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«Spring 2011

How to Extend the Life of an Aircraft Interior

Mechanisms like doors, drawers, chairs and tables require regular adjustment to work correctly and prevent unnecessary damage.

The DOM's Guide to Phased Interior Maintenance

You can tell a lot about the condition of an aircraft by looking at the cabin, or at least that’s what people tend to think. A clean, well-cared-for interior inspires confidence in how well the rest of the aircraft has been maintained. Unfortunately, interior maintenance tends to be dismissed as a merely aesthetic or unnecessary expense. It’s an assumption that isn’t entirely true....

It’s commonly known that an interior that’s five years old doesn’t look or feel half as good as it did when it was new. What isn’t commonly known is that regular maintenance can extend that "like-new" quality through to the end of the interior’s functional lifespan. More importantly, regular maintenance can also help materials last longer, prevent damage, lower costs and increase aircraft availability.

The Value of Aesthetics

The importance of an interior’s appearance varies by how an aircraft is used, and if it will be leased or sold. Aircraft that are reserved for private or corporate use might postpone interior touchups until the next major refurbishment. By contrast, aircraft that are leased or chartered tend to target the interior appearance as a much higher priority for passenger comfort and appeal.

A well-maintained interior will help an aircraft sell faster at a better price.

"It’s peace of mind," says Nate Darlington, an Interior Modifications Sales Representative at Duncan Aviation’s Battle Creek, Michigan, facility. "A well-maintained interior looks clean and feels more comfortable, and passengers feel more confident with how the aircraft has been handled and cared for."

The same principle applies to selling an aircraft. A worn or abused interior leads prospective buyers to question how the rest of the airplane has been maintained, says Bob McCammon, an Aircraft Sales and Acquisitions Rep. at Duncan Aviation’s Lincoln, Nebraska, facility. When preparing to list an aircraft for sale, maintaining high-wear areas like armrests, entry door step treads and the galley help make a favorable impression with a buyer.

"First impressions make a big difference in the sale," says Bob. "A well-maintained interior will help an aircraft sell faster at a better price. The broker or selling agent won’t have to make excuses for it."

Currently, interior work is trending away from complete refurbishments and moving toward partial interior work. "For the most part, aircraft owners are just trying to fix what they need to fix to get their interiors looking nice again and not have them look worn," says Matthew Schepers, an Interior Modification Sales Representative in Lincoln.

Preventive Maintenance

A well-maintained interior goes deeper than clean carpets and seats. Functional items need ongoing service to make sure they work properly.

Ongoing maintenance of big ticket items extends their lifespan and makes an interior investment last longer.

For example, consider door and drawer adjustments. "It takes 30 minutes to adjust the latches so the door strikes won’t poke through the cabinet veneer," says Nate. "Otherwise it takes 20 hours to repair and refinish the damaged veneer."

Other functional interior items, like cabinets and seats, can break or damage surrounding materials if they aren’t maintained, says Matthew. If they function correctly, they won’t cause damage.

"Ongoing maintenance of big ticket items extends their lifespan," says Matthew. "It makes your interior investment last longer."

Scheduling Considerations

The ideal way to schedule ongoing maintenance is to coordinate it with maintenance events of similar downtimes. Unfortunately, interior items typically aren’t anticipated far enough in advance for scheduling or budgeting considerations.

Aircraft availability can be affected if last-minute additions cause scheduling conflicts, or when there isn’t enough lead time to order necessary materials.

"Interiors are usually something people only worry about once every six years," says Matthew. "Most customers aren’t comfortable talking about it."

When interior issues frustrate the aircraft owner, it can make a Director of Maintenance (DOM) equally uncomfortable. Scheduling becomes a last-minute addition to the workscope, which can extend downtime and increase costs beyond the budgeted expenses.

Aircraft availability can be affected if last-minute additions cause scheduling conflicts, or when there isn’t enough lead time to order necessary materials.

As a general rule, larger aircraft should have interior projects planned at least six to eight weeks in advance, says Matthew. Smaller aircraft can be done with less lead time, about four to six weeks.

"This allows all the materials to come in so when the plane arrives everything’s ready," says Matthew. "We’re not figuring things out along the way."

"Phased" Interior Maintenance

An interior refurbishment can be effectively "phased" over several years of regularly scheduled maintenance events. Nate describes it as running interior events in conjunction with annual airframe events, which off-sets the cost of a complete refurbishment by amortizing it over the aircraft life and maintenance cycle. By doing so, long-term costs are reduced, extra downtime is avoided and the interior is kept in pristine condition.

The cost of an interior refurbishment can be amortized over several years by "phasing" interior maintenance.

Matthew estimates that 10 to 12 weeks of downtime can be saved for a larger aircraft over the course of three or four years. Smaller aircraft would save about five to six weeks of downtime over the same period of time.

Most of these savings are realized by pairing inspections that require removal and reinstallation of interior items with maintenance for those same items. For example, inspections that require the removal of seats and floorboards are a prime opportunity to replace carpet and recover seats without extending the service schedule.

DOMs usually know when their next maintenance event is coming due. However, estimating downtimes and determining what interior services can, or should, be scheduled with which events can get complicated quickly.

"It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but pre-planning is important to keep in mind," says Nate. "We’re able to help DOMs think it through and develop a maintenance plan."

Such interior maintenance plans help operators perform annual evaluations by making note of functionality and appearance, planning interior services and budgeting more effectively. If the plan is followed, it also helps soften the blow on the balance sheets by spreading the burden of cost over several years, says Nate.

Creating a Maintenance Plan

Interior maintenance plans target all aspects of an interior from softgoods to veneer, from the cockpit to the aft baggage compartment as the interior ages. However, not all operators want every aspect of the interior in mint condition, and that’s just as it should be. An interior should reflect the needs, goals and objectives that are unique to each operator.

The goal is to create a plan that operators can take with them, and covers the full scope of the aircraft's life and maintenance cycles.

An effective maintenance plan is based on a thorough understanding of the customer and their aircraft. To create one, an Interior Modifications Rep. works with a DOM to review how their aircraft is used without cost or obligation. The lifespan of interior items is estimated, required maintenance events are identified and interior items are paired with inspections that require similar downtimes.

"We sit down and really get to know the operator, the aircraft and the needs of the principal," says Matthew. "The relationship with the operator is what’s important to us. Every aircraft has its own life and maintenance cycles, and the goal is to come up with a plan that the operator can take with them, and will cover the full scope of both cycles."

For example, Falcon 2000 aircraft have a life and maintenance cycle of about eight years. A phased interior maintenance schedule for this aircraft identifies five inspection types, the estimated downtime and the interior items that are recommended for each.

"If you follow the plan, you’ll know what items need to be worked three to four months in advance and have time to prepare for it," says Matthew.

For more information, or to request a phased interior maintenance schedule, please contact Matthew Schepers in Lincoln at 402.479.4189 or Nate Darlington in Battle Creek at 269.969.8443.