Excited by Design

posted on 3rd October 2022
Excited by Design

The enthusiasm of Noel Christen, VP of Operations at Citadel Completions, for aviation is perhaps one of few other parameters at the company’s facility that comes close to matching the quality of its exclusive VIP aircraft cabins and MRO

If a company could be used to define the term maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) in a VIP context, then that company would surely be Lake Charles, Louisiana-based Citadel Completions. Specialising in airliner-based VIP and VVIP cabin refurbishment and reconfiguration, Citadel also offers a complete maintenance and repair service, all of it wrapped in an extraordinary passion for aviation with its roots in the company’s Adelson family ownership.
That passion extends down through VP of Operations, Noel Christen, whose industry career might be the subject of a book, although he puts his success down to luck, opportunity and being blessed to work with extraordinary people. “I’ve been in the aviation arena almost four decades,” he says. “I started with Delta Airlines, then moved to Bombardier. From there I went into commercial MRO with AAR and from there to Citadel. So that was 20 years at Delta, business jets at Bombardier and then MRO. I came to Citadel late in 2018 and moved up to lead the business last December.”
Christen says Citadel is experiencing exciting times, with an injection of so-called ‘design excellence’. “I’ve seen some of the renderings being produced as the team explores possibilities and they are all about creating a residential, home experience inside the aircraft. I don’t know a time when I’ve been more excited about the ownership and direction of the company I’m working for.”
In an industry where being the best is a common goal, Christen’s is a big claim, but one about which he’s happy to enthuse. “We’re literally cracking the mould, creating designs the world has never seen before and doing it with such zest and vigour. I worry that I overuse the word ‘excited’, but no other word explains how I feel about what we’re doing.”
Above all else, Citadel takes pride in the quality of its work and Christen says that redelivery is always within a ‘reasonable and respectful’ time frame. Owners want their aircraft back in the air as soon as possible, but achieving the quickest turnaround is not always compatible with delivering excellence.
“Our mission, every day, is to blow customers’ minds with exemplar quality,” he continues. “We want the ‘wow’ factor, and we take the opportunity to create an amazing experience for our clients from day one. It’s about creating a personal relationship, and listening… I think listening is one of the keys to ultimate success. Rather than telling the customer what they need, it’s best to listen while they share their vision. And we continue that after delivery, staying in touch; I can tell you that the relationships we create are so strong that most of our MRO work is from repeat customers.”

Passion and people
Although it can and has worked on smaller aircraft, Citadel’s focus generally begins at aircraft of Boeing 737/Airbus A320 size and progresses all the way to the largest widebodies. As such, its customers have no shortage of options when it comes to regular maintenance and the fact they choose to return to Lake Charles speaks volumes for the respect they have for Christen and his team. Indeed, cabin work is almost always performed alongside engine and airframe maintenance, saving time and money by simplifying access to internal structures.
Interestingly, Christen reveals that Citadel is currently examining a non-Airbus/Boeing project but is unable to share details. Bearing in mind that the company’s hangar is a dynamic environment, on the day of the interview he noted: “It is in the hangar right now, along with a couple of 737s, two VIP 757s and two 777s. I step out onto the floor every day and think: ‘This is so cool!’ It’s unusual for me to be in my office.
“And it’s not just the airplanes. It’s my teammates too. They are such incredible folks, absolutely amazing. I think the world of them, whether it’s the marketing team fielding requests for interviews, or the people on the hangar floor. That’s the piece I’m most proud of.”
To date, Citadel Completions has not worked a green project, but Christen again dangles a tantalising carrot: “Our first green project is quickly coming together.” He is happy to reveal: “It’s more difficult to do a total refurbishment than a green airplane. We’re working a project now that will cause the world’s heart to skip a beat, but it’s a refurbishment of an existing aircraft and that always means there is much to undo and much change required. Aircraft are modified over the years, so the integration of electrical systems, and fit, form and function, are more challenging.”
Another challenge arising from cabin refurbishment or reconfiguration is what to do with the materials that are removed. Citadel takes its environmental responsibilities seriously and Christen says: “Some of that material can be reused; we might keep the structure and resurface it. I’m especially proud of the work we do with a local college. We donate many of the items we remove to them, so their students have airplane structures to touch and work with in their classrooms and shops. Other items we’ll repurpose and make beautiful pieces of furniture from them, others we’ll use as utilitarian items around the facility and some we’ll retain as teaching aids for our own trainees. There’s not a whole lot of waste.”
The broader environmental, social and governance construct means Christen considers Citadel Completions’ programme to recruit young people into the business comparable in importance to its environmental responsibilities. “I believe one of our biggest obligations is give back. It means thinking how we excite young folk and how we persuade people to make the transition into the industry. How you do that reflects your passion for it, and how you communicate it. I’m a very excitable person, I love talking about airplanes and I think that’s contagious, but for the company it’s about creating a presence early.
“We go into schools and make sure they know the things we offer that other industries don’t. We just started a programme at the school across the airfield, for example, where we set up a mock application process and ran interviews. I was in the classroom, speaking to around 30 students, answering their questions. But it can still be difficult to get people into the industry. For me, it was the romance of aviation; today, we have to work harder to excite the next generation.”
Just from its investment in local education establishments it is clear that Citadel Completions takes its place in the Lake Charles community seriously, but there is more to its relationship with local people. Of course, first and foremost the company’s website celebrates its work and capabilities, but it also unashamedly celebrates Citadel’s place in the community. “After Hurricane Laura came through in August 2020 we had a tough time,” Christen laments. “I lost my home and watched complete strangers who didn’t have a whole lot to start with, give what they had to others who had less. That resilience and perseverance is so valuable. And the airfield, Chennault International Airport, is steeped in history. Combined with the amazing experience we’ve had with local government it creates a wealth of possibility for us.”
The loyalty of its customers speaks to the quality of Citadel Completion’s work, while Noel Christen’s enthusiasm encapsulates its people and ethos. “I am blessed to get up every morning, drive to the airport, be around absolutely incredible aircraft and, if that wasn’t cool enough, work with the most awesome people on the planet.”