China’s Avic underlined its ambitions to become a serious player in the aircraft interiors market when it announced in July that it had grouped the five companies it has acquired in this segment to form Avic Cabin Systems.

While acknowledging the unit is “still relatively small when compared with the likes of Zodiac [Aerospace] and Rockwell Collins,” the chief executive of one of those five companies—AIM Altitude’s Richard Bower—tells Aviation Week that Avic, which he describes as “big in aerospace,” also has designs on becoming “big in interiors.”

Achieving this ambition likely will involve additional acquisitions as the Chinese conglomerate looks to fill the remaining gaps in its cabin interiors portfolio.

“You can assume there ought to be some more mergers and acquisitions activity in the future, because we’re not quite there yet. If you look at the big players, like Zodiac and Rockwell Collins, we still have gaps, so it’s reasonable to assume [Avic] would look at other commodities,” says Bower.

Avic Cabin Systems comprises UK-based galleys and monuments manufacturer AIM Altitude, premium-seat specialist Thompson Aero Seating, Austrian aircraft interior solutions provider FACC, Chinese economy-class seat-maker Jiatai Aircraft Equipment and Fesher Aviation Components Co., also based in China.

Following its acquisition of the five subsidiaries, Avic found itself with a “fragmented interiors” offering, says Bower. Its decision to group the companies together into one unit, he believes, will help it achieve its aim of becoming “a force in the interiors world.”

While there has “not been a huge amount of progress” on integrating the companies’ activities since the formation of Avic Cabin Systems in July, Bower says more clarity will emerge in the next 12-18 months.

“If you look at what happened when Zodiac acquired all of their interiors businesses, it took a long time to integrate them into what they have today,” observes Bower.

The biggest synergies will come from “developing customers known better to one part of ACS [Avic Cabin Systems] than another,” and from promoting the services of each vendor alongside one another.

For instance, when Northern Ireland-based Thompson Aero Seating pitches a buyer-furnished equipment program to an airline customer, it will include in its pitch the integration of front-row monuments developed by AIM Altitude. The two companies already were cooperating in the run-up to the announcement. This included the joint development of an integrated front-row furniture and seating area for a mockup of the A330neo Airspace cabin at Airbus’ Toulouse site.

AIM Altitude expects shortly to roll out some new features on its Boeing 777 galley program with “a couple of major airlines,” says Bower, and the company is “making inroads” on its quest “to get on the 777X.” 

Each of the five units that form Avic Cabin Systems will continue to operate independently, with their own manufacturing facilities and local supply chains.

“We’re not going to create a single factory,” says Bower. “We’re still operating as our own businesses and focusing on delivering to customers.”

However, the “ultimate aim” is to have a “structured management” for the group as a whole, he adds, noting: “It’s reasonable to assume that a management structure at ACS would develop over the course of the integration work.”

FACC, which produces aircraft interiors components such as ceilings, floor and sidewall panels, entrance and service areas, lavatories, air ducts and lighting, says the integration of the five units “opens up additional new possibilities, both in the original equipment segment and in direct customer relations with airlines.”

Adds FACC: “The aim is to be able to offer complete solutions from a single source, from the entrance area through to the galley and the master cabin.”

Avic is entering a competitive market filled with other, more established complete interior-solutions providers, and it is not the only player to have recently rebranded and streamlined its activities in this segment.

Earlier this year, Germany’s Diehl Aerosystems brought three of its units—Diehl Aircabin, Diehl Comfort Modules and Apparatebau Gauting—together under one roof, rebranded as Diehl Aviation.

Diehl described the move as “an expression of the strength of integration,” and said it enabled the manufacturer to provide “integrated solutions from one single source, meeting the demand for current trends in the aircraft cabin branch.”

Bower acknowledges Avic Cabin Systems is “probably one-fifth, or not even that much, the size of Zodiac and Rockwell Collins.” Nevertheless, its Chinese parent company clearly has identified the aircraft interiors sector as a growth area in which it wants to play a much bigger role.