Our interior workload is expected to rise with the addition of the larger MRO hangar, exterior paint facility, and workshops that Bombardier is adding,” explains Eric Gillespie. “As a result, we’ve invested significantly in training, tooling and developing a state-of-the-art interiors facility to mirror the quality and skills available at our North American facilities.”
Flying Colours Corp. is now developing its own expansion strategy to best align with Bombardier’s growth in Asia. Initial plans include extending the workshop area, which will double the existing footprint, adding two more climate-controlled spray booths, and increasing its workforce capacity. With the new Bombardier facilities expected to be operational in 2020, Flying Colours Corp. is scheduling growth to meet the anticipated rise in demand at this time.
AERIA Luxury Interiors
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.
Earlier this year, the company completed a nose-to-tail, full cabin refurbishment on a Boeing Business Jet 737 for a US-based charter firm. The program, completed within eight months, marks AERIA’s first full narrowbody refurbishment. The aircraft received a full range of enhancements, including all wood surfaces, seat and interior panel reupholstery, faux wood flooring installation, carpet replacement and paint to match touch ups. The program also included a partial cabin reconfiguration of the aft cabin.
“As an integrated solutions provider for private jets since 2012, AERIA takes pride in consistently delivering high levels of craftsmanship with high level of attention to details for our valued customers, be it in cabin refurbishment, VIP completions or maintenance services,” says Ron Soret, Vice President/General Manager of AERIA.
King Aerospace Commercial Corporation believes every corporate aircraft interior refurbishment should represent the company’s personalized design requirement. That’s why King’s interiors team serves to bring its customers ideas to life, keeping corporate jet or VVIP aircraft interiors at the superior standard to which they have become accustomed to. “The interiors team at King Aerospace understands the latest innovations and sophisticated interior designs and refurbishments in the industry,” says a company representative.
To do this, the company focuses on providing VVIP interior installation and refurbishments on BBJs and other corporate jets. Services include veneer, lighting panels, valance panels, seats, carpet, and nontextile floor coverings.
According to the company, customer demand for BBJ interior refurbishment services is on the rise. “We’re on track to complete more than 40 MRO and interior refurbishment projects on Boeing business aircraft this year – a 37% increase over 2018,” says the company. “Our VVIP and private jet interior design team is currently working on three Boeing 737 aircraft and one Boeing 757 aircraft at our facility in Ardmore, Oklahoma.”
These interior refurbishments range from minor repairs to complete overhauls. While smaller projects upgrade carpet or nontextile floor covering, lighting and valence panels, seating and veneer, a total remodel sees the company gutting more than 5,000 cubic feet of space with more than 800 square feet of walkable surface in aircraft.
“Our VVIP aircraft customers need a lounge to entertain, an office for work, a bedroom for long flights and multiple lavatories for various crew and passengers and we have the capacity to provide exactly that,” adds the company.
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. This summer, the company constructed a customized interior cabin for a confidential head-of-state customer that weighs in 1,000 pounds below project estimates. The B777 is equipped with the latest GDC Technics electronics services that provide industry-leading inflight data, connectivity, and passenger comfort capabilities, including a full security system, forward-looking, quad, downward zoom, and tail fin cameras, dual L Band and SATCOM system, KA-Band Antenna, Iridium system and Satellite TV Antenna providing live 4K Television. The wide-body aircraft also contains a lower lobe crew rest compartment and unique design systems allowing for three custom showers with on-demand hot water heaters.
“With this aircraft, GDC Technics continues to prove our industry-leading expertise, skills, and abilities to succeed in aircraft modification programs,” says Brad Foreman, GDC Technics CEO. “We are continuing our trend on delivering aircraft with innovative designs and nanotechnology materials that are far below the estimated weight – resulting in a more fuel efficient and longer range aircraft.”
Duncan Aviation was launched by Donald Duncan, an Iowa farmer who started out as a Beechcraft distributor in the 1950s. Soon after, 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.
Recently, the company received FAA approval for a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) that will allow installation of SmartSky’s air-to-ground connectivity system for Challenger 601, 604, 605 and 650 aircraft. SmartSky’s network brings new, high-performance Wi-Fi to business aircraft, powered by a mix of advanced 4G LTE and 5G technologies. As a result, multiple passengers will now have simultaneous access to a highly compelling user experience in the air, enabling them to hold in-flight conference calls, VPN into the office, stream movies, compete in online games, and easily upload/download content during their flights.
“Duncan Aviation is an exceptional, visionary partner who knew exactly what their customers wanted and provided critical input for our design requirements,” says SmartSky Chairman and CEO Haynes Griffin. “Our system meets or exceeds that high bar Duncan Aviation helped set, giving customers the internet speed they’ve long demanded using SmartSky’s patented bi-directional, low-latency network.”
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.
Over the summer, the company announced that its Completion division was selected by DC Aviation Group to complete the VIP interior of an ACJ320neo aircraft. This new signing consolidates Comlux Completion’s order book with a total of four ACJ320neo VIP cabins contracts signed to date.
“This is our fourth completion order for an ACJ320neo aircraft and DC Aviation’s choice confirms our positioning as the leader of VIP completions for this type,” says Comlux Completion CEO Daron Dryer. “With the extensive ramp up activity planned for the next couple of years, we are reinforcing our work force in every department and recruiting new talents to boost our efficiency.”
Before flying to Comlux’s Indianapolis facilities, the aircraft, belonging to an undisclosed customer of DC Aviation Group, is to be delivered green by Airbus in November 2019. Since 2009, Comlux Completion has completed a full range of VIP completions including Airbus ACJ319, ACJ320, ACJ321, ACJ330, Boeing BBJ, BBJ3, 757BBJ, and Sukhoi SBJ. With 1 ACJ320neo and 1 BBJ MAX currently in completion, plus an order book of 3 ACJ320neo, Comlux Completion demonstrates its ability to deliver the most customized and innovative interiors to its VIP clients.
“After 10 years in the industry, Comlux Completion has now gained the experience and stability required to be successful in the market,” adds Dryer. “Thanks to the vision and confidence of its shareholders, Comlux is building a bright future for its employees.”
West Star Aviation
West Star provides high-quality aircraft exterior paint and interior services for corporate aircraft from the smallest up to the Global 7000, F900, Hawker 900, Citation 10/750, Embraer 650, or a Gulfstream 650. “Working closely with you, our experienced staff will design and update your aircraft interior and exterior with a full array of material selections, custom designed paint layouts, and uncompromising attention to detail,” says a company representative.
The company started the year with the opening of a new 60,000 sq. ft. hangar at its East Alton, IL location. The hangar features 40,000 sq. ft. of hangar space and 20,000 sq ft. of back shop and office space which supports West Star’s growing capabilities. This additional growth will initially employ 28 technicians to support the expansion, in addition to their existing hiring efforts.
“Having a new hangar provides us the added capacity to continue offering world-class service to our customers and ensure we meet requested deadlines,” says West Star Aviation General Manager Scott Sweeney.
Lufthansa Technik’s interior design prowess recently took home a Red Dot Design Award, which recognize the best in design and business. The award was for the Nature’s Touch narrow-body VIP cabin that the company jointly developed with Ameco.
Nature’s Touch is a business jet cabin interior concept that combines the cultures of East and West by using traditional Chinese elements and smart technology to create a convenient and comfortable travel experience. The unique cabin concept brings a brand-new business travel experience to customers for the interior of the Airbus ACJ320neo business jet, which features a live-cooking aircraft galley, guest area, lounge, dining/meeting area, cinema, and master bedroom. The design explores the harmonious beauty in the symbiosis of nature and technology. Due to its flexibility the concept anticipates the adaption to a Boeing 737 BBJ configuration as well.
“We are grateful for having had the chance to jointly develop this project with our partner Ameco, as such cooperation shows the synergies of our both company’s strengths,” says Jan Grube, Head of Asia Sales for VIP & Special Mission aircraft at Lufthansa Technik. “This new design and its innovative features separate it from similar concepts and the fact that we won the Red Dot Award shows its excellent reception in the market.”
This year, SR Technics announced the ground breaking of a new six-bay hangar, including significant back-shop facilities, for its center of excellence (CoE) in Malta. The project will enable SR Technics to continuously provide high-quality aircraft maintenance and cabin modification services, now for up to six narrow body aircraft of the B737 & A320families simultaneously. The first bays of the hangar will be completed by the beginning of 2020.