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Mike Vines

Mike Vines   |   1st October 2006
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Mike Vines Mike Vines

From aerobatics to airliners Mike has photographed the lot. After 40 years behind the lens he...
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What really goes on to bring home comforts at FL390.

You can’t beat the smell of fresh toast wafting from the galley when you’re flying long haul on a corporate jet-' remarked Georg Guy- Twinjet Aircraft Sales Cabin Services Manger and head of Flight Training. 'The toaster is very popular – it’s great even when we have a full load of passengers aboard our Airbus ACJ. Breakfast on a long haul corporate jet flight is now truly memorable and once the first hot food arrives in the cabin- everyone wants to try it.'

Galley accessories are making life more than endurable on long haul VVIP flights. It seems that the very smells that we associate with home are more than appreciated at 39-000 ft. It’s like an Orient Express of the air as modern day passengers are pampered to the hilt.

Basic accessories- taken for granted in our own kitchens- are fast becoming standard in long-range corporate aircraft from the Gobal Express/Gulfsteam 450 upwards.

Innovative galley accessories- or ‘inserts’ as they are known in the business- were originally developed for first class airline passengers- and some companies use these catering assets as major marketing and advertising tools. The most recent UK TV campaign for Qatar Airways ‘Five Star Airline’ features an egg being fried in flight- voiced over with the slogan- ‘Sunrise as seen by Qatar Airways passengers’.

From this we can get an insight into how important these gadgets are regarded in marketing first class in-flight catering facilities.

One insider told World Aircraft Sales Magazine that on private Boeing 747 and Airbus 340 sized aircraft the galleys can be as big as the interior of an ACJ/BBJ – saying that 'The first job- once at safety altitude- was to start baking the bread and cooking the turkeys in the ovens.'

'It doesn’t matter if it’s boiling an egg or making a bacon sandwich- it all adds to the feeling of the comforts of home-' added Guy.

How do you boil an egg?
While we’re talking about eggs- how exactly do you boil an egg in-flight? Surely you don’t just boil a saucepan full of water- what with the risk of turbulence and so on. 'Certainly not-' explained Guy. 'It’s a bit of a trade secret really.' But when pushed he reluctantly told WAS that it was quite straight forward. 'I get a tea pot- pour boiling water into it- add the eggs- let them stand for around 15 minutes- and you get a perfect three minute egg.'

According to PrivatAir’s Peter Waters- Head of Cabin Crew and General Manager: 'We use ‘Hot Cups’ for boiling eggs. They are egg shaped metal cups- each with a timer- which are filled three quarters full with water and set to boil.'

He pointed out that at a cabin altitude of between 6-000-7-000 feet- water boils about a third quicker than at ground level. 'So your three minute egg cooks in about two minutes.'

Making fresh scrambled eggs in an oven is also perfectly possible- and you can make toast in the oven too.

An aero skillet is slightly more complicated than a frying pan- more like a self contained worktop mounted hotplate with a frying pan securely enclosed within it. It’s obviously the way to cook fried eggs and omelets- but Guy says it is also really useful if passengers want a steak or fresh scallops. He does admit- however- that it works better if there are no more than 15 passengers on board the ACJ.

'With the skillet we can cook to the individual passengers liking. The steak goes straight onto the skillet- and we ask them if they want it crusted- peppered- blue- rare- medium… We can also do the same with chicken breasts and produce a really good Teriyaki. It’s easy- but people think it must be very complicated.

'On the ACJ we are catering more for smaller groups of passengers- so when we are in a region where we can get- for example- very fresh fish we can cook it on board. We use either the skillet- or the steam or conventional oven.'

The equipment
Blackpool- UK-based Aerolux Ltd. designs- manufactures and certificates a range of aircraft galley equipment- and Marketing Executive Sylvie Abina explains that the new wave of in-flight catering equipment was originally driven by airlines from the Far East. Their success forced other airlines to follow suit in pursuit of more first class passengers. Abina says her company’s in-flight skillet gave its airline originator a real competitive advantage initially.

Ideas for new equipment are often instigated by the airlines- corporate jet manufacturers and sometimes by individual aircraft operators and owners. Depending on the complexity of the appliance- it is not surprising to find that these devices can take up to three years to develop through to full aircraft certification.

It’s almost impossible to get a price for any of this equipment unless you’re buying. But it will cost much more than the equivalent piece of ground based aviation equipment- because it has to be certificated to aviation authority safety standards.

Aircraft galley equipment suppliers/manufacturers tend to work with global brands. Abina sited her company’s Espresso coffee maker as the first designed for use in the in-flight luxury market. It has been developed with Nespresso- part of Nestle- and is a luxury espresso machine system with 12 blends available. 'The market went crazy for these machines and they have now reached the corporate market and are selling like hot cakes-' she explained.

Indeed- Guy revealed that he’s had a Nespresso machine for a number of years and it’s very successful. 'It can produce fresh cappuccinos and almost any other type of coffee and it adds that extra bit of style to the flights.'

The rice cooker has become a must have addition for far eastern high-flying passengers says PrivatAir’s Peter Waters. 'Far Eastern carriers regard rice cookers as essential.' The rice is cooked in water and can be the sticky variety- which Asian customers prefer- or the drier version for Westerners. Rice cookers can also be used to heat soup and make rice porridge (congee).

Waters is very impressed with latest aircraft induction ovens- highlighting their speed. 'With current convection ovens you are talking 25-30 minutes to reheat food- whereas induction ovens achieve the same result in about 5-10 minutes from very cold. The induction trays have little pots of water built into them and give off a controlled amount of steam to the food in the same tray during cooking.'

Manufacturers say that ‘integrated steam is guided directly onto the surface of the meals and guarantees best restaurant quality’. Using an induction heating unit and a heating box allows ‘fresh cooking’ on board with ‘meal on demand’ possibly because of very short cooking times. Steaks- fish- rice- paella- pizza- noodles: the sky’s the limit.

Dishwashers are becoming more popular for corporate operators with a big enough aircraft. Waters’ gave the example of a VVIP 70 seat Airbus A340 which had two dishwashers which consumed 6-8 liters of water. The water was recycled through filtering systems and re-used. 'I really liked that idea because the plates- glasses and cutlery was immediately available again and safely back in the cupboards. Waters much prefers to wash his own expensive glassware on board rather than risk it being washed and damaged by ground catering units.

'Our BBJ has a fridge freezer which is great for ice-cream which passengers enjoy while watching a movie. Freezing can also be achieved with dry ice but the crew have to be careful that the food is not left too long as it can finish up like piece of wood by the time the customer receives it. A manufacturer is developing a dry ice-like product that keeps the food colder in a more controlled way.

Chillers are going to gain importance because of the length of time food is stored aboard long haul aircraft. 'Long-term we will see more food chillers fitted - we already have them on both our aircraft-' added Waters.

While we’re talking about ‘food finishing up like a piece of wood’- Waters pointed out that aircraft cabins are very dry with about 2-3% average humidity. As soon as food is exposed to the cabin air- moisture is literally sucked out of it.

'This is the reason we try to get the food to the customer as quickly as possible- and use the freshest food we can. The seal on the tray is taken off at the very last moment to achieve this. We also have to make sure that the clingfilm on sandwiches or salads is taken off at the very last moment too. For instance if toast is left too long it will taste just like a Ryvita biscuit.'

To further demonstrate the dryness of cabin air- Waters explained that if you have ever splashed liquid on yourself in flight you’ll notice how much quicker it dries compared to conditions on the ground.

'We want to get as close as possible to a full dining experience-' continued Waters. 'More like a restaurant in the air.' Starting soon- PrivatAir is planning to have a chef on board all flights over 2-3 hours duration so that they can finish off food (started on the ground) in the air. Indeed- PrivatAir plans to use a company that has its own restaurants so the chefs don’t just work in the air- but keep their skills sharp working on the ground as well. 'We will also introduce full sized dinner plates- cutlery (not the two-thirds size that you have on airlines) and full size glasses and condiments too-' said Waters.

In contrast Twinjet operates a slightly less formal cabin for its passengers. Guy says- 'Our passengers may want to have a snack and a drink early in the flight; we talk to them to find out when they want lunch and then we set the scene'. On the odd occasion Guy’s had to test his culinary improvisation skills. 'It’s rare but sometimes you can run out of a particularly popular food but the results of this are just as popular with the passengers. I’ve even made spare salmon into fish cakes- the word gets around the cabin that fresh fish cakes are ‘on the menu’ and everyone wants one. It’s great fun!”

This is just a flavor of ways to cook at altitude- and there are many more concepts. Galley equipment on offer can also include- refrigerator/freezers- wine chillers- ice machines- many types of beverage makers. On the oven front you have warming- steam- convector- combination- bread- and microwave variations. Seen at a trade show a couple of years ago- in the process of development- was a chiller which also doubles as an oven.

Find out more about the companies featured within this article: www.aerolux.co.uk; www.privatair.com; www.twinjet.co.uk

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