MIAMI— Your mission: pull out every seat from a Boeing 747-400, from first class to business class to economy, and replace them all with new seats, complete with new in-flight entertainment systems, at-seat power, and all the conveniences modern passengers expect. How long do you have?
Thirty-eight days. In just over a month, program and project managers Georg Stoffelen and Torsten Woell, together with engineer Stefan Huebner and their colleagues at Lufthansa Technik, will strip the interior of nearly eighteen-year-old Boeing 747-430 Victor Mike (D-ABVM MSN 29101/LN 1143) down to its bones, and build it up again so the only things travelers will spot are the passenger experience improvements.
So, how do you do it? “For a retrofit, it’s between twenty to forty days,” Georg Stoffelen says as we stand on the gantry under Victor Mike’s enormous tail, “if you have a huge modification like this, where we remove everything out, put everything new in.”
This isn’t one of the smart, scheduled maintenance checks and upgrades while the aircraft is on the ground between flights, where the Lufthansa Technik team swarm onto a plane to fix whatever is wrong, from passenger experience problems like a blocked lavatory (usually the result of something inappropriate being flushed) to a seat or an in-flight entertainment system through to flight operations issues reported by the pilots or, increasingly, by the connected aircraft itself.
But on a big maintenance session like this one, the first task is to pull out all the seats. “Currently, we are removing the old economy seats, the old business class seats, and first class as well” Stefan Huebner elaborates inside the aircraft. “Installed now is the upgraded IFE system called RAVE, we’re installing premium economy as well, and business class. This aircraft will be fitted with no first class.”
That’s part of the Lufthansa strategy to only offer first class on the routes that can economically support it — the airline doesn’t want their top product to turn into an ‘upgrade class’ or to fly empty to markets where there just isn’t the demand.
So, Huebner explains, “the cabin layout has changed slightly regarding the upper deck: the crew rest has changed, the lavatories have changed, and obviously the overhead bins have been enlarged to accommodate business class.”
“For the moment, the aircraft is not complete, so there will be zones without seats.”
Huebner’s right there — there’s only one zone of the aircraft that’s actually full of installed seats, which happens to be the part of the cabin where the premium economy seats meet economy. The rest of the plane, from the new business class section in the nose to the crew rest in the tail, is full of parts to be installed.
Victor Mike has sixteen days to go in its refit, in which time everything from ceiling panels to seats (and more besides) needs to be installed just so. Despite the jumbo-sized to-do list, the smart money is on Huebner, Stoffelen and Woell having this aircraft back in service bang on time.