From sitting rooms to karaoke lounges to movie theaters, clients are customizing private planes to their exacting standards
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Nov/Dec 2007
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That year Boeing introduced the Boeing Business Jet, a 737 known as "green," or unfinished. From the start, the program took off. In the last decade, Boeing has built 119 BBJs, each of which will cost approximately $53 million when delivered. According to Boeing spokesperson Sandra Angers, the program has been such a success that Boeing now offers all but one jet in its entire product line to VIPs. Its latest, the 787, starts at $148 million.
No dummies, Airbus introduced the Airbus Corporate Jet, or ACJ, a green A320, in 1997. Airbus has expanded the program to include the A330, A340, even the Jumbotron A380, and has sold 80 green airliners. That means a lot of green for jet-pimping completion centers.
Despite looking identical when they enter a completion center, no two airplanes come out alike. Like other centers, Associated has its own design department, and the lead designer meets with the clients in their home or on their yacht. There the designer gets a feel for the customer's style, and he discusses his vision for his jet. Designers work with Adobe Photoshop and WebEx and send their 3-D conceptualizations to the customer's computer.
Once both parties agree on the design, construction begins. On average, it takes about 12 months to complete an interior, longer for more elaborate detailing. For jumbo jets, installing unimaginable levels of opulence takes a minimum of one year. But since completion centers don't need the aircraft on site, they can prepare most of the interior beforehand and install it in as few as four months after receiving the airplane. A green 737 ordered today won't be off the production line until 2012. For a 787, expect to wait until 2015.
For a recently completed 747, Associated outfitted the airplane's entire upper deck with private living quarters: a master bedroom, a master bath complete with bidet, and a sitting room. The lower deck holds two large lounges, a table with seating for 14, two guest rooms with their own private baths, and galleys for chefs to prepare gourmet meals. "It was not your run-of-the-mill, warmed-up airline meals," Altuna says. "This 747 was our most spectacular work."
For an apparently television-obsessed client, Fort Worth, Texas—based Phazar Aerocorp built an interior with a 37-inch flat-screen monitor, two 42-inch flat-screens, four 20-inch flat-screens and six 15-inch flat-screens. That's 13 flat-screens! Each screen can be controlled separately, and passengers can watch DVDs or a map charting the plane's progress, follow the flight in real time through a nose-mounted camera or check out satellite TV, thanks to the $375,000 antenna installed in the tail. The plane also has a sitting room, a dressing/bathroom area, two private office areas and a karaoke lounge with a state-of-the-art sound system. "We had 37 speakers inside the aircraft," says Phazar managing partner Brian Perryman. "It was just jamming. Sometimes we would throw on Jethro Tull or some country and western. You could almost rattle the rivets on the wings."
Nothing seems out of the question. Perryman says customers have asked for unusual amenities, such as tortoiseshell sinks with custom solid brass faucets. And then there was that one particular DC-9 airliner conversion he did in 1986. The Golden Nugget Casino in Vegas wanted a wood dance floor and a disco ball installed on its private jet. Perryman's crew laid down 30 feet of FAA-approved wooden flooring the width of the jet, coated it with a fire retardant and built a glass-free disco ball that rotated on a short pole. "I didn't ever fly in it but I imagine they probably danced," he says.
Is there anything that they can't do? "We never had a request for a hot tub," Perryman says. Even billionaires understand that there are limits, otherwise known as FAA regulations. While styling and comfort are important, you can't just install your favorite recliner, console TV, paneling or green shag carpeting. Or even an antique dresser. Everything inside has to meet FAA requirements for sturdiness, flammability and egress. You definitely want to get out fast in a crash. Antique furniture won't pass regulations.
FAA regulations are why bizjet manufacturers such as Gulfstream and Cessna usually install the interiors in their own planes. "They're really geared up to do their own," says Steve Hooper, chief technical engineer for Oregon Aero, a completion center in Scappoose, Oregon. "You have to collect a pretty good amount of data on the airplane, like floor load limitations and airframe data. The manufacturers have been at it a long, long time, so they have file cabinets full of that stuff."
On the other hand, manufacturers such as Boeing prefer to work with independent completion centers, and some of those centers are working with big-name designers. Versace recently announced plans to customize helicopter interiors. Two years ago, Eidsgaard Design, the London design firm led by Peder Eidsgaard, teamed up with Jet Aviation Basel in Switzerland to outfit interiors.
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