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Corporate travel leads to flights of fancy for lucky few
Corporate travel leads to flights of fancy for lucky few

The booming market for large executive jets from Airbus and Boeing was highlighted earlier this month with multi-billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia signing up for an A380 worth $ 300 million. Prince Alwaleed is the first customer for the VIP version of the A380, which will be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines. "Prince Alwaleed´s order means that Airbus´s sales success in the corporate jet market now extends from its smallest aircraft, the (100 passenger) A318 Elite, allthe way up to its largest, the A380 Flying Palace," Airbus chief operating officer, customers, John Leahy told The Australian.

The Saudi prince is the only private owner of a Boeing 747-400, but Boeing has sold no fewer than five of the latest version of the jumbo, the 747-8 model due to fly in 2009.

Airbus has sold more than 100 of the smaller 150-seat A320 series and more than 40 Airbus wide-bodies for VIP and government service.

Boeing has chalked up even more business for VIP models of its aircraft. This year alone it has sold 30 Boeing business jets (BBJs) made up of 21 737s, a 747-8, a 777 and seven 787s. The total backlog for BBJs is 158 - made up of 135 737s, 11 787s, a 777 and five 747-8s.

The luxury fitout business for corporate jets is also booming, with creative studios around the world striving to come out with the next thing in opulence.

One of the leaders in designing corporate interiors is California-based BMW Group DesignworksUSA, commissioned by Boeing to design an interior of "unlimited freedom, luxurious mobility and unparalleled exclusivity" for a fictitious affluent Russian client in his mid-30s.

Gerhard Steinle, director of transportation design at BMW Group DesignworksUSA, led the design team that created a scenario describing a day in the life of the Russian owner, and was "able to carefully examine the needs and wants of the client". The designers used the scenario to extract the key drivers for the interior concept, Steinle says. "As an extremely versatile aircraft, with paradigm-shifting interior space and global range, the Boeing 787 BBJ can truly fulfil all the wishes of an international businessman that spends a significant amount of time in the air travelling across the globe, butalso needs an aircraft that can function as a second home with luxurious amenities providing for the enjoyment of life," he says. "Employing the idea of continuous spaces, the design team created an interior with semi-translucent walls, residential-type furniture that lets space visually continue around it and vistas that let the eye travel beyond the immediate environment."

The final concept captures the ideas generated in the scenario and translates them into specific interior ideas. Steinle runs through a typical evening on board the VIP 787: "On the main level, guests enjoying a cocktail at the bar can admire the stowed vehicles - BMWs of course - seen below through the transparent floor.

"The owner, who delights in his hobby of gourmet cuisine, could be preparing a lavish meal in the fully functioning gourmet kitchen.

"After dinner, the group could retire to the upper theatre lounge with its waterfall floors and walls for a cinematography treat with a screen that spans two levels.

"Ready to close on the next business venture, the businessman could step into the technologically advanced office to finish up the day´s work."

The 787 interior features chromatic glass walls that enable the owner to keep an eye on the party. "At the end of the evening the owner retreats into the spacious and elegant master suite containing a king-size bed, walk-in closet and a full bathroom."

But the features don´t end there. The lower level of the concept 787 has an exercise room fitted with the highest level of exercise technology, a spa and sauna. For the guests there are two guest rooms and a medical room in case of any emergencies. The BMW DesignworksUSA concept has helped Boeing business jets sell 11 787s for VIP use in the past two years. The world´s largest supplier of corporate VIP interiors is Greenpoint Technologies, which specialises in VIP interiors for Boeing and recently launched its SkyHome 2010 concept 787 design. According to Greenpoint´s creative director, Greg Vander Houwen, the company´s clients are spending much more time on their private aircraft.

"They requested features that mirrored the functionality they expected in their home. In essence, the SkyHome 2010 concept was an exercise in design for an aero-centric lifestyle," he says. "Many of our clients have many homes around the world and they live in their planes as well. We included features like a walk-in wine cellar, a garage for the toys and huge closet/storage space as uses of the Dreamliner´s lower deck.

"With just under 4000 square feet (370sqm) of usable space, the SkyHome 2010 design is comparable to a typical penthouse except this penthouse can travel at Mach .85 and the views at 43,000 feet are just fantastic."

The demand for corporate jets, however, is severely straining supply lines by requiring highly skilled staff. Some providers such as L-3 Communications are booked out through to 2013. And the fitout can take between 15 and 18 months after delivery of the green aircraft from Airbus or Boeing.

One of the most experienced providers is Lufthansa Technik, which also provides engineering services to Qantas. The company has more than 40 years of design experience with VIP interiors and has completed more than 30 wide-bodies with luxury corporate interiors.

Lufthansa Technik is now reactivating its second wide-body fitout line and is striving to cut down the options to speed production of the interiors.

Other providers such as Jet Aviation in Basel, Switzerland, whose most famous customer was Elvis Presley for his VIP four-engine Convair 880, are adding capacity to meet demand. Jet is building a wide-body fitout hangar that will be operational next year. By removing typical passenger fittings, designers can use a variety of spaces normal passengers never see, such as the huge roof area of the 747, 787 and 777. Boeing is showing customers a 747 interior that turns part of the upper deck into a bedroom, with a spiral staircase leading down to a magnificent dining area with huge vaulted ceiling.

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