Made-to-measure for the cabin

The VIP aircraft – from procurement to delivery

VIP aircraft play a unique role in the aerospace industry, for the fitting out and conversion of the cabins of these special aircraft are subject to laws which in many respects are markedly different from those that apply to a run-of-the-mill airplane. Apart from practicability and cost-efficiency, the primary considerations here are comfort and customized solutions. The Completion Center of Lufthansa Technik VIP & Special Mission Aircraft Services is responsible for the entire process of developing, installing and commissioning the cabin furnishings. After the aircraft has been handed over to the customer, the VIP & Special Mission Aircraft Maintenance department takes care of every aspect of maintenance and overhaul in flight operation, i.e. from A-check to D-check. 

Best VIP Cabin Outfitter of the Year 2012

Whereas at the beginning of the jet era governments were the only ones to avail themselves of the possibility of a tailored cabin interior for a commercial aircraft, in the 1970s the heads of royal families from the Middle East gradually discovered the attractions of a world even more luxurious than First Class. In recent years more and more Russian and Asian customers have joined the ranks of what has become a long-standing customer group from the Arabian peninsula. But VIP & Special Mission Aircraft Services does not just fit out and maintain big VIP aircraft. The increasingly important small business jet segment is also growing steadily. Hence Lufthansa Technik is becoming increasingly involved in this lucrative market as well. The entire process – from finished "bare shell" to luxury cabin – is designed to Lufthansa Technik's exacting standards irrespective of which Lufthansa Technik location is involved. Within the Lufthansa Technik VIP network it is Lufthansa Bombardier Aviation Services (LBAS) in Berlin Schönefeld, the leading specialist for Bombardier business jets, that fits out and maintains aircraft from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier for customers from Europe, the Middle East, eastern Europe and Africa. BizJet International, another Lufthansa Technik subsidiary based in Tulsa, Oklahoma fits out "small" aircraft or narrowbodies for international VIP customers and also provides maintenance services primarily for the US market. Lufthansa Technik's VIP & Special Mission Aircraft Services business unit and BizJet International together won the "Best VIP Cabin Outfitter of the Year 2012" award from Airbus Corporate Jets. This was the first year that the prize had been awarded and Lufthansa Technik was selected from the network of Airbus approved completion centers.

But how exactly does a VIP cabin come about and who are the players in a process chain that extends from procurement to delivery to the customer? Responsibility for winning new orders lies with Lufthansa Technik's VIP Sales Team. At the same time existing and new customers also approach Lufthansa Technik with their requests on their own initiative. Apart from Lufthansa Technik, there are just a handful of other suppliers worldwide who possess similar far-ranging competencies, experience and the capability to develop tailored cabin interior solutions for medium and long-range aircraft. 

Interior design with specific requirements

The job begins once a customer is in direct contact with the equipment experts of Lufthansa Technik. If the customer has not engaged an outside company or an interior designer to deal with its specific requirements, the initial discussions entail finding out about the customer's requirements and needs in relation to its future aircraft. Ideas and information are now gathered on the specific purpose for which the aircraft concerned will be used. Will the owner mainly be flying alone, with his/her family or with a large entourage? Will the aircraft be used privately, on business or primarily to promote the owner's image? On what routes and in which regions will the new aircraft be deployed? What are the preferred style elements, colors and materials? Are there any existing designs of other objects such as houses or yachts that the customer particularly likes and which should be taken into account in the design? Here the discussion covers not just what is technically feasible but also what is allowed from the aviation law point of view and the impact that this will have on installations such as conference room, shower, cinema, kitchen, bar or divan.

Once the requirements including the product specification have been established following the first meeting, the interior designers from the Completion Center prepare the first sketches of the floor plan and the most important cabin furnishings. Freehand sketches and simplified 3-D drawings of the cabin are used for illustrative purposes. Pre-contractual negotiations will be going on in parallel to this preliminary planning phase, culminating in a letter of intent and a slot reservation agreement. As soon as the customer has signed the contract, a job specification is drawn up and concrete details of the interior equipment are determined. This specification can be up to 500 pages long. A project manager from the Completion Center now takes over the project from this point on. The Sales Team continues to be available to the customer to draw up proposals for services such as maintenance and overhauls. 

Layout planning with relevant trades

The phase from initial contact through to final signing of the contract can last six to twelve months on its own, as there is an ongoing dialog between the customer and the responsible employees of Lufthansa Technik to clarify minute details such as the bathroom fittings, door handles and color transitions. As soon as the essential questions have been answered and fixed in the contract, the project manager starts the layout planning with the relevant trades such as upholstery, joinery, avionics (on-board electronics), aircraft mechanics, interior workshop and aircraft component installation in the metal-working shop. In this way, for example, the seat comfort of every individual seat is designed with the close cooperation of designers, engineers and seat manufacturer. Often seat prototypes are provided so that the customer can try out the seating. 90 percent of all the necessary cabin work is carried out locally at Lufthansa Technik and ten percent is subcontracted to prestigious external suppliers. The quality of all outsourced work is basically guaranteed by Lufthansa Technik, as customers attach a lot of importance to the quality seal, "Made by Lufthansa Technik".

At the appropriate point on the predetermined schedule the new customer aircraft is flown "green" directly from the aircraft manufacturer to the Lufthansa Technik Completion Center. Based on the relevant aircraft type, a computer-based 3-D image of this specific aircraft is then created in the mock-up center for the purpose of presenting the airframe and all the systems in virtual form. A digital mock-up is then created on the computer, enabling all the planned installations to be viewed virtually in the future environment and any problems to be investigated. A comprehensive checklist and the unique "Virtual Fitcheck" are available to cover any other possible errors that the system cannot capture or detect right away. Only then are the cabin elements built in the workshops, fitted into the aircraft and bolted down into position. Because the installation is tested in advance on the computer, fewer adjustments are needed later on in the aircraft, reducing the fitting time accordingly. On average it takes 260 staff to build the cabin interior of a jumbo jet in the workshops and the same number again on the aircraft in the dock. Of these, up to 100 are interior specialists.

Normally it takes between six and nine months to install a cabin in smaller aircraft types (medium-range aircraft) such as the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) or the Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ), while the completion of a widebody aircraft such as the Airbus A330/A340 or the Boeing 747 lasts between twelve and fifteen months. Ultimately the duration of the project depends on the size of the aircraft and the customer's special wishes. All cabin installations are one-offs and are produced purely manually. Not only do they have to meet the customer's requirements, but they also of course have to satisfy all the air safety requirements and the conditions imposed by the aviation authorities. Thus even a delicate baroque-style sideboard with thin feet has to be capable of enduring an acceleration equivalent to between nine and 16 times the force of gravity. For this reason standard solutions are the exception rather than the rule; the unusual is the normal state of affairs.

But the furnishings and decorative elements are not the only aspects that are unusual and time-consuming – so too is the sound insulation. Whereas between 0.6 and 1.8 tons of extra insulation material is typically installed on smaller VIP and regional aircraft, VIP jumbos can require as much as four tons of additional insulation material. Due to the much higher weight and the negative impact this has on range it is often necessary to install auxiliary tanks in VIP aircraft. Again, nothing is spared when it comes to the on-board electronics: as well as installing digital in-flight entertainment and cabin management systems (IFE/CMS) built by other renowned suppliers, Lufthansa Technik also offers customers the latest generation of its own high-end nice HD® (Networked Integrated Cabin Equipment High Definition) product. With nice HD® it is possible amongst other things to control not only many cabin functions such as the lighting and also audio, video and other digital data on-board, but even one's own smart phone. With this solution, customers can, for example, choose a recent film from the onboard video library, dim the lighting to a suitable level and at the same time order their favorite drink from the cabin crew. In this way some 100 kilometers of cables were installed in one Airbus A319 CJ as well as four auxiliary tanks. 

Extensive system tests

Before the finished aircraft can be handed over to the customer, extensive system tests are carried out on the ground. Only after all the systems have been shown to be working and the authorities have issued the necessary approvals can testing be carried out in the air. Test flights are attended by the project engineers from the various trades involved who test and accept the systems in each of their areas of responsibility. Once all the tests have been successfully completed, the customer acceptance flight is carried out in the presence of the customer's authorized representative. Once this too has been completed without a hitch the engineering documents are sent to the relevant aviation authority, which issues the necessary airworthiness certificate for the aircraft. This is followed by the formal handover to the customer and the settlement of accounts.

Sooner or later even a VIP aircraft has to be maintained or overhauled – even if the aircraft normally spends far fewer hours in the air per year than a normal airliner. After Lufthansa Technik has transformed the customer's ambitious requirements into reality in the Completion Center, VIP & Special Mission Aircraft Maintenance ensures that everything remains in tiptop condition once the aircraft is in operation. The services offered here range from the minor A-check to the wide-ranging basic overhaul, the D-check; maintenance work can also be carried out at the customer's home base. And if, a few years down the track, the owner wants a new cabin design, Lufthansa Technik will be happy to oblige. Other options include the refurbishment and modification of existing cabin elements as well as a complete rebuild of the cabin interior.