Cabin design for business jets is complex. Completion centers must satisfy their clients’ aesthetic wishes but meet stringent safety and functionality requirements. How is the right balance achieved? Gerrard Cowan asks the industry…
Designing a business jet interior “absolutely requires the right balance of sophistication, durability, safety and excellent service”, according to Annika Wicklund, design director at Greenpoint Technologies, a business jet completion center.
The company works with its customers to understand their aesthetic and functional requests while at the same time working with the flight crew to understand the aircraft’s operational requirements. “From there it is a fun dance to unite the two,” she adds, with many of the same challenges associated with any design project – notably when it comes to storage space.
The design process begins with an ergonomic study that informs the floorplan layout, ensuring it’s “designed to meet the customer’s desires and specification requirements,” Wicklund explains. Next, designers define and detail furniture standards, then model and sketch all interior elements. Lighting and soft materials such as fabrics, colours and textures are selected to finish the interior. Greenpoint’s design illustrators use various pieces of software to visualize the design.
Photo courtesy of AMAC Aerospace
Where Engineering Stops & Aesthetics Begin
Cabin designs always address the necessary regulations, safety and functionality demands, says Tobias Laps, senior vice president – sales at Comlux, which conducts a range of aviation work, including business jet and VIP completions (it currently has four ACJ320neo completion projects in work or on order).
But beyond satisfying these requirements, the final design is up to the client.
Sometimes a design may be aesthetically pleasing, but could create certain practical difficulties onboard the aircraft, though without threatening safety.
“We may caution the client on this, but in the end, we can only give recommendations,” Laps says. “Owners might have very particular interests, and we will respect that.”
There is a constant back and forth with clients during the design phase, Laps explains. Like other completion centers, Comlux has its own in-house design department, which often works with external designers appointed by the client.
Typically, the process begins with a series of questions looking at the need for the aircraft; the number of people who will be travelling; the number of seats or bedrooms that will be required, and so on. This gives an initial idea of what needs to be included in the cabin layout. “There’s then an interactive process where we get feedback on the proposals that we provide,” he adds.
The second element focuses on aesthetics – the materials that will be used, for example. This is often based on direct communication with the owner and can be inspired by a private home that he or she likes, or a hotel suite – even a yacht.
Function, Appearance & Quality
Airworthiness is the prime concern, according to a spokesperson for GKN Fokker Techniek. Apart from safety, there needs to be a balanced design that matches functionality and design requirements, with weight and available space always being issues.
“One of our key objectives and challenges is therefore to translate the customer’s wishes and required lifestyle into a unique, safe, airworthy and certifiable VIP aircraft,” the spokesperson says. During the design process, the company spends a great deal of time with the client developing a clear definition of the desired result, in terms of function, appearance and quality.
Fokker provides renderings, animations, functional descriptions of systems and cabinetry, and more, with the aim of “bringing the design alive for the customer”. In some cases, multiple parties are involved, including designers, consultants and aircraft manufacturers, according to the spokesperson.
Every Platform Different
The process changes depending on the aircraft in question, Laps says. There are two basic categories. The first is a bespoke business jet, which comes with a VIP cabin. In this case, while there can be a need to make changes in certain materials or in the seating arrangements, typically the layout can stay in place, though there are exceptions.
The second category is the adaptation of other aircraft, often larger platforms, where there’s a “blank canvass” and the changes go much further, often reworking the layout of the interior significantly or creating a completely new one.
Every platform of every OEM is different, says Waleed Muhiddin, director of business development and marketing at AMAC Aerospace.
More important than the brand is the category: whether it is a narrow or wide-body aircraft.
“A wide-body aircraft definitely needs a much broader and deeper approach of design, engineering and craftsmanship,” Muhiddin says.
There has been a “sound recovery” in the widebody completion market in recent years, he adds, with the company currently working on two such projects (one ACJ320neo for Acropolis Aviation, and a Boeing 747-8i that will serve as a head-of-state aircraft for an undisclosed customer).
The latter project underlines the balance required between aesthetics and functionality, Muhiddin highlights. The cabin is decorated with the highest levels of custom furniture, exotic materials and bespoke artwork, while “the design supports an easy flow of passenger mobility throughout the cabin and plenty of storage space.
“For extra comfort we have built in additional water tanks, showers, beds, galleys and an overhead storage unit loft.”
Personal and Cultural Preferences
While different aviation authorities often have different requirements, there’s a lot of similarity today between regions, Laps says. However, taste or style does change by region, with customers in the Middle East often selecting different types of designs to those in North America or Asia.
However, in an increasingly connected world, different types of styles and tastes spread quickly, “resulting in an ever-changing situation”, according to the Fokker spokesperson, who adds that it’s important to “always focus on the type of customer that’s in front of you.”
Cabin design can be very personal, with different customers likely to opt for very different styles. This can affect the resale value, says Laps, particularly if a cabin has been very heavily personalized.
“There are some aircraft interiors that are so particular that probably only a few people in the world will like them,” he says. “There can be a significant impact on the resale value, depending on the choices you make when you do the interior the first time.”
More mainstream choices will likely appeal to a larger group of potential buyers, and this could be a particular focus for owners who only want to keep their aircraft for two or three years. Still, customers acquiring business jets are naturally extremely wealthy, and will wish to design the cabins as they choose.
“In the end, that’s one of the big selling factors of having individual cabins – you can design it to your own standards,” Laps concludes.