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Business Air News Bulletin
Business Air News Bulletin
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
Business aviation interiors ride the wave of design excellence
Business aviation is seeing a renaissance in design innovation, influenced in part by superyacht design that sees the placement of crystal chandeliers, hot tubs, bikes, marble bathrooms, even a helipad, on board.
Read this story in our July 2017 printed issue.

Business aviation is seeing a renaissance in design innovation, influenced in part by superyacht design that sees the placement of crystal chandeliers, hot tubs, bikes, marble bathrooms, even a helipad, on board. And while it may not be practical to have a helipad on a Global Express, there's a crossover in these markets in the need for imaginative design that exploits relatively small spaces.

The growth in superyacht numbers has attracted more interior designers into the field, with the result that products and layout have become much more creative and original. As attention turns towards business aviation, designers are increasingly challenging the more traditional norms and the entire industry is shifting forward to support more flexible, comfortable living in the air. Owners are embracing and translating the trends in luxury yacht, car and even fashion design.

Huge design influence comes from the automotive industry. The design studios of several auto manufacturers such as BMW Designworks, Porsche Design, Mercedes-Benz Design and Pininfarina are balancing form with function in aircraft interior design. And for a clientele accustomed to driving luxury automobiles and living in sumptuous homes, there is a desire for continuity in the sky.

Recent changes in regulations have resulted in new safety criteria being implemented in the cabin, but solutions are constantly evolving that balance elegance and complexity. Although seat certification require-ments have become more stringent, manufacturers are improving the design of the underlying seat structures, which in turn has allowed the overall designs to be enhanced, even when considering restrictions such as body-to-body contact or leg flail. In-flight entertainment systems and the customer's use of technology, for example iPads to operate IFE, have freed up cabin space. Substrate materials are becoming stronger and lighter, which allows for more creativity regarding the aesthetic without compromising weight or acoustics.

Evolutions in cabin interiors are also driven by customer preferences, and the prevailing preference today is for flexibility. Gulfstream says its clients want a seamless transition from the home or office, and to have on-board options to enhance productivity and relaxation while at the same time ensuring that passengers arrive at each destination feeling refreshed.

For long range aircraft, flights often involve crossing international time zones and Bombardier plans its cabin design around passengers who may want to work privately, connect with the office, enjoy a meal or sleep. Its low-altitude cabin pressurisation and advanced air management system can regulate cabin temperature and provide fresh air, and its lighting can be crisp task lighting for working, soft and warm for meal times and dimmed when watching a movie.

Jet Aviation Basel Design Studio director of design Elisabeth Harvey is seeing larger aircraft flying with fewer passengers nowadays, which further opens the design scope to include open-plan living concepts and associated possibilities for the segmentation of space. Technologies such as electrochromatic partitions have arrived in recent years, further enabling designers to create flexible living perfectly designed for long-range travel.

Embraer believes that each interior development should be backed by ergonomics, craftsmanship and design. Within the Legacy 450 and 500, it suggests its technology 'acts as a butler in the sky', ready to serve at a moment's notice yet invisible when not needed. Hiding some of the technology means that those parts becoming obsolete within the operational lifetime of the aircraft will not be on display in the cabin. On its Lineage 1000E the interior is modular so it can be configured in sections or in its entirety; imagination and certification are the only limits.

Canada-headquartered Flying Colours Corp notes that in the pre-owned business jet market owners typically want the aircraft to be redesigned to a personal motif and their purchase decision is often influenced by interior options.

Gulfstream says its passengers' desire for cabin flexibility is a key driver in its aircraft interior developments. Interior design director Tray Crow says that with long-range travel the norm, those on board want to be able to use their aircraft as work, dining, entertainment and resting spaces. The four-living-area G650 accommodates all of these aspects of flight.

Where clients want a quiet atmosphere and plenty of room, comfort and a good use of space is important. Seats are becoming more comfortable and their design more adaptive. Stowage areas must be large and customised, and sited at the cabin entrance; being able to access baggage has become a priority.

Configuring cabins to maximise comfort

Captain Hani Alsohaibi of US-based Rayan Aviation believes aviation industry interiors still lack the innovation and style of their superyacht counterparts. “Some of the best first class seats were installed in the '80s in some of the best long haul airlines during that era, British Airways and Continental.” The red velvet seats on the Saudia Airlines B-747 aircraft made a particularly strong impression on him and he welcomes a return towards comfort being the main priority for business jet interiors.

Comfort in aircraft is not only about hardware but also about perception. “It is a tangible and intangible state of wellbeing that must meet customer expectations,” says Washington, USA-based Kestrel Aviation Management CEO Stephen Vella. Design needs to transition into concepts that can easily be engineered, certified, fabricated and installed.

London Biggin Hill airport-based RAS Interiors has been working closely with aircraft grade foam and material suppliers to provide firm yet comfortable seating options that are sympathetic to the customer's preferred styling. The materials are put through the rigorous flammability testing that the aviation industry requires to ensure it is fit for purpose. Some of its more in-demand, soft yet durable materials include high quality Alcantara leather from Italy and Ultrasuede from the US.

With ever-increasing range on private jets comes the need to sleep so seats and divans that can convert into beds are becoming more popular. This presents its own challenges: the seat must be comfortable in both the seating and the berth-able positions, which is why a continuous design and redesign process is unfolding to create a cabin configuration that will satisfy a business scenario as well as a comfortable sleeping area. Kestrel's Vella adds: “The age of the 'lazy-boy' VIP cabin seat must be brought to a close.” These legacy products may be heavy, uncomfortable and aesthetically and ergonomically deficient. But seat and divan design in the business aviation sector has been slow, primarily due to the relatively low production volumes when compared to airliner seat programmes. There is a need for a cross-platform seating solution that provides low weight, reasonable price and customisation potential essential for product differentiation.

Four years ago France-based Pierrejean Design Studio (PDS) discovered that first class passengers were more comfortable in first class than on their own private jets. As a result the company partnered with Lufthansa Technik to develop a new seat with a number of different functions, including a rocking mechanism. Branded as 'Chair', on the one base it can have a seat with an armrest, open armrests or side armrests with stowage inside.

In the last few years seating has been influenced by the automobile industry. After all, if you have a private jet you probably have a luxury car too. Illinois, USA-based West Star Aviation has fitted out several aircraft with Bentley's diamond inserts, or given them the interior look of a Porsche race car. It is also seeing demand for stitching on the bolster areas of the chairs which not only looks unique but also provides some additional cushioning. Some owners want puffy bolsters so they feel 'held in', or cuddled, as they would in a sports car seat. Others, who tend to be larger men, don't like this as it can make them feel as though their shoulders are being pushed forwards.

Earth tones are the new black

A surfeit of beige cannot be a good thing so accents of colour come from piping while the use of natural materials such as stone, cork and metals introduces green and copper tones. Wood is being replaced by veneers, which show consistent results in grain pattern and stain, or carbon fibre, which Flying Colours is experimenting with dying to meet specific colour requirements. In contrast, the application of marquetry harks back to the days of craftsmanship. Fabrics on the sidewalls are much more common than standard leather these days, and there is some demand for exotic woods, matt finishes and carbon fibre weaves in bright colours in contrast to the usual whites, blacks, greys and honey tones.

RUAG interiors and MRO facility in Munich recently optimised the downtime required for a Challenger CL604 heavy maintenance event; the 192-month MRO inspection included a full cabin refurbishment of soft goods, leathers, fabrics and carpeting for the older aircraft and took just 10 weeks. Although dated, the existing interior was in excellent condition but the owner was looking to effectively refresh it and the more modern colour scheme lightened the interior dramatically.

Coordinating colours allow for greater personalisation but colour combinations can date a look: in the 1990s blues and greys were popular so those interiors now seem old-fashioned.

There is interest in hardwood and stone flooring finishes, even leather, as opposed to traditional carpeting, particularly in the galley and lavatory areas. Embraer now offers stone veneers on the Legacy 500, something that was previously reserved for much larger business aircraft. This was introduced on the Legacy 650 in 2012 after co-development with Austrian flooring and panelling specialist F/List. Embraer also claims to have the largest shower in the market on its Lineage 1000E, with a window to let in natural light and a flat floor with a drain beneath.

Maintenance friendly LEDs

“Ten to 15 years ago, lamps with full chandeliers used to hang off the side walls of executive cabins” says Canada-based Zenith Jet president George Tsopeis. “Nowadays, cabin design has evolved and advanced.” It is possible to create many different ambiences and enhance the impression of comfort with lamp or floor lighting. On its latest refurb Flying Colours installed a rainbow spectrum system, and is receiving more requests of this kind.

The use of LED lighting extends the life of bulbs by years so far less time is spent taking out interior panels in order to change bulbs and that translates into a longer life for both the panels and the interior materials. There is a significant increase in safety as well, as switching to LEDs removes the need for high-voltage power supplies or mercury-containing glass tubes. Kansas, USA-based aviation lighting technology company PWI has switched from fluorescent lights to LEDs with the consequent reduction in audible noise caused by the vibrations from the old light configuration. In cold temperatures, fluorescent lights need time to warm up, whereas LEDs illuminate instantly and any undesirable flickering is eliminated.

Every element that the client interacts with during the flight needs to embody a sense of relaxation and comfort, and for RAS Interiors the most important elements are the touch-points; those things clients feel and have their hands on during the flight such as seats, IFE, carpet, toggles and switches. If those elements are correct, along with the overall appearance of the cabin, then it is well on its way to creating a comfortable environment. For this reason Indianapolis-based Comlux Completions is moving towards OLED technology for both monitors and touch screen controls. OLED is made from organic materials that emit light when electricity is applied through them. They don't require a backlight or filters so are more efficient, simpler to make and much thinner than LCDs. In fact they can be made flexible and even rollable.

A Flying Colours client recently asked for a switchless cabin, where the whole interior would be smooth with the lights recessed and 'invisible' switches. When he looks down the aircraft he wants to see smooth surfaces; the company is working on how it can make that work for him.

The new generation of galleys reflects the increasingly long flight times on ultra-long-range aircraft; they offer the increased refrigeration and preparation capabilities needed for multiple meal servings. A pot of coffee is no longer sufficient, as clients desire nespresso machines, and more cooking options than a mere microwave. In the Global 5000 and 6000 aircraft, the galley has been remade in the image of a Michelin-starred kitchen with a logical layout and focus on clean lines.

Hardwood flooring, as well as optional stone tile in the forward and aft lavatories, continues the look.

Gulfstream offers the option of an aft or forward galley on its G650. On the all-new G500 it has also tailored the galley to provide multiple options for storage and equipment placement. The refrigerator can be sited above or below the countertop, beverage makers are interchangeable and clients can choose where to place ice and waste storage to best suit their needs.

Electronically dimmable windows control ambience

While France-based Vision Systems' Electronically Dimmable Windows (EDWs) also find applications in the boat, train and automotive markets they have been applied to an Airbus H175 VIP helicopter, a Falcon 900 refurbished by RUAG, a HondaJet, the shower door of a Falcon 7X for privacy, and in the skylight on a 5X. And two years ago the company developed Energia, a self-powered dimmable window with transparent photovoltaic cells integrated into the glazing.

According to marketing and communication manager Alexandra Martin-Devaud, in today's comp-etitive market income generation and client retention are largely influenced by comfort and the company is developing window shading systems that respond to different issues arising from passenger experience. Its systems allow passengers to tune the tint of their window with instant response time and infinite variable shading, from fully clear to an extremely dark state, and block harmful UV light to protect the interior from fading.

EDWs also improve thermal and acoustic comfort; they significantly reduce heat entering the cabin and the benefit is two-fold: by keeping the interior cooler on the tarmac passengers experience a cool cabin, while there is a significant reduction in air conditioning consumption. Noise barriers keep the cabin quieter and cost reductions are achieved thanks to the EDWs being lighter than manual and motorised shades. The latest generation comprises embedded electronics so there are no moving parts and consequently lower maintenance requirements, especially if integrating X-Lite composite glass, which offers a long-life and scratch-resistant dust panel.

In development is a smart interactive window that will allow the passenger to interact through a touchscreen with the information and on-board service displays, such as interactive maps, air conditioning controls, daily news or the destination weath forecast. The background will be adjustable from clear to dark for contrast and readability, which means there is no need for shades.

The finishing touches to the cabin can be supplied by Dahlgren Duck, a US-based distributor for china, crystal, flatware and linen whose customer base hinges on high-end hospitality and residential, yachting and private aviation.

The Middle East is one of its biggest markets. Arabic coffee cups are often requested and where a customer may like a particular pattern, from a Hermes collection for example, the company will work with the manufacturer to incorporate it. Caviar dishes are much in demand, as are vodka glasses, for the Russian market. And a trend it sees across all regions is microwaveable safe metals; so many customers want gold and platinum accents on their dinnerware.

Red and gold colours are popular among its Russian customer base, and the company even managed to create a handcrafted sturgeon fish for the top of a caviar dish. Within Africa it has won head of state commissions to put the presidential seal and coat of arms onto dinnerware, on one occasion using platinum.

Vice president of sales and business development Philip Brunger has noticed that the European market is moving towards a slightly more contemporary look whereas the American market enjoys something more traditional. But overall there is general shift towards modern, clean lines and a mixture of textures: matte with gloss finishes and interesting designs on dinnerware.

Careful design extends to EMS

Swiss EMS and search and rescue avionics and electrical systems design company Kuerzi Avionics has fitted out EMS/HEMS equipped aircraft and defines three categories of equipment: special EMS equipment such as stretchers, cabinets, drawers, stowage and oxygen bottles; medical instruments and medicine required for intensive care and life saving such as defibrillators and patient monitoring; and electrical systems for the distribution and supply of power to medical instruments.

These categories must be designed in common in order to harmonise in function and coordination, and the equipment needs to be flexible, modular, lightweight, robust, easy to handle, reliable, versatile, safe and easy to clean for multi-mission flights, and easy to install and remove. Much thought even goes into the mattress which must be comfortable and ergonomic, and as with all equipment on board, the edges need to be protected in order to avoid injury to crew and patient.

Kuerzi Avionics has designed a modular multi-mission system where the goal is to reduce the workload of the medical crew and pilots while being robust enough for every day air ambulance operation. The electrical system has to accommodate the power requirements in different voltages, power consumption and stability, and the correct outlet plugs for the different medical instruments need to be installed.

LEDs are operating theatre-effective, yet dimmable for ambient light conditions, and during night flights the pilots use night vision goggles so the cabin needs to be illuminated with special NVG lights. Oxygen bottles must be pressure controlled with remaining levels displayed on a control panel, and there should be a heated medical drawer for blood conserves with an electrical control circuit to assure and control a constant temperature. App control for the lighting system is available now, and will eventually extend to cover oxygen pressure and medical instrument monitoring as well as sending real-time signals ahead to the hospital or ground station.

Flying Colours has had requests to combine medevac layout in the front of the cabin with business class seating in the rear, which they suggest comes down to owners looking at options for offsetting the cost of operating the aircraft. Seeking specialised treatment will often require a mid- or long-range flight to access a leading medical expert, hence the charter of medevac aircraft is on the rise. The company also considers that, as the global travelling population increases, so the need for repatriation during a medical incident has grown.

Incorporation of technology

Much thought is given to different galley styles, floor plans and materials. Business aircraft owners have become increasingly knowledgeable and more interested in the details and this trend benefits the entire industry by accelerating design innovation while allowing for greater understanding of how far one is able to push the limits of aircraft interior design.

Cabin pressurisation is paramount for comfort and this has undergone profound improvement in recent years. As aircraft fly higher to gain more performance, technology has followed suit to keep cabin pressurisation at significantly lower levels.

From a regulatory perspective, Zenith Jet is closely watching the lobbying efforts by OEMs to have fortified cockpit doors installed on aircraft with an MTOW greater than 100,000lbs such as ACJs, BBJs, Lineages and G650s. “Depending on how this process advances,” says Tsopeis, “there could be a significant impact on many business aircraft owners and operators.”

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