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Living the high life

25 January 2016

Hard work and high stakes go hand in hand when it comes to cleaning luxury private jets of the world's super rich. Catherine Hackett spoke to Carl Barlow, owner of Rise & Shine Aircare, to find out what it takes

Rise & Shine Aircare cleans the private jets and helicopters of the world's most famous and wealthiest figures, whether that be royalty, heads of state, celebrities or successful business people. Not only do these clients demand the best service, but their aircraft are worth upwards of £50 million, which means making a mistake could prove very costly indeed. 

No pressure then for the eight staff at Rise & Shine Aircare who operate out of mobile van units and cover airports in the Midlands and the south of the UK. The firm is capable of handling all types of aircraft, ranging from a Cessna Citation Jet to a Boeing BBJ, but most are large corporate jets that are privately owned or owned by charter companies. 

"Our typical clients are mainly billionaires and VIPs," owner Carl Barlow confirms. "The expectations are very high and that's why 100% of what we do has to be correct."

Cleaning and maintenance tasks vary depending on use, age and condition. The average time taken to clean a large corporate jet is one day but it's far from straightforward. 

"Aircrafts are intricate, cumbersome, large, difficult, spiky, weird objects to clean," Carl says. "It takes quite a few people and pieces of equipment to access the areas needed."

Cabin fever

The company's interior valeting service offers a quick turn-around to deeper cleaning of the passenger area, cockpit and entry steps. The team clears the usual debris and rubbish you would expect to find where passengers have been eating, drinking and relaxing in a confined area, along with spillages and stains such as red wine or cola. For carpet care, the primary tools in the team's extensive arsenal of products and equipment are carpet shampoo and small or handheld vacuum cleaners that can navigate the tight space. Steam cleaning machines are also used for sanitising floors and furniture.

In these private jets, particular attention must also be paid to expensive surfaces such as leather seating and wood panelling. As well as microfibre cloths, mink oil cream, for example, is used to revive leatherwork – keeping it soft to prevent cracking and discolouration. 

On the bright side

During operation, the elements – from rain and snow to dust and bugs – can take their toll on the aircraft's exterior and cause corrosion to metal and aluminium surfaces, also known as brightwork. 

Rise & Shine use special machines to polish these surfaces, which not only produce a deep shine but help to negate the effects of oxidation and aluminium pitting. This saves on maintenance fees and downtime. It's the most physically demanding part of the job, according to Carl. 

"Let's say an aircraft has gone to Russia and parked up for a few days," he says. "When it comes back to the UK, all the brightwork is in a terrible condition because of the acid rain that's over there. It takes a lot of hard work with our machines to bring that back."

Compounding machines can remove scratches and bring dull and old paintwork back to life, while a range of cleaning products and polishes shine up the rest of the aircraft's exterior. Rise & Shine specialises in the dry-wash polish technique whereby the aircraft is cleaned and polished without the need for water. But the products and techniques used will depend on the aircraft and the paintwork finish. Helicopters, for example, are so delicate that they are only valeted by hand – no pressure washers or brushes are used. 

A combination of steps and ladders provide safe access to the jets when working at height, with scissor lifts brought in for larger aircraft. Extendable poles with adjustable cleaning heads attached – including lambswool bonnets – clean the parts that are difficult to reach such as the fuselage and the tail. 

Even with the best products and equipment for the job, getting enough time and access is always a juggling act.

"The problem we have is that the people who operate the aircraft want it to be flying all the time," Carl says. "When the aircraft is on the ground, if you're a company that charters aircraft, it's not earning any money. So often they want us to clean it at the same time that maintenance is being carried out, which can be a real issue for us.

"We have to strike a balance between what they want us to do and what we need to do to try and get the aircraft finished."

Image is everything

To make it in the world of luxury aircraft valet cleaning, the aircraft is not the only thing that needs to scrub up well. Presenting a professional business image is just as important as carrying out high quality work. Staff at Rise & Shine wear a smart black uniform adorned with the company logo. Company branding also features prominently on their stylish mobile van units and modern website.

Carl says: "We're working with some of the most expensive aircraft in the world and the richest clientele. If we arrive in a vehicle that looks smart and well presented with all the correct equipment onboard, and the people that get out of the van look smart and presentable, it gives clients confidence that we're a very good company and that we're going to do a good job."  

Access all areas

The team has gained access to some unusual places over the years.

"We went to Humberside airport where the owner had a full-sized Thunderbird 3 rocket," Carl says, referring to an 87 metre-long spacecraft that uses chemical rockets for lift-off and boost. 

And, while the work may be physically demanding, there are plenty of upsides.  

"You never tire of walking around the beautiful aircraft – it's a real privilege," he adds. "It's not something that the average person gets to do whereas we do it on a daily basis."