Designers and completion centres are finding creative ways of streamlining the fit-out process from first concept to final certification
The first collaboration between two new partners in aircraft design projects, 328 Design and Turkish Airlines subsidiary Turkish Technik, is to be an interior conversion for a Gulfstream IV. After signing an agreement with Turkish Technik in January, the 328 group, originally formed to support the Dornier 328 jet and turboprop fleet, says it hopes to continue developing its business in new directions.
328 Design emerged last year as a sister company to maintenance organisation 328 Support Services. It has EASA Part 21J DO approval and, with sister company AMDS UK, offers supplemental type certificates for a wide range of aircraft.
Of the 222 Dornier 328s that were delivered, most are flying today, with 57 operators in 28 countries. Kim Fuller, sales support manager for 328 Support Services, says most of the current aircraft are with commercial airlines in 31 to 34-seat configurations, though a number were built in a 19-seat corporate layout or are being used in special mission roles.
The new VIP offering from Munich-based 328 Design is the 328DBJ, a 12-seat conversion that received FAA certification in March 2011, followed by its first customer delivery.
The 328 completion team in Germany worked with UK-based CTM Design to rework the whole interior space from the cockpit back, stretching the main cabin and blocking off an emergency exit (as fewer passengers are on board) to maximise the seating area. The ceiling and sidewall panels have been redesigned and slimline PSUs fitted, creating an aircraft that claims to provide large-jet standards of space and comfort at a mid-size price.
An innovative galley concept maximises space in the forward cabin, generating nearly half a metre more working space. The main cabin measures 10 metres long, 2.15 metres wide and 1.8 metres high, enough to permit separate lounge and conference areas.
The company says the 328 DBJ feels “genuinely roomier” than previous Envoy models. A key feature of the conversion are luxurious seats based on a DeCrane VIP frame, and Fuller adds that the electronic options offered, including wi-fi, satcom and customised IFE, put this aircraft interior provider in the same leage as larger completion centres.
Through the new partnership, the skills and experience of 328 Design’s aircraft interior engineers will be used to certify the designs and materials selected by Turkish Technik through an STC issued by Avionics Mobile Design Services, which became part of the 328 group in 2009. The group has a portfolio of more than 200 STCs on types ranging from the Hawker 125 to the Airbus 320.
Monuments and other fittings now being designed in Munich are perfectly suited to “a Falcon or a Gulfstream,” Fuller says – and 328 is prepared to discuss Airbus, BBJ and other aircraft types. Not only is construction carried out to German quality standards, but she points out other advantages to the group’s one-stop shop approach.
Many companies contract third-party designer/vendors and simply manage the interior fit-out, but the process is very different at 328. Where the new galley concept for the 328 DBJ was concerned, for example, the company built a prototype in wood, then “played around with it”, shaving off a corner here and modifying it there until it was happy with the template. From there, it can now quickly apply a customised veneer to the honeycomb base unit in line with the client’s tastes.
During a full conversion, the company will strip an aircraft back to bare metal and inspect it for corrosion. The aircraft is typically “as new” when it emerges from the hangar. The benefit of bringing together maintenance and cabin redesign, Fuller reiterates, is that the “must do” as well as the “nice to have” can be accomplished at the same time.
Crosshead: Airworthiness focus
The same attributes of German engineering and an all-under-one-roof approach to aircraft completion, backed by innovative design concepts, are key selling points for Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg.
The company promises “interiors for all international styles, from clean governmental style to rich baroque or cool Asian,” and looks after every element in its in-house carpentry, upholstery, surface and metal shops. Each design is developed not just with engineering possibilities but also airworthiness requirements in mind to ensure a smooth process to certification, explains Michael Reichenecker, cabin interior designer.
An A318 fit-out to a standardised design takes about six months, but Reichenecker says a highly individualised solution for a widebody, incorporating state-of-the-art technology, will take considerably longer.
The process of capturing the client’s requirements has changed substantially and may explain why Lufthansa Technik is now taking on more of the up-front design work rather than simply interpreting the ideas of others, Reichenecker believes. “Clients previously had their own designers who had perhaps worked on their yachts or homes. They might come up with a nice design but it would still have to be certified. Some know how to achieve this but it always involves a high level of coordination and integration.”
Recent developments in 3D software give the client a photo-realistic way of seeing what a design will look like, and even an opportunity to “walk through” the cabin. Lufthansa Technik has now taken this a stage further with its “virtual fitcheck” system, which reduces the time, hangar space and cost involved in installing the customised cabin and for which the company has filed a patent application.
The traditional procedure has been to design the various elements of the cabin in line with the customer’s wishes in the mock-up centre, build these in the workshops and install them in a test fitting. Any problems are documented and revised solutions are developed as necessary. The elements are taken back out, adjusted and only then installed for good.
Lufthansa Technik engineering and IT teams worked for more than two years with five universities on a partially state-funded research project designed to shorten the fitcheck process chain by making sure most of the components fit the first time around. Virtual test fitting reduces the number of changes required to the real components, meaning that in most cases they no longer have to then be removed, adjusted and reinstalled. Instead, fitted elements will remain in the aircraft after the very first installation, significantly reducing the length of the layover.
First, a 3D image of the relevant aircraft type is created, enabling all the components to be viewed in a faithful reproduction of the real environment. Designers then enter a large glass projection room wearing special goggles fitted with reflector spheres and tracked by ceiling-mounted infrared cameras. They can move within this virtual world, spotting conflicts such as a hose or some other obstruction that may not have been evident before, and ensuring that maintenance personnel will have adequate access in future.
The cosmetics come later. Reichenecker defines the design challenge as one of mixing the “global” style, with which clients will be familiar from travelling around the world and staying in luxury hotels, with some reflection of their own cultural traditions such as Middle Eastern or Asian-themed ornaments and artwork.
“Clients are often looking for the same design in the plane as they see on the ground, but we’re more limted on the materials we can use, so we try to use the in different ways,” he says.
Lufthansa Technik is increasingly exploiting the possibilities of organic LED lighting (OLED) to change how walls and surfaces look, and to offer passengers their own opportunity to change the mood by controlling the effects from their iPad or smartphone.
Crosshead: More than pretty pictures
Rick Roseman, owner and director of RWR Designs in Plano, Texas, is also aiming to streamline the design, engineering and certification aspect of large aircraft completion. He describes the E-First concept that he has been working on for three years as “a major piece of long-needed industry reform”.
“Historically, the designer presents pretty pictures back to the owner and then starts talking with the engineering and certification departments at the completion centre – who say they can’t do it,” Roseman says. “Linking with those guys at the front end of the process, before you even talk with the owner, saves time and money all the way down the chain.”
Under RWR’s E-First principle, engineering of the interior begins as soon as soon as the floorplan is approved and solidified, instead of the current industry practice of waiting (often up to several months) for the complete design specification to be written and a completion centre nominated.
In Roseman’s current experience, only around 15% of business jet owners hire their own designers. When they do, the experience can become long and drawn-out.
“Let’s say a purchaser orders a new Gulfstream that comes in a number of standardised layouts from A to E, and he specifies that he has contracted his own designer, not the OEM’s in-house design team,” he says. “They’re now obliged to involve the designer and build to his specification.”
Materials such as exotic woods will already be priced in but the designer is responsible for the architectural detail on the established platform. This may typically cost $1 million. Thinking about engineering and certification at the conceptual stage of a project may not immediately appear to benefit the bottom line but “quantumly improves programme efficiency at every turn and ensure that your project is build-ready, or very close, by the time your aircraft is delivered from the OEM,” the company claims.
RWR works on land-based projects such as palaces and villas, as well as aircraft and yachts. The yacht industry has adopted a lot of the techniques used by the aircraft business but there are vast differences. Yachts face no weight constraints and less rigorous testing, Roseman points out. “You can’t just put a piano or a staircase into a business jet.”
He describes a private aircraft as “the most expensive thing on the planet per square foot, certainly more than a yacht where you pay $1 million per metre and can get four decks for $150 million. You can spend the same on a BBJ where you have far less space.”
There are owners out there who still have these sums of money, but they are looking at the bottom line more carefully than in years gone by, Roseman says. “The previous generation threw money at projects. They just wanted what they wanted. In the Middle East 15 years ago, they’d sign off on anything.
“Now they take time to make a decision, then go with a proposal or reject it. Owners approve a certain cost once the specification is agreed. Then, as you get into the project, they will want to discuss it again or make a visit to the completion centre if they want something added.”
RWR recently completed a Boeing 787 concept for the Chinese market that will be presented at ABACE in Shanghai at the end of March as part of a cross-industry US-China partnership programme. It’s a style of project Roseman has never attempted before. He has gone for a “rich, sumptuous” feel after many hours of research aimed at understanding how high-end Chinese like to style their homes.
However, it is a secondary group brand, accessory supplier Warren Rossman (a change of spelling in recognition of Roseman’s grandfather) that is now generating as much revenue as RWR’s mainstream interior design work. Warren Rossman was formed 3½ years ago, and its growth reflects both the demand for customised components, from ottomans and decorative artwork to plumbing and electrical fixtures, and the significant slowing in design projects since mid-2010.
“Completed VIP interiors look gorgeous but may need a lamp or bathrooms items to finish the job, and we decided to create a subsidiary to supply these items. The average BBJ interior costs $18 million for an 11ft 6in x 100ft space. To buy a cheap sconce off the shelf from a lighting company seems silly,” Roseman says.
Initially he will roll out 70 stock designs from which clients can choose. But the items will still be bespoke made, in the client’s preferred finish and with a personalised crest if required.