Widebody makeovers

The Middle East is a key market in the VIP interiors sector, especially for larger aircraft.

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By  Laura Barnes Published  February 3, 2005

|~||~||~|The total number or VIP widebody aircraft flying around the world is comparatively small. However, the cost of fully refurbishing one represents a considerable investment, and as such, maintenance companies eagerly seek out the opportunity to do the work. The Middle East is a key market in this sector, because of the high number of private widebody aircraft operating in the region. "The number of enquiries we receive for refurbishments indicates there is still a desire to have a private aircraft and the numbers are not getting any less," says Herbert Artinger, managing director, Aircraft Conformance Engineering Services (ACES), which performs aircraft and equipment quality surveillance. “The Middle East is an unquestionable focal point for acquiring such work packages due to the concentration of large VIP aircraft and high network users. Compared to North America and Europe, the local market is also showing positive signs of development,” he adds. The amount of work undertaken during a refurbishment varies from job to job. However, projects can range from complete overhauls and the installation of new technology, such as entertainment systems, to more superficial work including changing the interior design or updating the furniture. “Refurbishments can see either a complete overhaul from front to back, or maybe just a partial alteration. There are no percentage figures, but most customers in our hangers want partial refurbishments, although we do occasionally have those that want a complete overhaul,” says Joachim von Holtzapfel, director of sales, VIP & executive jet services, Lufthansa Technik. “At the moment, there is one aircraft [in our hangars] that is having a complete refurbishment, as it was bought from a commercial airliner. At the same time, we also have four aircraft that are in for upgrades and partial modifications as well,” Holtzapfel adds. Refurbishing any aircraft, but particularly a widebody, is a lengthy process, so operators generally opt to have the work done when the aeroplane is due for scheduled maintenance. “If the aircraft is going to be for serviced for a long time it makes sense to have the refurbishment done then as well, so that no extra flight time is lost… For example, when the aircraft is in for a C-check or D-check, this is an ideal time to do a refurbishment says Aage Dünhaupt, manager, international communications, Lufthansa Technik. “As a rule of thumb, refurbishments are therefore usually done every four years. For a larger refurbishment however, it is more likely to be around every ten years.” “Major internal refurbishments are generally performed between eight and 12 years, but it varies depending upon the client,” adds Artinger. “Of course, if the user changes, like the head of state or a royal family member, then it is usually altered,” he continues. In terms of the design process, work on a full widebody refurbishment can be begin up to two years before the aircraft is due to arrive in the maintenance hangar. During this time a host of design tools are used, including numerous designers from the maintenance company, a consultancy or the owner’s own staff, computer aided design (CAD) sketches and even full scale mock-ups. Once the designs are finalised, the actual refurbishment work can begin. For a widebody aircraft this can be lengthy process, depending on the extent of the work. A full refurbishment of a Boeing 747-400, 777 or an A330/340, which are popular aircraft for heads of state, can take anything up to 13-15 months or even longer. “There are no rules as to how long [a refurbishment] should take… It all depends on the size of the aircraft, the level of elegance and the scope of the refurbishment,” says von Holtzapfel. However, while VIP 747 refurbishments take long enough, maintenance companies are now gearing up for what promises to be an even more time-consuming job, namely kitting out VIP A380s. No private orders have yet been made for Airbus’ superjumbo, but Lufthansa Technik is already in talks about undertaking VIP projects on the plane. “We are in discussion with certain clients about refurbishing VIP A380s, but nothing has been confirmed yet. However, we have started to think about what we could do with the aircraft by creating a floor plan of the interior,” comments Holtzapfel. ||**||

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