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Aircraft Cabins - Staying In Your Comfort Zone

Why sacrifice style because you are in the air? There can be as many choices in how to configure an aircraft cabin as there are ideas. Here- the top designers and completions houses speak about some of the options on offer today.

Liz Moscrop   |   1st March 2012
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Liz Moscrop Liz Moscrop

Liz Moscrop has written extensively about Business Aviation for several years and specializes in...
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Aircraft Cabin
Staying in your comfort zone
Why sacrifice style because you are in the air? There can be as many choices in how to configure an aircraft cabin as there are ideas. Here- the top designers and completions houses speak about some of the options on offer today.

If you’re going to spend hours on board an aircraft you will want to ensure that you are in the best environment possible for work and leisure. The best way of achieving this is to work intensively alongside aircraft designers and completions centers at the planning stage.

According to Michael Bork- aircraft interior architect at Germany’s Lufthansa Technik (LHT)- this process is essential. “When we advise new clients- we ask them to give us the opportunity and time to listen and to learn about them - their wishes- their living environment and their personal likes and dislikes. VIP cabin projects are about personality- not trends - they are always tailored to the specific customer.

“A customer is not an anonymous statistic. Our customers are not average. Our products are not average. The research at the beginning of the project is very interesting for everybody and pays off in the end.”

The fact that San Antonio- Texas-based Gore Design Completions Ltd. describes the airplanes it completes as ‘Flying Sculptures’ reflects strongly its belief that interiors are far from average - each being uniquely designed. “Craftsmanship is an art form-” Gore outlines- “one that is so influential- so imperative that it can result in transforming ordinary into extraordinary.”

A self-supporting manufacturing shop with capabilities for cabinetry and sheet metal- parts fabrication as well as a complete machine and upholstery shop enables Gore to accommodate any request immediately (thereby reducing the time taken to complete a project).

People who own business aircraft tend to be extremely busy and either want to work or relax in a comfortable environment. Elisabeth Harvey manager- interior design for Jet Aviation in Basel- Switzerland observes that trends in aircraft cabin design tend to follow those in peoples’ homes. “We look at residential themes- then after a two or three year lead-time these tend to flow through to aircraft. We are seeing this in China with requests for clean and simple high-quality comfort.”

Jet Aviation takes a consultative approach to its work. After initial discussions the company draws up plans- which it then turns into renderings and even a full size mock-up if required. “I do advise people to use aviation designers with lots of experience-” Harvey adds.

Fellow Basel completions centre AMAC has been consistently busy recently. The management team has decades of experience in the interiors industry- and CEO Heinz Kohli believes there will be a strong market in China over the coming years- which he intends to capitalize on. “We are looking to possibly be in Hong Kong- then in Mainland China.”

Associted Air Center in Dallas- Texas makes an exciting promise: “Bring us your vision for the completion of your aircraft and we will bring it to life.” The company has moved a stairway on a Boeing 747-400; installed the latest entertainment and office systems on massive aircraft- and outfitted a galley worthy of a 3-star chef.

Attention to detail
In many of the top firms for aircraft interiors- it is the attention to detail that helps owners realize their visions. In an aircraft upholstery shop- for example- the leather on seats- cabinets and sidewalls are usually sewn and glued by hand. In the woodwork shops- staff can bend veneer around corners and make complex designs.

Switzerland-based Comlux has a VIP cabin completion center in Indianapolis- USA. Head designer of Comlux Creatives Tim Callies said- “A recent Chinese client was looking for a traditional aircraft with a modern interpretation. He also wanted to Feng Shui his aircraft. What we can offer depends on the budget. Sometimes people want a games room for children with a big screen and divans that can convert to a bed.

“A shower is important. Most people have a shower they don’t use- but they like having one on board just in case. Often people request a dining area- or an office that can also be a comfortable area where everyone can sit together.”

Kohli (AMAC) added that often customers with larger cabins look for club seating in the front of the aircraft- with social or conference grouping and high-low tables seating five or six people in the middle of the cabin.

Meanwhile Lufthansa-Technik’s Bork is a firm believer that a state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment and cabin management system is a “must have” on board VIP aircraft. “Our innovation center in Hamburg- Germany is investing a lot of time and money to develop and offer customized solutions- like our ‘nice HD’ system.”

Bork believes that in terms of design- Asian customers can be the most challenging to satisfy. “If you look at the last years of development and the new- fascinating architecture in Beijing- you will understand what I mean. Our Chinese customer feedback helps us constantly - and Feng Shui also plays a role.”

For customers who do not want to wait several years for a new aircraft- refurbishment of an existing- or previously-owned machine is proving an increasingly popular option. Experts can either add changes to an existing cabin format- or create an entirely new layout.

Sean Gillespie- director of completion sales and management for Canada’s Flying Colours has worked for several Chinese customers recently. “We created a design using red perforated leather on the seats. It had a light interior- which made the cabin look bigger.”

Some customers also look for expensive hides such as stingray or crocodile skin- but quality- unusual leathers can have an eight-to-ten week lead time and are much more expensive because they are available in smaller amounts. “People typically want them on headliners and sidewalls-” Gillespie added. Flying Colours is looking to set up a Joint Venture with a Chinese company in the near future.

Rodger Renaud- vice president of green completions sales at Jet Aviation addressed the value of working with clients who are really interested in their project. “We have sent four new aircraft to China over the recent years. Chinese customers are much more detail-oriented than many clients. They like to understand what is available- and ask lots of questions.”

This makes things easier as work progresses- since everybody is very clear about what is required. Bork agrees and suggests that the possibilities are only limited by the size of the aircraft and the budget. “Why surrender the comfort you are used to in your home or office while flying?” he asks.

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