How the Completions Industry Hopes To Shake Up 2024 and Beyond

‘The buyer is a different person today.'

The state of the completions market has changed a lot in the last few years, shaped in part by a post-pandemic consumer base whose preferences in style, design, and functionality of space have evolved with the times. Several factors are seemingly at play in this shift, with customers interested in more versatility in the cabin space, more streamlined and modern designs, and better connectivity using the latest technology. 

Move Toward Minimalist: Going Zen

VIP Completions president Ben Shirazi said that customers’ taste in design has shifted towards the minimalist “Apple store” aesthetic that is commonly seen in modern home design—a shift away from the classic “wood grain” and natural materials look that previously dominated much of the market.

“I would say every project we've done for the last year, year and a half—as well as every project we have scheduled for the upcoming future—it's all modern, you know, matte woods, open greens, kind of a ‘Zen natural’ color palette. It’s definitely that,” he said.

Veta Traxler, senior designer at West Star Aviation, has also noticed the minimalist aesthetic has taken priority among customers.

“You’re seeing a lot more monochromatic interiors, with more texture. So, for example, carpets right now are going for a much more textural look, much softer, for example, to make it look more ‘presidential.’ In the past, carpets had much more of the ‘hospitality look,’” she said.

Mary Lee of Duncan Aviation said the shift towards a “simpler” aesthetic has had an impact on design preferences in the cabin, as a whole.

“We’re getting rid of a lot of the old-fashioned kind of decorative trims and things like that,” she said. “Very simple. Moving more towards a soft, neutral, natural color palette. The soft white hybrids, pulling colors from nature, natural wood tones versus some of the highly stained woods that we've seen before. Building on textures, tone on tone, monochromatic, but yet bringing visual interest with that warm, cozy, modern clean line feel. So, we're seeing a lot of white seeds with dark black accents and carpets, cooler metal tones. Darker veneers kind of go to that contemporary styling, kind of a white silver -plating look with our more modern, cozy, natural aesthetic.” 

Shirazi said the growth of those design preferences is an indication of a younger clientele stepping into the completions market.

“The buyer today is the younger generation; the younger generation has wealth earlier than they did many years ago. That's who the target audience is today. You have a 30-year-old and a 40-year-old entrepreneur buying an aircraft as opposed to a 60-year-old and a 70-year-old. So again, their expectations are more modern, you know?” he added. “Back to more amenities, they're expecting to have everything at their disposal as opposed to some limitations.”

Preferences in Connectivity: Lose the DVD Players

Along with a more modern aesthetic is a desire for increased connectivity for passengers, both to the internet as a whole and a seamless integration with personal electronics. As more people carry their own tablets, smartphones, and laptops, there has been an increase in making sure customers can integrate their tech with their cabin experience.

For some completions companies, that has meant moving away from the previous need for “modular” technology, like built-in television screens and panels. Robert Stockton of Western Aircraft has seen that shift firsthand.

“We get a lot of older aircraft that have integrated TV monitors and entertainment systems that just aren't what today's technology is,” he said. “It’s unused a lot of times, and so we get requests to remove that. That's a difficult thing when you have a big hole in your bulkhead, so we’ve got to cover that with something, and to re-veneer the whole piece is the best way to do it. Then you end up re-engineering a large section of the whole aircraft just for that one purpose. Then you have other aircraft where the TVs are integrated into the upper sidewall panels and then we remove those. You have also another hole, which is a little bit easier because you can cover that with material. But there's a lot of work. A lot of customers say, ‘Just leave it, we just won't use it.’

"And then there's also DVD players that aren't being used. So those will be removed and now you have extra storage space in your cabinetry. So, that's kind of a bonus. But a lot of it is definitely new technology," he explained.

Steve Elofson of Duncan Aviation has also seen that shift. “It’s less often that there's a DVD or a Blu-Ray player that's in the aircraft, and it's more that the monitors that are in the aircraft are used for moving map systems such as Airshow,” he said.

With the shift away from modular technology has also come an added focus on the latest ways to ensure wireless internet connectivity. Shirazi said that Starlink, the satellite internet company spearheaded by Elon Musk, has growing popularity within the industry.

“Obviously, Starlink is a big word that's used with most buyers today. Everybody wants it. Everybody's expecting it to be available,” he said. Shirazi noted that he believes Starlink is still navigating a growing demand in the market.

“It's taking a little longer for Starlink to get rolled out. We've dealt with them directly, and I feel they're kind of more engineering-focused than they are sales-focused. They’re focusing on the tech and the connectivity more than how they're going to roll out their sales program. They've kind of picked the handful now. And it's this year it’s getting put in multiple aircraft and multiple different models,” he said.

The Sustainability Factor: Sparing No Expense

Several industry players in the aerospace industry, as a whole, are vocal now about taking steps towards combating carbon emissions and creating environmentally positive change, and with that comes a broader question about how sustainable materials have permeated the completions market.

Lee said vendors are leading the push toward greener products.

“Our vendors are implementing a lot of products that are focused on green initiatives. Leather, for instance—we're seeing olive-tanned leathers, so it's 100% organic tanned leather. We're getting away from those harsh chemicals. Fabric companies, as well, are doing a good job as far as using recycled products.

"We have a lot of opportunities with sustainable products and composite veneers, versus the standard natural veneers that we're seeing with exotics that are getting rarer and rarer. I think our vendors are doing a really good job in providing us products that we can offer to our customers if they do get that request,” she said.

Shirazi said he’s also seen the need for sustainable resourcing come from the suppliers of the materials themselves.

“U.S. buyers are really expecting the suppliers to be absorbing the sustainability and factoring that into their business model to be able to get their business. They're picking the most expensive leather supplier and the best veneer supplier and the best carpet supplier because they're expecting that those suppliers are hitting initiatives to support sustainability,” he said.

The sustainability of products has become a common sales feature and an indirect expectation of the buyer, he said. “Shops that are selling products are trying to use sustainability as more of a sales feature to show, ‘Listen, we're giving you the best product, but we're also sustainable in terms of how we recycle the leather or where we source our product or materials.’ So, the U.S. buyer isn't necessarily only buying from sustainability. They're almost expecting to buy from the best, and they have to be factoring that in their supply model.”