Latitude Aero wins sidewall refurbs, eyes seat assembly, accessibility


HAMBURG — Latitude Aero’s decision last year to broaden its aircraft interior refurbishment activities to include sidewalls is bearing fruit. The Greensboro, North Carolina-based company has inked deals with US majors to overhaul their sidewalls, including a recent pact with a mainline operator covering over 100 aircraft panels, president and CEO Kelvin Boyette revealed to RGN at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

Best known as a trustworthy refurbisher and electrifier of aircraft seats, Latitude Aero’s shop is now running with no fewer than four lines. But in 2023, the firm expanded its operation by acquiring the sidewall refurbishment assets of another US company, and also pushed out into overhead bins, passenger service units (PSUs) and monuments. It was a prescient move, with Boyette telling RGN that new sidewall refurbishment work is leading to new seat business and vice versa.

For example, its new 100-panel deal with an undisclosed US mainline carrier has led to a seat overhaul project that will see Latitude Aero provide new seat covers, cushions and plastics. “The seats will have a date of manufacture of 2014-15 so it’s the first time that the seats have been touched since delivered new [to the airline],” said Boyette. “So, there’s quite a bit of work to do.”

Seat triple on the Latitude Aero stand at AIX. The seats have been refurbished by Latitude Aero. They feature clean black covers and seat belts from Schroth.

The work is not without its challenges. Post-Covid supply chain constraints in industry remain acute, including around certain plastic parts — think “OEM arm caps, tray tables and the big things that every passenger sees, touches and feels”, said Boyette. Parts that used to require a 2-3 week lead time are a “120- 180-day lead time now”.


But at the same time, these bottlenecks have been an unexpected boon for the seat refurbishment business and indeed for third party plastics manufacturers, he confided.

“Prior to Covid, most major airlines, say in the Skytrax ‘Top 100’, didn’t want PMA [parts manufacturer approval] or didn’t want owner approved parts. Covid has kind of been a blessing for the seat refurbishment business and the third party manufacturing plastics business. So it’s something we never saw coming. We never had that in our crystal ball.”

He continued, “A lot of our mainline customers are now venturing into the owner approved parts realm where they want us to find suppliers, they want us to handle the engineering, handle the manufacturing and they certify it in-house.”

Latitude Aero's stand at AIX highlights some of the firm's work including turnkey seat refurbishment, sidewall panel refurbishment and seat repair & deep cleaning.Latitude Aero has strong relationships in place with AS9100 approved manufacturer and FAA repair station Magee Plastics, plastic extrusion company Pexco, seat upholstery specialist Perrone Performance Leathers & Textiles, and Schroth Safety Products. On stand at AIX, the firm showcased refurbished Recaro slimlines and recliners clad in Perrone seat covers, with Schroth seatbelts.

“As far as customer service, lead time, pricing, availability in your standard colors, their lead time is superior,” Boyette said of Perrone, noting that they “manufacture Enduralite™, my favorite non-leather product. Their Enduralite™ is a four-way stretch; it makes it a lot easier for the dress shops to sew. Most synthetic leathers are only a two-way stretch so you get a funny bunching on complete curves.”

Price-wise, he added, Perrone is “neutral if not better than competitors, but also … we’ve never had any issue in flam testing. The availability of our standard airline blues and grays is always there. We get product in a matter of days.”

Close up of Perrone seat cover on a Recaro slimline on stand

Latitude Aero showcased newly refurbished Recaro BL3710 seats (now known as Recaro R2 seats) with smart Perrone seat covers on stand at AIX.

In terms of sidewall refurbishment, the standard white panels adopted by US mainline carriers — whether they feature a white check pattern or a plain white pebble pattern — don’t age as quickly as seats and seat modifications.

“In the seats you go from the 110v AC power to USB-A to now USB-C so you can look at an interior and tell about what era it’s from. Sidewalls are pretty durable. Airlines generally don’t change the Tedlar on it very often,” noted Boyette. For example, the sidewalls that Latitude Aero just recovered for its new refurbishment project are in fact the original delivery from Boeing in 1988.

That said, years of use can see sidewalls encounter everything from maintenance events to kids drawing on them, and in time, discoloration. “So, we strip them down. In the stripping process, sometimes there’s some damage to the composite. We repair the composite,” explained the Latitude Aero CEO.

“And then we can do new window reveals. We have a preferred vendor for those, Magee Plastics. We can buy new window reveals. Sometimes the airline may provide the windows. Some airlines like to provide all the parts and we just do the labor. Smaller airlines like to have us do turnkey where we handle the supply chain, we handle everything.”

Boeing 737-900 sidewall

Latitude Aero can make an aged sidewall look like new.

Given the volume of work that Latitude Aero is doing in refurbishing aircraft interiors, does the company have any designs on becoming a seatmaker itself, RGN asked Boyette?

“Maybe. Not as the OEM but as a labor source and assembly point,” he replied. “The FAA regulations for a company our size to get into this Part 21 OEM manufacturing, it’s cost prohibitive, cash intensive. We don’t want to do that.”

In recent years, however, Latitude Aero has helped automotive seatmaker DAS design a new economy seat from scratch with some innovative fresh thinking behind it, noted Boyette. “We designed the seat based around all the issues airlines and Part 145 repair stations have with fixing seats at the first refurbishment, little things like the luggage bars are the same on the right and the left. So, you cut down the parts that the airline has to stock by half.

“All the arms caps … across the aisle are all the same part number. The recline button is on the bottom so you don’t have to carry four part numbers for an airplane of arms with the button right, button left, blank right, blank left. So little things and so basically an airline will save tens of thousands of dollars an airplane in spare parts.”

He added, “DAS is one of the largest automotive seat manufacturers in the world. So this sounds familiar, like some other OEMs. And they decided that they want to get into aircraft seats, so we’ve helped there. So, we don’t want to be a manufacturer, but we could be an assembly point and distribution point.”

DAS economy class seat against a white background

Note the recline button under the armrest. Image DAS

Another great new niche coming up for Latitude Aero is to modify aircraft seats to be more accessible, and ultimately enable passengers to remain in their own wheelchairs in-flight.

Boyette confided to RGN that he has laid hands on the Air4All wheelchair system, a project that is now being spearheaded by Delta Flight Products. Noting that DFP has “some brilliant engineers”, he reckons there will ultimately be “some very easy mods” that Latitude Aero will be primed to execute on.

“We work with DFP on some projects and I’m excited to get my hands on this one. There are several [accessible concepts] out here that I have on my list to go see, but I think [Air4All will] be the first industry accepted one just because they are further along,” he predicted.

Given Latitude Aero‘s rapid growth phase, it is unsurprising to learn that the firm has drawn acquisition interest from a private equity company. With the right capital, Latitude Aero will be able to further invest in its facility, expand its capabilities and expand to possible new locations.

Newly refurbished recliner on the Latitude Aero stand at AIX.

Latitude Aero can refresh seats across cabin classes.

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All images credited to Mary Kirby