Inside Jet Aviation’s flying palaces
Swiss engineers transform ordinary jets into luxury flying palaces for the super wealthy.
Basel -- In an airplane hangar in Switzerland, a small team of engineers works to transform ordinary jets into luxury flying palaces for the super wealthy. It's a growing market due to millionaires in eastern Europe, Russia and China.
Matthias Bosshart is project manager at Jet Aviation. A Boeing 757 has just been delivered and he has ten months to transform it into a flying palace.
Matthias Bosshart, project manager: "On this aircraft, the customer is asking for different areas in the aircraft. There will be an open area; there will be a private area in a very friendly atmosphere."
The interior design is the key to creating this atmosphere. The company goes to extraordinary lengths to cater to the whims of the super rich. For this it hires top designers.
Eric Jan, head of interior design: "We're in an environment where we do our utmost to bring out the most natural aspect of our materials, such as we did with this elaborate woodwork you see here. Then we attach them to these panels which are really high-tech, and this gives an aspect of lightness to the material. You see, it's this contrast between a very high-tech material and a very natural finish that creates the sense of luxury."
Another challenge is to make the planes as comfortable as possible for the people who spend a large part of their lives flying. The aircrafts' seats are a top priority.
David Leroux, head of the seat section: "A head of state wants to have everything within reach, he doesn't want to have to move around. He has access to the television, he can call a hostess, he can listen to his hi-fi system, watch a video, make a call."
Here a dozen aircraft are being fitted out, from small Falcon jets to giant Airbus planes. But once the luxury interior is complete, filming it is strictly forbidden. The owners, be they billionaires or heads of state, value their privacy.
Jet Aviation does however permit a visit to its showplane, a mock aircraft made of polystyrene. It's here that wealthy customers come for a preview. But even the super-rich like to haggle.
Michael Gringmuth: "A lot of the customers who come to us basically built their fortune out of nothing. So they know how to negotiate, they know how to spend their money. They are very cost conscious, you wouldn't believe."
Even with customers driving a hard bargain, there's plenty of mileage in the luxury plane market, which was growing by 20 percent annually until the economic downturn.
Text and video: AFP / Expatica 2009