The preserve of billionaires and boasting every modern luxury you can think of, these private planes are more than just flights of fancy, especially as you plan your next stay at a Waldorf Astoria.
When you’re staying at a Waldorf Astoria hotel or resort, the journey is never as important than the iconic destination, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as luxurious.
Traditionally, when traveling by private jet, bigger, faster, higher, further and generally more macho, was better. Nowadays, better means other things too. It means more comfortable, more spacious, more peaceful, more connected, more luxurious and – most importantly – happier.
Somewhere in the world, there are wide-bodied jets that are delivering these things in ways that not only defy gravity but also the imagination.
Outside, they may look like any other jet, but inside they are configured like exotic palaces. They include dance floors, gyms, waterfalls, car garages, stables, surgeries, casinos, cinemas, bedrooms, dining rooms, bars, offices, bathrooms with showers, and kitchens where owners can install their chefs to prepare meals.
Chairs and sofas are upholstered in rare leathers; surfaces are lustrously finished with marble, granite and alabaster, and inlaid with precious stones. Often, a ‘big name’ interior designer is involved too.
The traditional beige-and-vanilla uni-interior of private aviation seems consigned to history in a newly exciting era of the luxury tailored jet – the flight of fancy fitted out with whatever the client feels like.
Jet manufacturers themselves do not provide these features. They deliver their aircraft in ‘green’ condition – so called because the empty interiors receive a coat of green primer paint. The fun bit – the interior fit-out – is done by a so-called completion center that works with the buyer to design and install the interior.
For customizing really large jets, four such completion centers dominate the market: Jet Aviation in Basel, Switzerland; Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg, Germany; Associated Air Center (AAC) near Dallas, and Greenpoint in Kirkland near Seattle in Washington.
Thanks to their facilities and experience, these companies, which only undertake custom work, tend to attract the most demanding interior design jobs.
In late 2014, Greenpoint, which specializes in customizing Boeing aircraft, unveiled the first ever converted Boeing 747-8 VVIP. The 4,786-square-foot interior includes a master suite, private office, guest accommodations, a large lounge and conference room.
Lufthansa Technik, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, which also specializes in converting Boeings, earlier this year announced it had completed its second customization of a Boeing 747-8 VVIP.
Indeed, the 747-8 is proving popular among private owners. Eight of the first 24 747-8s to be delivered were VIP versions. One snag is their size: only some 200 airports can take them. Maybe Boeing should develop a method of exiting by parachute.
Along with these giants, there are a select few independent design studios taking the private jet world by storm, such as British-based Winch Design.
Founded in 1986 by Andrew and Jane Winch with an initial focus on yacht design, Winch Design soon expanded into aviation and architecture and has since worked on aircraft ranging from helicopters to monumental private A380s.
Winch Design is making a name for itself with its incredible attention to detail, evident in its Mayfair interior. Designed for a Boeing or Airbus, it features a bespoke circular bar and angled bulkheads, making the space feel not only larger but infinitely more luxurious.
Configuring a large private jet and fitting it with avionics, technology and wiring is a complex process that can take years and can cost from $30 million upwards, and that’s before you start lobbying your spouse over the soft furnishings and color scheme.
Take the shower room. All manufacturers and completion centers offer them, but you’ve got to love that shower: it will add nearly $1 million to the price of the aircraft. All this is in addition to the basic cost of the jet itself, which may range from about $60 million for a Gulfstream or a Bombardier Global 6000 to about $300 million for an Airbus A380.
We’re talking about aircraft that only billionaires can realistically afford to buy and operate. But the new luxury is rippling down the food chain and reaching the smaller private jet market.
“If you look at the interiors of the latest aircraft produced by Textron in the USA, the Citation Latitude, the Citation Longitude [due out later this year] and the Citation Hemisphere [ditto 2019],” says Marc Cornelius, Textron spokesman, “all their cabins reflect a step change in design that plays to global tastes.”
Meanwhile, in the charter market, the same demand for luxurious interiors is being felt too. Victor, the online private jet charter marketplace, reports that bookings of longer-range private aircraft are up 279 per cent year-on-year.
“Customers want to fly big jets like the Bombardier Global 6000 and the Gulfstream G650,” says Clive Jackson, Victor’s founder and CEO, “but are typically not filling every available seat. Instead, they want the extra space for working, relaxing, recharging and sleeping.”
Private aviation’s shift from business expense to luxury experience reflects the rise of billionaires in Asia and the Middle East.
If you are based in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Hong Kong or Shanghai and you need to reach the US or Europe, you need an airplane that can cover the distance, cross the Pacific and battle into headwinds in comfort.
“Choosing the right interior, amenities and cabin layout has become hugely important,” says Jackson. “Many of our members insist on light, relaxing color schemes and quality leather seats – they actually want to smell the leather.
Our members are also increasingly particular about the configuration of their cabins. A state-of-the-art kitchen at the back of the cabin and pristine bathroom at the front means toing-and-froing for the flight attendant and disruption to the passengers’ work or rest as they pass.”
Another factor to consider is the impact of new lightweight materials in aircraft manufacture. The more weight goes into the cabin of an aircraft, the less weight is available for passengers and fuel, so aircraft have inherent limitations.
These limitations are being pushed back by new materials, which allow engineers to adopt creative approaches to designing aircraft interiors. But, in case you were wondering, you still cannot have an open fireplace or a swimming pool on board.
Though, that’s not quite true. “I know of one manufacturer who was asked to fit a swimming pool into a private jet,” says Sam Spurdens, editor of P1 (itals), the private jet magazine.
“Engineers actually designed a pool with tanks that could suck the water out while it was flying! Alas, while the engineers solved the problem of how to extract the water without removing the crew and passengers too, it didn’t make it into an aircraft – it fell foul of the certification requirements of aviation authorities.”
Connectivity continues to enrich our use of private jets. The ability to use your mobile phone in-flight anywhere in the world and be seamlessly connected to the internet is something people take for granted, but, due to the curvature of the Earth and the location of satellites, achieving this is technologically challenging.
Companies such as Gogo and ViaSat, which lead the field in in-flight connectivity, are devising solutions that permit streaming video, web browsing, aircraft safety and video conferencing throughout the flight, allowing you to be productive, safe, informed and entertained wherever you are – even when taking off and landing!
All this of course adds millefeuille layers of agonizing decision-making to the process of which jet to buy and how to fit it out. Once you’ve made your decision, there’s no going back.
The costs of getting it slightly wrong and amending the interior of your jet are so horrendous, that you might as well sell it and start again. So it’s worth giving the matter careful thought.
Bear in mind that if you want to put your jet out to charter during its downtime in order to cover the operating costs, or if you want to sell the aircraft, the market might not approve of your taste in cabin design. Sometimes beige and vanilla isn’t such a bad idea.