Working week: Getting comfortable at Cessna

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Comfortable expanses within Citation business jets and the cosiness of each piston-single aircraft are the responsibility of Gary Sauber, manager of Cessna's interior design engineering

Has your career been entirely in aviation?

Yes. I started out of college working military programmes for Boeing, but have spent the majority of my career in the commercial aviation industry. I'm coming up to my 20-year anniversary at Cessna next year. It went really fast. I've been in my current role for 10 years, adding more responsibility along the way.

What sort of training and education did you need?

An engineering degree gave me the tools needed to solve problems. Company-sponsored six sigma training refined those skills and taught me how to improve efficiency. The people skills I learned on the job through company training, patience, practice, and trial and error. The soft skills are some of the most important needed to be a successful manager.

How long does it take to configure a business aircraft interior?

It can take anywhere from 5min to 12 months, depending on the customer. For example, a repeat customer may know exactly what they want and will simply tell us to configure their new aircraft just like their old unit.

Other customers like to take their time to look at all their options and enjoy making decisions on the smallest details, like the thread colour for the stitching. We strive to give each customer the level of service they desire to make the experience enjoyable.

Has your workload been affected by the recession?

Absolutely. With the number of deliveries down we have fewer customers, so, as expected, the amount of time spent directly on customer-facing processes goes down. However, with the headcount reduction, the remaining staff have to be more diverse to cover all the functions.

We are all learning new skills or, in some cases, retraining ourselves to do things we haven't done for a while.

Are you among the first people to know when there's a new aircraft being considered?

Yes. Part of my responsibility is to work with our advance design group on new product development. This is an area that I enjoy very much because it gives you the opportunity be innovative and creative and affect the look and feel of our future products.

Do you also work with the piston line?

Yes. We apply the same level of passion and expertise to the design of the piston products as we do the Citations. They are just smaller. Piston product customer are no different than those for the jets. They want to feel they are getting good value.

Are structural and weight considerations part of your job, or is it all comfort and aesthetics?

I wish it could be just about comfort and aesthetics.

Cost, weight, space management, structural integrity and certification requirements are just some of the criteria we navigate through when designing an interior. It makes the task very challenging at times.

What's the most unusual feature you've placed in a cabin?

I've seen some unique features, like hand-painted artwork that is installed on the furniture, or a refrigerator installed to keep film cool. We even installed an automated bar tender. If it can be certificated for flight, we can do it.

It does keep the job from getting boring.

What is interesting or challenging about your job?

Looking for innovative ways to improve the interior, either using new technologies or new materials. I find both interesting and challenging.

I'm a technology enthusiast, so researching and analysing new technologies really keeps me going.

One of the most challenging aspects of the job is the time it takes to get from concept to reality. We are constantly looking for ways to reduce the "art to part" cycle time so the designs are fresh when they hit the market. In the end, you're only as good as your last design.