Business Jet Interiors International: exclusiveclub

2015-10-31 15:25

With the aim of targeting the very top of the fractional market, Flexjet is making big investments in new and improved interiors

When fractional private jet provider Flexjet changed hands from Bombardier to Directional Aviation Capital (DAC) in 2013, its new owner had distinct ideas of what to do with the company. DAC already owned another fractional company, Flight Options, which was positioned in the market as the value provider, and for the most part remains so today, with older aircraft and a stronger emphasis on affordability. DAC’s chairman, Kenn Ricci, wanted to position Flexjet at the very top of the market – as a truly premium brand.

To achieve this, massive investment has been made in new aircraft. Indeed, a US$5.2bn order for up to 245 new Bombardier Challenger and Learjet aircraft – a firm order for 85 aircraft and options for another 160 – was announced at the time of the acquisition. Then in October 2014, Flexjet placed its first-ever order with Gulfstream, for up to 50 aircraft – a mix of G450, G500 and G650 types.

Customized interiors It is adding aircraft fast – and by the end of 2015, the fleet should approach 100 aircraft. Flexjet worked with both OEMs to craft customized interiors for these Bombardier Learjet 75s, Bombardier Challenger 350s and Gulfstream G450s. The interiors are branded as the LXi cabin collection. Flexjet also fitted the interiors on several of its current aircraft, to test out the concepts. Its sister company, Constant Aviation, carried out the refurbishments.

Light refreshment The LXi development began with the Learjet 75. “The problem with all light jets is that there is this quest to have as many seats as possible,” says Ric Michaels, director of product development for OneSky, the umbrella entity for Flexjet, Flight Options, Sentient jet cards and Skyjet Charter. “Our Learjet 40s and Learjet 45s are wonderful aircraft – fast, well-equipped and high-performance – but they always seem just a little bit crowded, especially when every seat is taken. And then you run into baggage limitations and typically also range payload limitations. With full seats you can’t necessarily take full fuel, so it is always a compromise when the cabin is taken to its maximum seating capacity. We decided to reconfigure the Learjet 45s from eight to six seats. In doing so a unique platform was created, engineered by Bombardier/Learjet and type certificated for our use as the Learjet 75LXi.”

Denuding the Learjet 75 of two seats in the main cabin produces more than a foot of additional legroom for the front two seats and another 6in of legroom in the club-four single seat arrangement behind. “We’ve also really opened up the aircraft’s useful load,” says Michaels. “It rarely has an issue with full fuel and full seats and we’ve really opened up the space.”

There is a sliding pocket door to separate the entryway, cockpit and galley from the main cabin – intended to enhance passenger privacy and lower cabin noise. The forward two seats are fitted with leg rests and a recline function. Immediately in front of them are two Blu-ray-equipped monitors fitted to the forward bulkhead. In addition, there are HD monitors at each seat position. The aircraft is equipped with a version of Lufthansa’s nice CMS/IFE system, plus high-speed internet and a wireless telephone interface.

The cabin itself has a whole new look. “Learjet designed a new sidewall panel for us and a new window reveal that has some contours that make the sidewall much more appealing,” says Michaels. There is also a new siderail and a new LED lighting system. To accommodate a larger starboard galley, the front closet was moved port-side. The galley is equipped with a single-serve coffee/espresso machine.

Soft focus For the soft goods there are three variations. Graystone features rich grays against a dark walnut veneer; Tuscany has an ostrich-embossed leather in a reddish brown, offset by a satin eucalyptus veneer; and Loredo is a lighter brown and tan scheme.

All of the new interiors feature a distressed leather that has a slight feel of suede to it. The seats’ French seam is outlined with a heavier, contrasting baseball stitch. Other ‘surprise and delight’ features include eel skin treatments and paisley leathers. “You can add a lot of interest without making the interior look bright green or bright blue,” says Michaels. “We shouldn’t be that far out of the box.”

Test aircraft Flexjet tested the Learjet 75 interior concept by installing it first on existing late-model Learjet 45s – which have the same cabin cross-section as the Learjet 75 – at a cost of almost US$1m per aircraft. “It was expensive and it took a lot of time and effort, but at the end we knew we had a winner,” says Michaels. “The Learjet 45s are indistinguishable from the Learjet 75s unless you know about the different avionics.” The company plans to continue to expand its Learjet fleet.

Family affair The LXi concept is being migrated to various Flexjet aircraft. For the Embraer Phenom 300s, there are two new interior themes – Cognac and Essex. Cognac features a warm gold with trim and accent veneer close in tone to mahogany, while the Essex seats feature gray leather with a cream-colored insert.

Flexjet has 35 super-mid-size Bombardier Challenger 300/350s in its fleet. All of these are configured with eight seats in a double-club layout, and have the optional larger galley with a single-serving coffee maker. For the newer Challenger 350 aircraft, Flexjet came up with three cabin interior concepts – Thunderbird, Deco and Cognac – which are installed at the factory by Bombardier.

Cognac on the Challenger differs from that on the Phenom, says Michaels. “We use a red gum veneer in the Challenger version of Cognac,” he says. “It has a deep grain and looks spectacular with brown and gold and overall creates a very warm interior.”

Thunderbird is a bolder look that Michaels characterizes as “manly”, with high-gloss gray veneer, charcoal leather seats and deep oiled pewter plating. “If you like the interior of a BMW, you will like Thunderbird,” he says.

Young and pretty Flexjet is retrofitting its newer Challenger 300s with similar interiors called Lightning, Van Gogh and Carbon. Interestingly, Flexjet is only retrofitting the newer Challenger 300s. “It may sound counter-intuitive,” says Michaels, “but we are stressing our brand with new aircraft that are less than five years old. We want our newer aircraft to look brand new; it doesn’t make sense to refurbish an older aircraft at the end of its life.”

On the new Gulfstream G450s now joining the Flexjet fleet, the company went with different seat colors in each zone and added two more single seats opposite the mid-cabin divan to create a 16-seat layout, giving the big jet more utility and creating larger passenger grouping areas, including six seats around the dining/conference table in the aft of the cabin.

Flexjet has also considered how to keep its interiors fresh. It plans to replace fabric inserts and carpets more often than before. “I have carte blanche to replace and renew interiors as required,” says Michaels. “We consider aesthetics to be paramount.”


Red Label

The LXi interiors will be the most important selling point of Red Label, an upscale service Flexjet plans to roll out later in 2015. 

Red Label customers will have access to LXi aircraft that will only be used for fractional operations, with no more than 10 owners per aircraft, and which will fly a limited number of hours per year, with dedicated crew.

All Red Label aircraft will have LXi interiors, but not all LXi aircraft will be used for Red Label.

Christopher Bero, vice president of global marketing at Flexjet, says Red Label customers will also have access to premium perks including exclusive events, VIP lounges, luxury ground transportation and custom catering. “Our tagline is ‘You won’t just be flown, you’ll be moved’,” says Bero. “We’re looking at what the luxury owners at the top of the fractional chain really want.”

Magic carpet

Carpeting plays a big role in all the new LXi designs. They all feature multilevel carved carpeting with lots of texture. “We use custom geometric carpeting,” says Michaels. “We think the carpeting needs to be clever; it’s a very important design element.”

The company orders an extra set of carpet with each aircraft and plans to replace it at least every two years.

Source: Business Jet Interiors International

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