Customer expectations of the inflight and cabin experience continuously evolve, even during periods of extreme disruption. Cabin interior refreshes, reconfigurations, and major retrofits are a valuable option in the marketing toolkit.
The experience and capacity of airlines’ maintenance & engineering organizations, and their budgets, have been reshaped and become significantly leaner and more operationally focused.
Interiors work, by nature, is specialized non-steady-state work for airlines that are typically focused and staffed to run the airline. It is best suited to specialized, experienced, project teams that quickly ramp up, execute, and ramp down.
Delivering aircraft interior refreshes and retrofits during the transition to the ‘new normal’ will demand creativity in managing and compressing the engineering design time, prototyping, procurement, certification, and execution of complex multiyear programs.
AIRCRAFT INTERIOR RETROFITS REQUIRED FOR 2024 MUST BEGIN RAMPING UP IN 2021
An estimated $6B spend on retrofits were planned for 2020 when the industry came to a near standstill in March due to COVID-19. As plans to reactivate thousands of aircraft start to take shape, fleet planners, marketers, and engineers now have the task of refreshing and reshaping their plans for aircraft interiors.
Airline offerings continuously evolve, and customer expectations have been shaped by COVID-19. Are current cabin configurations aligned to these expectations and if not, what changes best balance safety, customer expectations, and financial reality? As the answers become clearer the demand on engineering will be to activate previous or new retrofit projects.
The scope of a retrofit can include upgrading seats, soft goods, lavatories, galleys, stowage and closets, decorative color changes, lighting, adding aircraft WIFI, adding Inflight Entertainment Systems (IFES), and accommodating BYO (bring your own) devices. Design and technical considerations involve the selection and testing of the technology, products, materials, finishes, and surfaces for safety (e.g., flammability, slip, failure), compliance, optimal performance, and brand alignment.
Projects can take up to 2 years of planning before the aircraft modifications can begin, and up to 5 years for a fleet-wide retrofit to be completed.
Ideally, retrofit execution plans are aligned with maintenance schedules to minimize time out of service/revenue loss and make use of planned hangar time. Optimizing the load on the maintenance organization is an important consideration since retrofits are often completed ‘in house’.
Stakeholder management is critical and becomes more challenging when project design and scope demand multiple suppliers and complex supply chains.
AIRLINES HAVE FEWER RESOURCES
Financial constraints and austerity demand heightened discipline in project selection, scoping, and execution.
Having downsized maintenance engineering organizations out of necessity during COVID-19, the need to execute multi-year retrofits presents yet another challenge for airlines to manage.
This presents an opportunity to narrow the focus on the programs that have a positive ROI and the shortest payback. We expect programs that meet 4 criteria will deliver the best results and ‘move the NPS (Net Promoter Score) needle’.
Reinforce brand strengths and focus on customer satisfiers
Creative prototyping and engineering
Rigorous, comprehensive supplier selection and management
Multi-disciplined program planning and execution
Fleet planning and marketing teams understand their product and their customers intimately. Having downsized, the challenge facing most airlines is supplier selection, management, and program execution.
A comprehensive supplier selection process considers many factors including capability, capacity, productivity/performance, and quality. An experienced engineering team will scrutinize other program factors (e.g., flammability analysis and egress design), and part manufacturing options (e.g., OEM versus PMA), to maximize value. They will have the ability to identify problems and root causes early and then act decisively.
Experienced multi-disciplined program management teams understand where time is won or lost and what processes (e.g., establishing design authority) to reduce dependencies on the OEM, integrating technical publications, and substantiation efforts will save time and money.
Many airlines have fewer resources or in some cases no teams with the extensive retrofit program experience required to activate and successfully execute retrofits. Lessons learned from previous programs and vendor performance are no longer at the table. Experience working with suppliers and expertise in managing the many handoffs which span the multiyear planning and execution phases may be lacking.
INDUSTRY SOLUTIONS CAN ENABLE AND IMPROVE DELIVERY
SeaTec supports interiors programs in an advisory, leadership, defined scope, or turnkey basis. Our Interiors team is staffed with industry veterans who are often as familiar with airline processes as the airlines themselves, hold unit member status with an ODA (FAA Organization Designation Authorization), and hold long-standing relationships with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd tier aviation suppliers.
Programs that illustrate the positive financial impact SeaTec has delivered include:
- Restored the timeline for an airlines’ interior refurbishment program by reducing a troubled supplier’s delivery time by 69%
- Reduced the cost of an airlines’ interior refurbishment program by $2.5M
- Eliminated delays and the backlog of an OEM’s new aircraft delivery schedule by doubling a 1st tier supplier’s production
SeaTec is an industry leader in aircraft interior retrofit support, LOPA design, Cabin maintenance, PMA parts engineering, and troubled supplier management.
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