In May 2011, after twenty years of working in the VVIP aircraft engineering and interior completions sector on behalf of VVIP Operators, John Sambolec decided to form his own consultancy company, Prestige Cabin Interiors, to project manage VIP aircraft completions and maintenance for owners. “Sadly, a good many completions do not go particularly well. If the whole process is detail managed and monitored from the start of the project, the owners end up with a much better product,” he says.
Some owners delay engaging a consultant until the final stages of the work shortly before delivery. While some good can be done at that point, many of the mistakes or poor workmanship will already be embedded in the project. “What is critical during the completion process is that you have the opportunity to inspect every minute detail before they get covered up, and this is a point we emphasise with owners,” he comments. A new owner of a business jet will not realise, unless he or she has been forewarned, that some errors by a completions house may well not be picked up during the inspection process, and will only be discovered when the jet goes in for a major overhaul. At that point the problem may well have become very expensive indeed to fix.
“A good example is when the water seal or water proofing to the floor and to any wet areas, is not done properly. During a major overhaul you may find corrosion has set in. This is an area we always focus on and a lot of completions houses do not do things to my satisfaction in this area,” Sambolec notes.
Another problem area can be with the wire runs through the aircraft, It is all too easy for the fit out to impact a wire run so that chafing results as the airframe vibrates. “An airframe can be a high vibration environment and if things are not done right, even if the wire runs are fine and the water seals are intact, you can still end up with annoying squeaks and rattles,” he comments.
Sambolec says that it is inevitable that an external set of experienced eyes, acting with the owner’s interests in mind, will find things that the completions house team may either miss or gloss over. “Often it is not that the completions house is doing anything dishonest or is trying to skew things to their benefit. It is just that their craftsmen and fitters miss things here and there.”
Every completions job is different and brings its own challenges. “It is all about spending time on the job and making sure that you look at all the details so that the completions job goes ahead smoothly,” he notes. My last project involved an aircraft that had previously been 90% completed by a different completions facility. However, it was significantly overweight with certification and quality issues. We took over the project and I recommended a complete strip out to remove all the hidden problems. We took the refit to a different completions house and this time the job was done properly, and to the satisfaction of the owner” he comments.
In many instances there can be a perfectly honest disagreements between the completions house and the project manager acting for the owner, and this can be a real test of the consultant’s mettle. “You have to understand where the completions house is coming from and what is driving them. But then you have to be able to put the owner’s point of view across and to get what you need to achieve done,” he adds.
Weight is always an issue with a completion, because it has such a direct impact on the aircraft’s range and fuel consumption characteristics. Meeting the delivery deadline is another critical task that the project consultant has to keep in mind. “We really work hard to prevent any impact through the completion on the aircraft’s weight or on the scheduled delivery date. If you have experienced people on site, you can pick up errors earlier, when they are easy to fix, with near zero impacts on delay. Once a completions house gets further along in the completion they are understandably reluctant to go back on their work to correct things – so early spotting of errors is crucial,” Sambolec notes.
Part of Sambolec’s consultancy offering is to help the owner select the appropriate completions centre for his or her aircraft, requirements and geographic location, assist in the negotiations of the contract, write a detailed Specification and to review all the design drawings with the owner and to see that the project moves forward smoothly through to delivery. “We talk to the owner about the feasibility of their design and about the impact that design is likely to have on the completions project.”
Sambolec points out that while completions come with a warranty, getting the warranty support after the completions job is finished can be a significant issue. “Warranty items can often be disputed by the completions house and it can be a real challenge to get the work rectified correctly. Plus you have the down time on the aircraft to consider and the cost of taking it back to the completions facility. I’ve seen panels falling off on landing and many instances of poor workmanship on many aircraft in my career. All facilities have a quality control operation, but depending on how busy the facility is and on the skill level of their staff, the end result tends to differ widely from completions house to completions house,” he warns.
In conclusion, Sambolec points out that the cost to the owner of engaging a consultant to manage the completions project for them, pales into complete insignificance when measured against the costs that can be racked up when a job goes wrong or the aircraft goes into service with many hidden problems that eventuate into costly rectification and poor reliability which leads to inconvenience to the owner.