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Helpful Articles and Information regarding Aircraft Interiors




How important is the interior in the process of selling an airplane?

Just how important is the interior in the process of buying or selling an aircraft. Well according to my customers, "extremely important". Imagine having an airplane that the records for maintenance are impeccable. The radio package includes the latest technology, and the exterior paint is incredible, but………the interior is dated, and worn out. How difficult is it to sell that aircraft or lease it to customers. Also, if you were the buyer, would you be able to look past the obvious interior problems and purchase the aircraft based on all of the other attributes. Of course the other qualities are important but don't under estimate the importance of the obvious. You have to sit and look at the interior for a few hours every time you fly. Fortunately, in most cases, interior problems are the easiest to solve. Compared to the cost of engines or radios the interior can be relatively inexpensive and make a profound difference in the marketability and appearance of an aircraft.

Taken from an article by Jimmy Jones for Cabin Class Magazine in 2005

What is the best material to use in my plane?

I am seeing leather everywhere. Almost all aircraft and automobile interiors are leather. Leather has become very popular in the furniture industry also. Recently, I have become aware that this is not just a trend that will pass quickly. In the past, many of our interiors would have had all fabric seats with leather only in critical wear areas such as arm rests. Now about 99 % of our interiors are leather. Therefore, the question that comes to mind is, why the shift to leather and why has it lasted so long now? This trend had been going on for at least a decade now. Leather used to be a material that was used only on high-end furniture, luxury automobiles, and larger aircraft. Now you can get leather at almost any level, from jets to economy cars and so on, so much so that it is the norm, not the exception anymore. We even did a leather interior in a Cessna 150 recently. Combined with a matching vinyl, leather can be affordable even for the smaller aircraft.

Leather is not just a fashion statement that comes and goes overnight. There are various reasons for the stability of this trend, and most of those reasons are based on sound principles of interior design. In other words, though leather is a trend, it is by no means a fad. I think leather is here to stay and this is why:

  1. Price: Leather is probably the only thing on the planet that has actually remained the same price for the last ten years. While all other materials have sky rocketed, leather has just simply remained constant. In 1995, I was paying about the same price for a lesser quality leather that I am now for the better quality leather.

  2. Quality: Leather is an improved product. There has been a revolution in the leather production industry. More automation and more efficient ways of bringing it to the market have improved the quality. Leather looks and feels better than ever.

  3. Competition: There are more suppliers than ever. More suppliers help keep the prices competitive and drive the development of new and different products, such as split hides, altered hides and distressed hides. All of them are trying to establish their niche in the market. The global economy has fostered the emergence of competition as foreign leather companies try to edge their way into the American market.

  4. Availability: More suppliers are keeping greater supplies of leather that has already been treated for FARs in their inventories. This allows for the product to be shipped quicker, satisfying the time restraints that aircraft refurbishment centers deal with.

  5. More Cows: I don’t know if there are actually more cows, but the cows that are slaughtered now are not just slaughtered for beef. Every part of the cow has become marketable. It is possible to emboss a grain to hide scars, making hides marketable that otherwise would not be. The process of splitting a hide or altering the grain increases the yield of the product.

  6. Fire Codes: Leather is inherently fire retardant.

  7. Aroma: Leather has a natural fragrance that is pleasant and creates a smell that says: Fresh & New!

However, the real reason that I think leather is here to stay is because it possesses all of the qualities that you want in a material. Some of those qualities have always been there, but now at a better price. That spells VALUE! Here are some of those qualities:

  1. The LOOK! What I call the “WOW! Factor”.

  2. Prestige: Leather sells; people want it for the status symbol.

  3. It is durable: It can be repaired or dyed. It is easy to match if a piece needs to be replaced a few years down the road. It should hold up twice as long as fabric.

  4. Practical: Leather is easier to keep clean than fabric.

  5. Temperature Forgiving: Leather adjusts to your body temperature quickly. Though it may be cool or hot when you first sit on it, it adjusts to provide the breathable effect that only natural materials can provide.

  6. Good quality leather has a good soft feel: What I call the OOH! AAH! Factor.

Also, now that leather is the norm, you have to consider what will happen to the resale value of your aircraft if you don’t do leather. All things considered, leather is one of the best values in today’s market. So, for your next interior when you think value, think leather.


How can I make my seats more comfortable?

This is a very common question. This is also the issue that probably drives a person to have their interior refurbished more so than any other. The answer to this question varies, because the shape and structure of the human body varies, but the size of your aircraft seat remains the same. So the real dilemma is how to make the seat comfortable for you without making it not so for the others. I am once again reminded of my philosophy of this business. First, define the objective, then devise a plan to solve the problem, and finally don’t lose sight of the objective. Usually I would say be very cautious about modifying the original design of anything that a team of highly skilled engineers spent years designing before bringing it to the market. That may be so if we were talking about wing or propeller, but we are talking about a seat and the area being modified is usually just foam, leather and fabric. Although the structural integrity of the seat cannot and should not be compromised the upholstery is usually cosmetic work. I have found that, in the old days most aircraft manufacturers seemingly designed the aircraft first, then crammed the seats into a limited defined space, and usually one or two more seats than the space allowed. Then, in order to squeeze them in, the thickness of foam and the size of the seat were reduced with the comfort being compromised. At least in modern aircraft the term ergonomics applies. Now the comfort of the seat and its relation to the positioning of all the controls are part of the designing process from day one. In other words, the seat and position of the human body is determined first and then an aircraft is designed around it. Therefore some of the newer aircraft are more comfortable, not just because they are new but because of the design. However, all of them still have the same problem. What size body do we build this seat to fit? I am 6 feet 2 inches tall and I have found that, whether it be a commercial airliner, a mid-sized jet, or a single engine light aircraft, my body is just to big to be completely comfortable. I always seem to need just another inch of legroom or headroom. And it’s not just the height. I weigh 220 pounds but what if I weighed 280 pounds, then the problem is magnified. How nice it would it be to have a little more padding under the rump?

Fortunately, new technology has given us more options with memory foam, temper foam and high-density foams. But the bottom line is, you have to custom design the foam to fit the body of the person that is going to be sitting in the seat to get the most comfort. That is more of a challenge when the person is not the average size of say, 5 feet, 9 inches and about 170 pounds. My advise is when you get your seats reupholstered, let the shop build up the foam for your size, but before they do all the leather work and upholster the seat visit the shop and sit in it, then you can determine if it needs further modification before it is completely upholstered. With the crew seats you may want to incorporate temper foam and have it designed more specifically for you. For cabin seats I would usually recommend staying with standard foam and keeping things more suitable for varied sizes of people. All things considered I believe the comfort problem can be solved and for most of us, it is easier to change the shape of the aircraft seat than the seat attached to our body. However, for some of us it may require both.

Written by Jimmy Jones for Cabin Class Magazine, Vol. 3, Issue 10, 2005

I want really good leather, are there different qualities to leather?

Most people just think leather is leather, and as long as it is leather you can’t go wrong. Well, that is about as true as saying “all wines are the same”, maybe to the person who has never tasted wine. The characteristics of leather vary as much as those of wine. We all know that grapes are the source of wine. The taste and bouquet of a wine is affected by the kind of grapes, the size of the grapes, and especially its place of origin.

However this is not about choosing a great wine, and if it were I would not be the expert to provide advice on that subject. That being said, I do know my chaps and I can help you in selecting the perfect leather for your aircraft. Of course leather does not come on a roll; it comes by the hide, which is the skin of a cow. I am certain that you are determined to have the finest leather in your plane, but you might say the cow is truly committed. As it is with grapes, there are many varieties of cattle in various sizes and weights, and yes the size of a cow can affect the quality of the leather. The larger a cow, the thicker the hide, the older the cow, the tougher the hide and there may even be more scars to deal with. Smaller cows are just the opposite. They have softer, thinner hides, and the younger ones tend to have fewer scars. Also, just as it can be with wine, even the country of origin can affect the quality of the leather. In some countries there is no need for barbed wire and cows are raised for more purposes than just to satisfy the beef industry. In other words, if leather is equally important as beef then the cow may be brought to market at a younger age. In the U.S. our cattle industry is primarily beef, where in Italy it would be leather. Being competitive in a global economy is forcing the U.S. to find more purposes for the cow than simply raising the biggest, thickest cow possible to slaughter for beef. No longer can we just raise cows for the beef and consider the hide as a spin-off industry. The demand for a quality hide is too great.

Now, not only must we consider the thickness and toughness of a hide when choosing the leather for our seats, but we must determine the grain and texture. There are natural grain leathers and altered grains. The natural grain is unaltered of course, including scars and imperfections such as brand marks or barbed wire scars. Many people prefer the natural grain because to them leather isn’t leather without imperfections. Then some people like the altered grains. An artificial grain is literally pressed or embossed into the leather, thus evening up the texture and grain in the process. The result of this process is a reduction in the amount of imperfections.

The dying process is also important. The dying processes fall into two families, surface dyed and vat dyed. Surface dyed is a process where the dye is sprayed on the outside. Vat dyed is a process where the dye soaks through and penetrates the hide. In the industry the term “the colors goes all the way through” is commonly used for vat dyed leather. This is important because scratches and abrasion won’t show up as much as with surface dyed. Also the likelihood of cracking or peeling is virtually eliminated by having the color permeated into the leather as apposed to sitting on the surface.

There are other methods of treatment during the tanning process from tumbling to buffing, sealing and distressing that give leather various appearances and textures. Now that you are thoroughly confused, the real question which leather is perfect for you? To answer that you may have to ask your self some other questions. What is important to you for the kind of use or abuse that your aircraft will endure? Are you rough on the interior or do you pamper it? Well you get the idea. If you want softness, then think more expensive. If you want tough, then you will have to settle for a little less softness. Calf hides and split hides just don’t provide the ruggedness of a full hide, and though they are very supple, you have a trade off in durability.

I recommend an average size cow hide, about 45 sq. ft, with a slightly altered grain. The leather will have a moderate price, but be fairly soft, yet still have a toughness about it. And of course it must be vat dyed (colored all the way through). You get the best of all the qualities of the leather which spells value. In comparing leather, I like to do what I call the “Goldie Locks Test” Oh that’s to hard, Oh that’s too soft, Oh that’s just right. Now that you have been enlightened just compare and trust your instincts. It is really just common sense.

Taken from an article written by Jimmy Jones for Cabin Class Magazine, Vol. 4 Issue 1, 2006

Should I do a Partial Interior or Full?

I have been in this business for years, and I still have a hard time with this question. You have an aircraft that is in good condition, but for various reasons you want to have some interior work done. Your interior may just be a little dated, whether a spouse or an associate pointed it out or you simply noticed for yourself, it just seems to be time to bring it up to speed with the current trends. The interior may be lacking in just one area, or need help in many areas. The most common thing to wear out first in an interior is the carpet. Regardless of its original color, it eventually becomes the color of the hangar floor or the asphalt ramp, at least in the high traffic areas. Sometimes carpet or fabric will fade. Even if it has no worn spots, it has turned to a putrid color of greenish-brown similar to something only a baby can create. A customer might say, “Let’s just do what is really necessary”. This is called a partial interior, not all new, or not perfect. I will admit I have done a few over the years; some have even turned out surprising well. On the other hand, I have had a few turn into horrible experiences that seem to never end, making me wonder “What was I thinking?” As a matter of fact, most of the mistakes I have made in this business occur when I am trying too hard to save a customer some money.

This reminds me of the story where the man has a flat tire and makes the statement, “Why do I need a tire? It’s only flat on the bottom.” Therefore, I have decided to provide you with a translation chart that may come in handy when you are attempting a partial interior, just so you will know how the interior shop will interpret your request:

  1. It only needs a little work………….. ( It only needs a little work on every thing)

  2. The seats look good…………………( Everything else looks bad)

  3. It might be faded…………………….( Completely new and unidentified color)

  4. Needs some TLC…………………….( Total Loss Classification)

  5. Has a slight odor……………………..(Reeks, and you do too from sitting in it)

  6. It’s a fixer-upper……………………..(Its a worner-outer)

  7. I’m just going to sell it……………….( I just want to dump it)

  8. I’m just going to sell it……………….(Spend less on it than necessary)

  9. Just tidy it up for resale………………( I want the interior shop to lose money so I can make some)

  10. Just match the material as close as you can…………(Yea, right, we can still get hounds tooth fabric)

  11. I just upgraded my avionics…………………………(No money left for interior)

  12. I don’t need a complete interior……………………..( Miser)

  13. Just do what we talked about and no more………….(I have selective memory)

  14. I’ve got too much invested in it now…… (Will you give me a good deal to make up for my stupidity?)

  15. Can we use artificial leather to save some money?……..( Let‘s fake it and say we didn’t)

I think you probably have the picture by now. I prefer to do full interiors because it is really difficult to determine the best stopping point for a partial interior. Here are some rules that usually apply:

  1. It always cost more than you think it will.

  2. It always needs more work than the surface shows.

  3. Matching the old materials is nearly impossible, especially with fabric.

  4. You will probably say I wish I had done the whole interior.

  5. Your interior shop will say “I told you so, here is your invoice.”

If you must do a partial interior, remember to be realistic. The only way you are going to get an interior that looks totally fresh and new is to do the whole enchilada. As the interior designer, doing the whole interior gives me a clean palette to start with so that I have more control over the finished product. However, on many occasions I really have turned a caterpillar in to a butterfly thus creating a beautiful interior from the remnants of an old dated interior, all for a fraction of the cost of a complete interior. I am also not a fool; I want every opportunity to bid for interior services, even the partial stuff. I hope you realize that for the sake of humor I am being a little tongue and cheek about partial interiors here. There actually are some aircraft very suitable for a partial upgrade. So the real question is how do we determine the all important stopping point? First you need to take a real close look at the items that you would consider not changing. Clean them really well. Picture in your mind what they will look like side by side with a newly upholstered item. For example, it is very common do what is called a window line interior. That means every thing from the windows down is redone except the headliner. Then you need to decide if the color of headliner will fit in with your new objective. Also, is the type of material suitable in texture and content? If it meets these criteria without forcing you to compromise your expectations then go for it. If you can achieve with a partial interior a result that looks as though you did a full interior then you will have hit a home run. Be careful though, it can be difficult even for the professional, to tell how long the preserved interior items are going to last. Plastic pieces can become brittle and seams can begin to deteriorate over time giving very little warning before they break. Also here’s a tip, I have had very little success removing old musty smells without doing a complete interior. So in essence, you would consider the color, condition, smell, age, and integrity of the interior item that you want to keep and apply the aforementioned scrutiny to each of those components when determining the best stopping point for your partial interior. There are also some detail procedures and techniques such as leather repair, dyeing, and conditioning that may help the parts being saved. Discuss these procedures with your interior specialist. It is critical that the old pieces measure up to the quality of the new. Sometimes they can appear to look good until they are compared to a newly upholstered item. Don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole. Remember, wanting something to be true can be very convincing to your psyche. The finished product is an extension of your personality. Be sure it is presenting the right message.


Also remember interiors have to be maintained just like the power plants. Normal maintenance may include repairs such as recovering an arm rest or repairing a torn panel. A partial interior is a little more than normal maintenance. It can change the whole appearance of the interior. Combined with re-striping the exterior, it can have a dramatic effect on the overall appearance of an aircraft. Manufacturers change the trends intentionally to make your aircraft look old and out of date about every five years. This is no accident. They want you to want a new aircraft. Therefore it would make sense to upgrade your interior enough to satisfy the new trends as much as possible. That will protect the value of your aircraft by making it more marketable. With that in mind it becomes essential to pay attention to your interior. So I guess the answer to the question “Partial or Full” is a resounding, “Yes! Do something, don’t just let it deteriorate”. It can also be fun if you follow these guidelines.

Written by Jimmy Jones for Cabin Class Magazine, Vol. 3 Issue 11, 2005




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