EBACE Convention News

Business Aircraft Cabins Go Green

 - May 17, 2021, 9:30 AM
Duncan Aviation has developed new capabilities for hydrodipping large components such as table inserts or galley tops. A film-transfer process, hydrodipping costs much less and is more sustainable than traditional treatments for wood and other cabin interior materials.

Business aviation’s push for sustainability and carbon neutrality has entered the cabin as the interiors of aircraft from turboprops to executive airliners are going green. And OEMs, completion and refurbishment centers, and interior components providers are all getting onboard. Were EBACE held physically this year, these efforts would doubtless be center stage, as the Continent’s aviation community has embraced the goal of achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

“Supply chains are taking sustainability very seriously—that’s the big turning point,” said Daron Dryer, CEO of Comlux Completion, the VIP cabin-outfitting division of Switzerland’s Comlux Group.

“Today, action on sustainability is really an important competitive criterion,” said F/List director of research & development Domnanich Patrick. “Not only the end customers, but also the OEMs are demanding verifiable sustainability from suppliers and partners.”

Indeed, Gulfstream Aerospace mandates “environmentally conscious business practices” in its suppliers’ code of conduct, complementing the airframer’s extensive internal sustainability efforts, said company interior-design director Tray Crow.

Sustainable materials and processes are found throughout Gulftream’s cabins, with extensive use of renewable natural fibers like cotton and wool, as well as materials derived from renewable resources such as natural latex and composite veneers. Sustainable materials are also used “in places that don’t always come to mind—those invisible areas behind the walls, under the floors, and inside the furnishings,” Crow said.

Many of the materials are recyclable, as well. Cabinets—mostly aluminum honeycomb—can be fed directly into a smelter; carpets are recyclable, while synthetics such as nylon and polyester are sought after by carpet mills to use as feedstock to create more carpet; and natural fibers such as silk or wool “can have second lives as jute, rags, or feedstock for paper mills,” he added.

Meanwhile, as aircraft become increasingly sophisticated and integrated platforms, their systems work together to enhance sustainability in concert with other operational efficiencies, and “much of our focus on increasing sustainability has been through technology,” Crow said. He cited the data concentration network onboard the new Gulfstream G500 and G600, which in addition to providing operational benefits “significantly reduces the amount of wiring required for the cabin, galley, and flight-deck systems,” saving weight and materials.

Textron Aviation’s Beechcraft and Cessna aircraft also have increasingly sustainable cabins. Woods are sourced solely by selective cutting in carefully managed forests and leveraging surplus inventory “so that no new trees or other materials are processed or shipped, to help reduce our [environmental] footprint,” a Textron spokeswoman said.

Textron also uses materials from vendors whose products and practices meet rigorous environmental standards, including fabric headliners and window reveals made from sustainable textiles from Pollack’s “Pure” Collection and wood veneers certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council from Booth Veneers. “These are a few examples of the many concepts we focus on when designing with sustainability in mind,” the spokeswoman said.

Further reducing the aircraft’s overall environmental footprint, Textron captures, treats, and reuses wastewater from its industrial processes, including parts manufacture, chemical processing lines, assembly, and painting.

Embraer’s Praeterra interior design concept.
Embraer’s Praeterra interior design concept draws inspiration from the Japanese Mokume-gane technique, which uses mixed-metal laminates made from discarded materials.

Brazil’s Embraer Executive Aircraft aims for a highly sustainable luxury interior, a company representative told AIN, which is a goal pursued on multiple fronts. Working rigorously with current and potential suppliers, the Phenom, Legacy, and Praetor business jets manufacturer is expanding its portfolio of materials that meet the company’s sustainability criteria.

Furthering its aims, Embraer’s recently introduced Praeterra design concept features a multidimensional sustainable interior that merges the digital future with sustainable resources, according to the company. The design draws inspiration from “Mokume-gane,” a Japanese technique of making mixed-metal laminate, employing discarded materials—including titanium, copper, and plastic—as ingredients in, for example, cabinetry and tabletop surfaces made from palm tree wood sourced from commercial cultivation, rather than using wild heart of palm fruit.

Supply Chain Has Come a Long Way

Comlux Completion has been committed to sustainability since opening the hangar doors of its purpose-built completion center in 2012, said CEO Dryer, starting with the facility’s designed-in passive and active energy reduction methods, including natural and controllable lighting and environmental systems. What garnered more industry attention was consistent delivery of its luxury cabins at below contract-specified weights, resulting in significantly reduced fuel consumption and the attendant carbon footprint.

“Ten years ago, the cabins were lighter and synthetic, but I wouldn’t call them sustainable,” said Dryer, because few sustainable materials were available then. As he noted, the supply chain has since come a long way.

“Today’s wood-grain veneers are made from reclaimed and repurposed veneers,” he said. “You cannot tell the difference [between] these reclaimed products [and non-sustainable alternatives], and you get more usable material and more supply.”

Customer demands have changed in lockstep. “Clients are now asking specifically in proposals what you are doing [in the interior regarding sustainability]."

Comlux will offer repurposed veneer as an option on the forthcoming ACJ220, whose cabin it will design and outfit. The company has partnered with Airbus Corporate Jets to outfit the first 15 of this newest member of the ACJ family.

Among other Comlux recycling/repurposing initiatives, its design studio donates all carpet and leather samples to local schools and other community institutions. “We’re trying to ensure we support sustainability at an individual and company level,” said Dryer.

At its Basel completion facility, Jet Aviation—which already incorporates robust weight-reduction programs and research—is investigating sustainable materials for use in its high-end completions and refurbishments, with preliminary burn testing on some candidates underway. Concurrently, the executive airliner completion and services specialist is in discussions with potential corporate collaborators on sustainable aviation design, fuel efficiency, and avionics programs, the company told AIN.

Meanwhile, the company said new products and processes—UV light curing for cabinetry surfaces, water-based paints, and plant-based leathers among them—are enhancing cabin sustainability without sacrificing the look, feel, and quality that VIP applications and customers demand.

“We are committed to investing in solutions that provide business aviation owners and operators the choice to contribute to sustainable aviation,” Jet Aviation said. “While the most important thing in VVIP completions is to ensure that we meet customer requirements in design, environment, and functionality of the aircraft, we are continuously innovating techniques that reduce the environmental impact of the finished cabin.

F/List aims to make its manufacturing processes more sustainable.
F/List aims to make its manufacturing processes more sustainable while developing new designs for interior materials that are lighter and use fewer solvents and mineral oils.

F/List Sets Net-zero Goal

Austria’s F/List—which pioneered VIP cabin innovations such as heated, ultra-thin stone and wood flooring—is also committed to bringing the Continent’s net-zero goals to its own operations and products. The company’s roots in using natural materials—wood, leather, and stone—for high-end aircraft interiors have made sustainability a foundational principle, said F/List's Patrick.

“We have two approaches,” he said. “First, we focus on making our processes more sustainable, using less energy and cutting down emissions. Second, we focus on lightweight designs that create fuel-saving products.”

Its sustainable process efforts include reducing energy consumed in production, avoiding the use of solvents and mineral oils, and sourcing responsibly (and locally, where possible). The woods used in its veneers for European and North American customers, for example, are sourced from their respective continents to reduce the energy used in transporting the materials without sacrificing quality, of course. All these sustainable materials must meet stringent safety and flammability standards, in addition to offering the comfort, aesthetic, quality, and wear standards of the world’s most high-end consumers.

A photovoltaic system installed at its Austrian headquarters facility and efficient heat-recovery systems dramatically decrease the plant’s carbon footprint.

F/List also collaborates with startups that have developed superior sustainable technologies and products. “We focus on modifying these technologies [so the products] meet our highest expectations for decorative materials in aviation,” Patrick said.

One example: in a joint venture, F/List and Hilitech are developing lightweight cabin systems and composite components using carbon monocoque technology initially developed for Formula 1 race car construction. “Reductions of about 30 percent compared with conventional aircraft interior design have been realized,” Patrick said.

Bionic design—those inspired by nature that save weight and material by supporting loads and forces only where needed—is another area of its sustainability research. Other initiatives aim to convert agriculture residuals and industrial leftovers—from banana leaves to the byproducts of its own stone machinery department—into sustainable cabin-interior surface materials.

If a new generation is driving some of the sustainable-interiors movement, old-school purveyors are doing their share, as well. The UK’s Muirhead Leather, established in 1840, claims to be among the world’s most “environmentally focused leather manufacturers,” with an expertise in creating “the most natural, lowest-carbon, high-performance leather for seat covers,” said sales director Archie Browning.

Today, Muirhead collaborates with airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and aviation design studios to develop interiors solutions for the future, he said. The newest innovation, Muirhead Active Hygiene Leather, is a sustainable leather impregnated with antimicrobial Polygiene ViralOff, which reduces the need for labor and caustic material to create sanitary interiors.

This credenza top and card table are finished using Duncan Aviation’s hydrodipping process, which replicates surfaces that look like the real materials.
This credenza top and card table are finished using Duncan Aviation’s hydrodipping process, which replicates surfaces that look like the real materials.

Hydrodipping: A Sustainable Refinish

For cabin refurbishments, Duncan Aviation’s hydrodipping process offers a sustainable, low-cost alternative to refinishing wood and other interior elements, and infinitely more options for the finished look. A film-transfer process, hydrodipping allows a detailed 3D image to be transferred onto almost any complex, solid shape, whether an image of fine grain wood, marble, a fanciful scene, or anything in between.

Used primarily in the automotive arena, the process involves dipping the selected component in a vat of water containing the film, and carefully joining the two. “We got the idea to try adapting it for table inserts or galley countertops,” Duncan sales representative Angie Coleman said.

Duncan spent about two years experimenting and developing hydrodipping processes and techniques that met all EPA requirements, replicating surfaces such as carbon fiber tabletops indistinguishable from real materials, and achieving “fantastic” results, Coleman said. The Lincoln, Nebraska company introduced the refinishing option in late 2019, creating faux marble lavatory countertops and sinks for a Gulfstream G150 and Bombardier Challenger 300.

Most of Duncan’s customers choose hydrodipping for its cost advantages—some 20 to 25 percent below re-veneers. But, Coleman said, “For somebody who wants to be environmentally friendly, you’re keeping the existing veneer, not cutting into more trees, and getting the same elegant look.” However, she stressed that that re-veneered wood remains “a beautiful, natural product.”

But re-veneering might not make economic sense for light and midsize aircraft, or Part 135 aircraft that get heavy charter use. Repairing damaged veneer is costly and the grain might be impossible to match. Conversely, damaged hydrodipped surfaces can simply be replaced with an identical film.

Hydrodipping options have advanced beyond sinks and tabletops. After a customer asked if a cabinet could get the film coat, the Duncan finish team procured a cow watering tank and developed a mechanical arm that could dunk an entire galley or interior cabinet. Since then, the company had a custom dip tank and dipping equipment made to handle these larger pieces. The first hydrodipped cabinet for a customer debuted on a Cessna Citation XLS in January.

Now, Coleman added, an owner of a large-cabin Gulfstream wants a cabinet hydrodipped, which would demand a larger tank. “We’re working on it right now,” she said of the needed equipment.