Owners & Their Airplanes
What does your cabin say about you?
Unfortunately with the demise of Braniff Airlines in 1990- the opportunity to see shockingly unusual exterior liveries/ paint schemes and interiors became a rarity.
Braniff was notorious for painting their aircraft in multiple colors and in very artistic designs (namely by the American artist Alexander Calder) while the interiors as well as the uniforms of the cabin attendants- ticketing areas- lounges and gate areas all exhibited flamboyantly crafted designs by Italian Designer Emilio Pucci; American Furniture Design Company Herman Miller; Designers Irving Harper and George Nelson; and Designing Couple Charles and Bernice ‘Ray’ Eames to name but a few.
The concept of utilizing striking designs throughout the Braniff fleet was the brainchild of American Designer Alexander Girad who gave Braniff’s decision to use his bright and ethnic color schemes a name - “The End of The Plain-Plane.” Business Aviation might be considered to be on the opposite end of the artistic scale when compared to long-gone Braniff. The design philosophy errs towards complete conservatism and functional-simple elegance through a limited palette of muted and plain business colors. This might be true for the majority of the business aircraft fleet- but don’t bet on there being no flamboyance on display anywhere.
The standard exterior and interior design in the Business Aviation industry normally delivers the following: Overall White with three different colored stripes on the outside- while on the inside the interior boasts tan or grey leather seats- light colored fabrics and dark or medium-dark hardwood veneers.
Nevertheless- many aircraft OEMs have collaborated with various automotive designers in an attempt to brand through design some of their products that greatly appeal to owners of (for example) Mercedes- BMW- Jaguar- Ferrari- Maserati- Bugati- Rolls-Royce and Bentley motorcars.
Occasionally companies that use business aircraft to create and service markets on an executive level - selling products within the popular culture and personal consumption markets (including- but not limited to athletic shoes- sunglasses and watches) - will use their corporate aircraft as a showcase or statement of their branding by mimicking their product designs on the inside and out of their corporate aircraft instead of being content with just displaying several small logos- or choosing custom registration numbers or letters that surreptitiously spells their name.
Black carbon fiber cabinetry- multi-colored interior accent lighting- sculpted bucket seating- slick black- silver or platinum plating coupled with deep red- ebony or stark white leathers- fabrics and carpets all lend an air of speed- high-tech and precision.
On the flipside- the utilization of pastels- chenille and paisley fabrics imbue to the passenger a sense of femininity and the feeling that they are guests in an intensely private and personal space. Even though the safety requirements that must be met by interior component manufacturers and installers appear very intense to the point that one assumes that an aircraft interior designer is very restricted in layout and types of finishes- you would be wrong in this assumption. As long as the “g” load rating- flammability and aisle-width requirements are met- the two biggest issues most interior refurbishment and completion designers have to satisfy most are weight and electrical current draw.
Unfortunately weight is a significant factor that can find ways of eating into the available payload of the aircraft affecting both its range and runway performance. On a large-cabin aircraft that has many water features above and beyond the normal of galley potable water- lavatory flush and holding tank water - when the aircraft interior design incorporates multiple wash basins- possibly a stand-up shower (or two)- maybe even a bath-tub- the weight of the water required to service these passenger-use items becomes a significant disability to the performance capabilities of the aircraft.
Regardless of this problem- it is rare to find a large cabin aircraft (especially in the Businessliner category) without a VIP bedroom- dressing-room and bathroom en-suite. Some even feature a bidet! Available payload really determines how decadent an aircraft interior can be.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to see many unusual interior out-fittings on a variety of business aircraft. These have included gold plated bathtubs; electric tables; laser-lit holographic bulkheads; fiber-optic ceilings and carpets with starscapes featured in them; carved porticos; library bookshelves; stone floor and counter-tops; studded high-backed leather chairs; Presidential desks; bird-of-prey perches; decorative fish-tanks; royal throne rooms; a hospital operating theatre; even a fireplace with an imitation fire burning away at the press of a conveniently located pushbutton!
I have even had the surprise of seeing a representation of our solar system- all illuminated by inlaid fiber-optics with the sun in the centre of it and replaced by the beaming face of the aircraft owner looking down upon all of the cabin occupants. (This has to be the ultimate display of an ego!)
In respect to entertainment systems- I have seen everything from a complete home-theater system to a sound-system featuring a ‘concert mode’ that- when activated- simulated the dimming of the daytime sky through dusk to night (with stars) - all awhile a dry-ice smoke system produced a light ground fog for effect as the music slammed all around the cabin from massive hidden speakers arranged to focus the best sound reproduction on the ‘king chair’ (the seat the owner normally rode in).
Slightly more regular- perhaps Network News feed that is being displayed on your 50” flat-screen monitor or other LCD screens around your main cabin lounge is offering little of value. You could just switch to the outside sky-view provided by your exterior mounted CCTV cameras so you can see the real-world perspective of what you are flying over- where you have been- or where you are going. This can include an overlay feed from your Airshow system as well.
TIME TO DINE
I have previously seen dining tables that were large enough to seat 14 diners as they would be seated at a high-class restaurant. The diners might also enjoy their food and drink more as it is served to them on the finest bone-china- and in the finest lead crystal.
For most practical business travelers- issues with weight and available electrical power once again factor. Most galleys in which food is stored feature only cool cabinets that tap off a feed of conditioned air from the cabin cooling system to keep the food from spoiling.
Nonetheless- I have seen everything from full-blown fridge-freezer units- ice-makers- wine coolers and even electric cooking stoves with hotplates onboard some VIP aircraft- which all might allow an onboard chef to create gourmet meals without having to bring pre-prepared catered meals onboard before takeoff. This certainly beats a bag of moldy microwave popcorn.
When some aircraft are equipped with a large Auxiliary Power Unit they can actually provide hotel-like accommodation for the VIP- his guests and the crew while parked on a ramp. This often becomes a necessary when there is business to be done in a war-torn- or undeveloped part of the World.
While the BBJ/ACJ (and similar sized aircraft) have one- or several permanently mounted beds that afford the true hotel experience for the VIPs riding onboard- most seats on long-range/large cabin business aircraft are berthable (i.e. they will fold-flat into a bedding surface). Many seats or settees can ‘track together’ to form a twin or larger bed.
TIME FOR BUSINESS
It’s possible for live video conferencing aboard the aircraft. In-flight wi-fi internet- satellite telephone- facsimile- email- Skype- Facebook- Twitter - whatever - these can all be available to the cabin occupant if the aircraft is properly equipped. Some cabin management systems allow passengers to connect- charge and use their personal iPad- iPod- iPhone- Droid- tablet or laptop fully integrated right into the onboard entertainment and communications system.
Corporate identity by the feature of any sign-writing- logos- names or even display of the flag of nationality (especially if the aircraft is registered under a flag of convenience through a trust)- is less popular owing to security concerns- but it is still possible to see some owners make a bold statement by using their aircraft exterior paint design as a personal or corporate billboard display (bringing us neatly back to the good old Braniff days mentioned at the start of this article).
I have seen exterior paint designs ranging from Southwest Indian Petroglyphs- animal prints- facsimile designs that copy dreadnaught battleship hot-riveted steel plates- Wall Street-inspired pinstripes- cartoon characters- reproductions of the owner’s portrait (to name but a few). Here in the U.S. it is fairly common to see the State University Football Team’s Mascot logo proudly displayed by the Alma-Mata owner- while in Europe cartoon characters like Asterix the Gaul or Rin-Tin-Tin have been proudly displayed on the tail of an owner’s aircraft as a nod to happy childhood memories.
The bottom-line in all of this boils down to how big your aircraft is- what its payload ability is- and how much you want to spend. This is because whatever you can imagine- can- in some form be created as a feature onboard your aircraft.
All you need to do is ask - but a word of caution should apply in that your cabin can convey plenty about you or your business to a prospective customer. Make sure you’re sending the right messages!
Jeremy Cox draws on a wealth of experience as a pilot- an aircraft engineer/mechanic and an aviation writer. He currently serves as Vice President at JetBrokers- Inc - a professional aircraft sales company. More information from [email protected]