Eleven months after taking over Air India, Tatas announced that the run-down aircraft would be refurbished and join the service in mid-2024. What would surprise flyers though is the time needed to complete the job. There are many things that money can’t buy and what falls into that category within the airline industry is the time taken for the gargantuan task of refurbishment. “On the one hand, the challenge is to design the cabin - including seats, tables, armrests, seat belts, etc - in an aesthetically appealing manner; on the other, the airline should ensure that the new installations are lightweight and comply with the safety requirements laid down by the multiple aviation regulators concerned,” said an industry source. “The baseline of safety is that in the event of an accident, a passenger should be able to come out of the aircraft safely without any injury,” he added. The planning process itself can take months, because the entire cabin needs to be stripped down and rebuilt sequentially, like a jigsaw puzzle, with minute details in place.
Take the passenger seat for instance. Regulatory norms demand the use of fire-retardant material. To keep the aircraft light, the seats should be lightweight. But they should also be strong and secure enough to stay put without deforming to cause bodily harm to the passengers or block their exit in case of a crash. “The seat is expected to withstand 16G dynamic force (16 times that of earth’s gravity). Each seat also has bundles of wires for in flight entertainment, phone charging, emergency lights, and so there are a myriad of tiny and large spare parts involved,” he further said.
The big problem though is that aircraft equipment such as seats, because of low volumes of production and exacting safety standards, are rather expensive and produced by select manufacturers across the world. Supply schedules of various vendors would need to be coordinated. “Also, if a certain manufacturer has shut shop and spare parts supplied by him are no longer available, then an airline cannot merely switch to any other manufacturer unless the required design approvals are in place,” said a source.