Paul E Eden spoke to Stefan Murphy, managing director of aircraft cleaning services provider Up & Away, and Marc Cognetti, director of marketing at aviation leather and textiles manufacturer Perrone Aerospace, to consider different perspectives of the clean cabin and how to achieve it.
Flight delays are invariably frustrating, but there’s almost always an external force we can blame – the air traffic controllers are striking somewhere on route, the weather’s bad, badly packed suitcases spilling their contents or the engineers are taking a few minutes to fix the IFE.
So long as the crew keeps us informed, we generally forgive these things. Eventually.
But after we’ve paid good money for a seat, especially if it’s a seat somewhat smaller than we’d consider ideal, we don’t want to find evidence of the previous occupant’s last meal on the tray table, nor do we want their bottle crushed into the seat pocket or to discover the stain someone left on the floor.
These things make a lasting impression on passengers, helping form the perceptions they have of an airline, perceptions they pass on to friends and colleagues, by word of mouth and on social media. A clean cabin, like a clean hotel room, goes a long way towards making customers happy. But it isn’t easily achieved.
The airlines need their cabins cleaned effectively and efficiently, in as little time as possible, whether they are working to the time-critical utilisation of the low-cost model or turning a long haul jet for another 12-hour leg tomorrow. For the cabin cleaners, therefore, the pressure is always on.
Stefan Murphy is managing director of Up & Away. He founded the company as a provider of detail and deep cleaning, plus exterior cleaning and detailing for private aircraft owners, only recently moving into commercial aviation.
“It’s a difficult challenge for the cleaning companies and the operators,” he agrees, “working to deliver the best quality at the best price in the downtime around the flying programme. This is usually during the night, where we operate at maximum capacity to deliver the best possible service.
“It’s an interesting requirement for the airlines and in my eyes the most important, since it’s what the paying customer sees. We’re asked to deliver night stops and turnaround cleans to maintain the cabins in between deep cleans. This creates a challenge for some of the aircraft flying longer routes, which might carry a particularly demanding clientele on premium services.
“We are always working against the clock, trying to maintain quality against forever changing schedules, but we have huge expertise on the operational side, while our structure and technology merge really well. Operations usually run smoothly, until delays or closures come up, then we have to think outside the box, perhaps on how we work 40 aircraft arrivals at 1.00am and still have them ready to leave at the scheduled time.”
Up & Away’s expansion from executive aircraft services ironically came through a contract with a major low-cost carrier.
Murphy explains: “It was the start-up contract for the new arm of Up & Away, in the commercial sector. It’s proven to be a great opportunity and opening into an industry that’s crying out for good service providers. It will remain our flagship contract as the first for the business.
“We decided to establish Up & Away Aviation Services as a separate business with only a small number of management staff and directors moving onto its board from the private aviation side since we expect it to expand strongly and it will need to stand alone; I retain 100 per cent ownership.
“We now have three large LCC contracts, each ring-fenced and run with pride, independence and its own management, ensuring we deliver only the best service.”
Aged just 17, Murphy established Up & Away in 2008, as owner and sole staff member, based at London Oxford Airport. His first cleaning job was on a King Air and he admits to having ‘no idea about aircraft to begin with, but soon realising there was a market for aircraft cleaning’.
In 2015, Murphy purchased specialist executive aircraft cleaning company Avialogistics from Gama Aviation, satisfying the increasing demand for Up & Away Aviation Detailing’s services and expertise.
Today Up & Away has offices serving the business and executive aviation community at several UK airports, but supports many others remotely, via a fleet of vehicles and mobile crews. Up & Away’s significant presence at fixed-base operations serving international airports, including London Luton, perhaps inevitably led to its exposure to the airlines.
Looking towards a potentially important new opportunity, in 2019, Murphy established Up & Away Aviation Services with the aim of bringing the service standards enjoyed and respected by his business aviation customers to the commercial world.
The new company was founded on the strength of important contracts with two airlines Murphy describes as ‘European, but world-leading LCCs’. “We work very closely with them, with a line operation at Stansted supporting them for night stops, deep and tech cleans, toilet and water, and a number of other services.”
Aircraft cabin cleaning does, of course, include wiping tray tables and picking up discarded water bottles, but there is also a variety of very specialist tasks, undertaken within quite different service packages. Up & Away, for example, offers a wide range of services from night-stop cabin cleaning to deep cleaning, and external washing.
Murphy explains: “We also provide a full service to MROs during major winter fleet maintenance programmes, performing major deep cleans and technical cleaning before detailed inspections. We carried our service model over from private aviation, tweaking it to suit since airline cleaning typically doesn’t demand a white glove finish, although it’s sometimes not far off.
“We also recently purchased a new Mallaghan toilet and water servicing trucks. So, we’ll be extending our cabin appearance management expertise into more of a one-stop-shop for the airlines. The offer will include carpet and seat cover changes, and fumigation, for example, and potentially various options for ground handling at certain locations.”
Clean by design
Working from its New York headquarters, plus offices in France and Singapore, Perrone Aerospace approaches cabin cleanliness from a different direction to Up & Away. Perrone manufactures a range of aerospace leathers and other textiles, primarily for aircraft seating.
While satisfying the perennial requirements for lightweight and safety, Perrone’s materials are also made to repel dirt as much as possible, while any cleaning that does inevitably become necessary is readily accomplished through a bespoke range of cleaning products.
A busy cabin’s tray tables, carpets, and seat covers take considerable punishment and may become soiled quite quickly. Helping prevent the issue, Perrone engineers its leather products with dirt and dust repelling finish as standard, but the director of marketing, Marc Cognetti, says the company has taken the process a step further.
“We also offer a new approach in anti-soiling and leather care, with a complete system solution that enhances cleanability. We believe our system approach, with the finishing top coat on the leathers and the cleaning and care products in sync, ensures the highest performance over a long period of time. Maintained according to our cleaning and maintenance specification, the system significantly reduces the soiling that occurs with progressive use, extending the length of the dress cover.”
The cleaning products have no effect on the physical properties or burn requirements of the treated covers but do require care for optimal employment. To that end, Cognetti says Perrone offers extensive customer support.
“Our All Leather Maintenance Division offers video, factory and onsite training on the proper care of leather to all our customers. Depending on the level of complexity requested, we’ll walk through the entire line of cleaning products to give a comprehensive look at the continued airworthiness of aerospace leathers and textiles.”
Perrone’s offering encompasses leather cleaning products for everyday maintenance. Among them, Cognetti notes an ink remover that, “…when used according to our instructions, effectively removes or improves ink, lipstick and other stains on finished leather without harming its finish system.”
He also picks out the convenience of Perrone’s leather cleaner wipes, “… which easily clean and condition leather without leaving an oily residue, enhancing its performance and leaving it protected from future staining and sun fade.”
Cleaning products for other textiles, including Alcantara and Marquis are also available, the latter a Perrone product typically used in stowage and baggage compartments, and on bulkheads and sidewalls, as well as seating.
A cleaner tomorrow
Aside from cabin appearance, passengers also have concerns over the potential for microbial infection. Careful cleaning can go a long way to minimising problems, but cabin products manufactured from materials with antimicrobial properties are also important.
Cognetti confirms that the proprietary process Perrone employs for producing its genuine leathers offers “…a level of antimicrobial properties that last through the service life of the product,” but continues: “Our synthetic offering, EnduraLite is inherently antimicrobial and can be used for a variety of applications. It offers a low-maintenance, durable alternative to genuine leather and at substantial weight savings.”
He reports that EnduraLite is becoming increasingly popular in high-traffic airline applications, putting its success down to “…its durability, easy maintainability, aesthetics, and long-term technical properties, all due in part to the closed-cell characteristics of its urethan- coated finish”.
EnduraLite might be the easy-clean material of the future, but Perrone is also re-examining its cleaning range. “We’re always developing new products, based on customer demands and new technologies. And, moving forward, the market will begin to see more environmentally-friendly commercial products becoming available.”
Looking at the broader canvas of aircraft cleaning, Murphy sees a changing market that he reckons Up & Away will take a major part of.
“The airlines are taking aircraft appearance very seriously as they strive to provide customers with the best possible on-board experience. I believe Up & Away Aviation Services has come to market with a new focus and new ideas.
“The market hasn’t been approached this way before, with cleaning traditionally just one of the tasks offered by companies that also deliver ticketing, baggage handling, and other services. We’re attacking a real gap in the market, introducing new services, and I’m hopeful the opportunities will develop into more business and, perhaps, lead to acquisitions or mergers in the future.”