A lighter color palette, home-like furnishings, straighter lines, and more natural materials. These are among the broad trends in today’s business aircraft interior design book, applied by OEMs and aftermarket outfitters alike, in combination with improved environmental systems, digital capabilities, and all the comforts and conveniences buyers expect in their homes and offices.
In a typical year, industry executives might have surveyed some of these advances in person this month as they walked the aisles or on static display at the NBAA’s annual convention. But while business aviation’s biggest gathering has been canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, the aircraft interiors world has continued turning, and if anything the global lockdown has focused even more attention on the cabin. It’s not just about looking good, but functionality, safety, and wellness, and the new-generation flagships of the business aviation fleet have the technology and the space to deliver the goods.
Gulfstream’s forthcoming flagship, the G700, will feature high-end customized interiors, as always, but it will also have a cabin altitude of less than 4,000 feet at most cruise altitudes and an advanced circadian lighting system, ensuring passengers can arrive at their destinations refreshed and ready. The five-zone interior in what will be the tallest, widest, and longest cabin of any purpose-built business jet, according to Gulfstream, will give passengers (19 max) ample room to rest on ultra-long-range journeys when it enters service in 2022—though its largest-cabin crown may not be worn long.
In creating Dassault Aviation’s forthcoming Falcon 6X cabin, “engineers rethought the entire interior design process, employing a 'sensory design' approach that will completely redefine the passenger flight experience,” said chairman and CEO Eric Trappier. The design ethos manages air, light, and sound to maximize health and wellness, according to Dassault, expressed visually in flowing uninterrupted lines, flush surfaces, and recessed technology, providing “a cozy, clutter-free interior” and “the feeling of spaciousness.”
The cabin is indeed spacious: at eight-feet, six-inches wide and six-feet, six-inches tall, the Falcon 6X cabin will be four inches wider and three inches higher than the G700’s when it enters service in 2022.
Right at Home
Several cabin and interiors specialists report strong demand for residence-style furnishings. “Designers are bringing us floor plans—created in collaboration with owners—that use cabinets that appear to be freestanding, resembling someone’s furniture at home rather than extensions of bulkheads,” said Gabi Hasko, a v-p at Canada’s Flying Colours, whose portfolio includes extensive cabin outfitting work for Bombardier Global aircraft.
Jet Aviation’s interior design studio is getting requests for “more monuments with the illusion of freestanding furniture, [and] carpets that are intricately cut to give the appearance of layered rugs,” echoed Grischa Schmidt, the studio’s senior director. Home-like touches such as paintings and decoration as fixed interior elements are also popular.
A corporate airliner—such as the ACJ320neo Comlux Completion is now outfitting at its Indiana facility—is the ideal vehicle for such bespoke customization. “The cabin aesthetic [of the ACJ320] is really focusing on a residential-type environment, a calming interior,” Daron Dryer, CEO of the center, said. “Large backlit Roman shades will give the impression of large windows, rather than the small aircraft type,” with additional lighting from a chandelier, “fixed, not swinging,” Dryer added.
Sustainability, climate change, and social responsibility are also cabin design concerns today.
Embraer’s Praeterra concept for the super-midsize Praetor 600 incorporates sustainable woods and other materials in its construction, and recycled wool and worn employee uniforms in composite seat covers. An illuminated inlay on the aft bulkhead is fashioned from recycled ocean plastics.
These design trends are finding their way to the cabins of smaller aircraft, epitomized by the August debut of the first Embraer Phenom 300E outfitted with the optional Bossa Nova interior. First seen on the Praetor 600, the Bossa Nova cabin features carbon fiber accents, piano black surfaces, and Embraer’s Ipanema custom quilted seat stitching.
Bespoke luxury interiors are becoming more common in the rotor world as well. Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH) and Aston Martin teamed this year to intro the Aston Martin Edition ACH130, a luxury version of the Airbus single-engine light helicopter for buyers “who draw satisfaction from personally piloting their aircraft,” according to the French company. The pure black ultra-suede ACH130 cabin is accented with leather trims drawn from Aston Martin’s autos and brogue detailing found in the DB11, with exterior paint schemes based on the Aston Martin palette.
ACH already has a long-term partnership with German carmaker Mercedes-Benz for special-edition ACH145 light twins, which cater more to the corporate market, noted ACH CEO Frédéric Lemos.
Hill Helicopters unveiled this year its clean-sheet, five-seat HX50 turbine-single helicopter (aggressively slated to enter service in 2023), featuring an “interior design built around experience and comfort in the same manner as premium automobiles,” said Jason Hill, CEO of the UK company. The cabin will incorporate climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and “opulent finishes,” and seats outfitted with drink holders, USB ports, and four-point harnesses, covered in two-tone Napa leather.
Extended Range Issues
But aircraft seating upgrades have progressed beyond fancy stitching, accessories, and plush upholstery, driven in part by challenges imposed by the extended range of today’s long-haul bizjets, which can keep passengers onboard—mostly seated—for some 15 hours.
When introduced in 2018 as a centerpiece of its ultra-long-range Global jets, Bombardier's Nuage chair was called “the first meaningful change in the operation and design of a business aircraft seat in 30 years.” The seat’s fully floating base allow precision tracking and swiveling without visible floor rails, a base design concept used for its reclining Nuage chaise for the Global 5500/6500 announced in 2019.
Collins Aerospace Systems has followed on with its next-generation Evolution seat, which includes extended leg rests; manually adjustable headrest; and armrests that can be lowered flush with the seat in full recline. Demonstrated last year at NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas, Evolution is set on a proprietary triple-roller system, allowing it to be positioned close to bulkheads and saving cabin space, while electric controls allow one-touch adjustments to takeoff/landing position, and a “zero-gravity” position. No launch customer has been announced.
Meanwhile, passengers haul more baggage today—in the hold and cabin—and designers are using “all of the nooks and little hidden spaces in an aircraft to their maximum, with pop-ups and pullouts” to stow carry-ons, said Shannon Gill, managing director of MSB Aerospace. The Georgia firm’s accessories include lightweight honeycombed cabinets with unique, hand-finished veneers installed on new and retrofit Gulfstreams and other business jets.
Reducing cabin weight and ambient sound levels are two more interior design imperatives, and MSB is among vendors offering composite acoustic insulation panels and liner systems that achieve both objectives. Now, with interiors hushed and Hi-Def media onboard, cabin audio quality grows in importance. HondaJet’s Elite, an updated version of the HA-420 light twinjet, comes standard with Bongiovi’s speakerless audio system, which uses vibrating transducers fitted to the back of interior panels to turn the entire cabin into a speaker and deliver “an immersive high-fidelity audio experience,” according to Bongiovi.
Also this year, the first Bongiovi speakerless audio system retrofit installation—by Spirit Aeronautics of Columbus, Ohio—debuted on a Dassault Falcon 7X. As the Falcon 7X audio upgrade suggests, cabin improvements and innovations introduced in the newest platforms are quickly entering the aftermarket, where customers may choose a single system upgrade, partial interior refurbishment, or complete cabin retrofit.
In the aftermarket seating market, “the biggest trend has been the introduction of quilted inserts,” which customers have seen in luxury cars like Bentley and Ferrari, said Veta Traxler, paint and interior designer at West Star Aviation, on a recent AIN interior design webinar. That trend dovetails with a preference for “orangey colors that are currently popular in automotive interiors,” she said.
For the practical-minded, luxury vinyl tile (LVT) offers an economical new flooring option that closely resembles real wood, available in planking, parquet, herringbone, and other patterns; At the high end, real stone veneer is becoming more popular, particularly for galley and high traffic areas. Some vendors offer heated stone flooring systems but currently, these are only EASA approved.
LED lighting innovations—even circadian style cabin systems—are also now aftermarket staples, offering a complete spectrum (literally) of lighting options for in-service aircraft. For aircraft with fluorescent lighting systems, “plug and play” drop-in LEDs use less power, generate less heat, weigh less, and can quickly replace fluorescent fixtures, said Shervin Rezaie, GM at Aircraft Lighting International. That company's LEDs include systems that can be adjusted from warm to cool white light, and RGBW systems that include “mood lighting.”
“We’re getting way more requests for this,” Rezaie said of the adjustable RGBW systems. “With these LED lights, you can actually create an atmosphere that's soothing, that's relaxing and comforting, and potentially even reduce the effects of jet lag.”