Flying High

Top-of-the-line interiors bring new levels of customizable luxury to prestige jets.

In a three-story hangar at the Naples Jet Center, a brand-new Praetor has just arrived from the Embraer plant in Brazil. The private jet gleams in the clear morning light, not a speck of dust on its shiny black exterior. The tail rises dramatically overhead, and its wings stretch to 66 feet. Behind the cockpit, a stairway folds down and offers a black-carpeted walkway into the jet. Inside, the spotless interior shines in a blend of blacks and creams. It smells like a new car, but vastly more expensive. If the Prae- tor’s exterior is a monument to luxury then its interior—every bit of it custom, down to the champagne-gold seatbelt buckles—is an entire religion.

Buying a private jet signals many things about a person, and the interior of that jet carries a lot of significance. Many of today’s jets come out of production already tailored to a customer’s specifications, and the higher one goes up the line of luxury jets, the more customized the interior becomes. For companies like Embraer with its prestige aviation line that includes the Praetor (which starts at $21 million but is typically equipped with options that put it over $22 million), on- staff designers ensure that a jet’s owners are satisfied with the most exacting details.

“We have a lot of private jets in the industry today that look like RVs with wings,” says Jay Beaver, vice president of design operations at Embraer’s headquarters in Melbourne, Florida. “You get inside the plane and there’s a wood veneer-covered hutch with hardwood nosing around the corners.”

FLYING IN STYLE: The Praetor jet’s interior is designed with the same meticulous care that would go into decorating a house. High-end furniture covered with rich upholstery and handsome accents are arranged in the passenger area. Pilots fly with high-tech instruments.

The Praetor is anything but an RV with wings. This particular version at the Naples Jet Center offers eight seats that fold down into four full-sized beds. Each seat is upholstered in a soft, luxurious cream leather. A pair of black cashmere throws drape over two of the seats, and several gold throw pillows accent the interior. For many of Embraer’s customers, says Beaver, an important wow moment comes when they realize that the mindset they’ll need to bring to the jet’s interior is the same thought process used to decorate a home or a yacht.

“This is furniture,” Beaver says. “Not a seat in an airplane. This is purposefully built environmental design, set up as an office or social space more than transportation. The beauty comes in the details.”

And those details on the Praetor are stunning. All of the plane’s brightwork is identically matched in a pale, brushed, champagne gold. That includes seatbelt buckles, cupholders, LCD controls, air vent knobs, seat control hardware—essentially every button, lever and switch—as well as the visible structural elements, such as the metal holding the bulkhead in place at the front and back of the cabin. In the galley, the cabinets are constructed from a piano black veneer, and the countertop is a gold-flecked black-granite veneer, one-sixteenth of an inch thick, bonded to a honeycomb material made out of Kevlar that is both light and flame retardant.

In fact, flame retardation is an essential component to any jet interior decision. Weight is also key.

“The weight of new cabinetry, the latest generation seats, inflight entertainment—that all adds up,” says Rob Mark, a pilot and publisher of jetwhine.com. “The heavier the weight of the aircraft, the less fuel you can carry. Or you have to take a smaller passenger load.”

Though pilots are rarely consulted on a jet’s interior design—“That’s above our pay grade,” Mark says— weight is never far from their minds. Luckily, companies that design custom jet interiors are also worried about tonnage.

“I don’t know of too many companies that would put in an interior that was extremely heavy and then say, ‘Good luck!’” Mark says. “They would know they would be limiting the range of the aircraft.”

For planes that are a little older and need updating, the Naples Jet Center does custom refurbishing of everything from soft goods like seats, headliners, side-

walls, carpeting and paneling to hard goods like cabinetry doors, lavatories, galleys, woodwork and glass. The Jet Center is careful to weigh planes before and after interior work.

“You don’t realize how heavy some things are going to be,” explains Jim Goodwin, head of maintenance at the Naples Jet Center.

Goodwin’s team has updated a number of aircraft over the years, but he rarely sees wild requests. “Most people just want a nice aesthetic.”

Embraer’s Beaver echoes this sentiment.

“Some people would expect that our customers have to have real cheetah skin on the whole interior, but that’s not it,” he says. “Most customers are pretty tame. They like timeless.”

Still, Embraer is constantly sourcing new technology to add a heightened experience to its jet interiors. The latest project in the works: transparent metal. Accord-

ing to Beaver, the U.S. government is working on creating ballistic vehicles using see-through aluminum, and the jet industry is already finding creative ways to bring that technology to its aircrafts.

“We’re asking, ‘How big of a window can we make?’” Beaver says. “A window the size of an emergency exit in the past would have been a big no-no because of cabin pressurization issues, but we engineered large windows for Coast Guard observation purposes, and we’ve incorporated that into the Lineage, our biggest aircraft.”

In the Embraer Kyoto Airship, a Japanese-themed concept design that comes in around $80 million and currently has a two-year wait, the body of the aircraft is outfitted with large vertical windows and skylights, allowing natural sunlight into the plane and creating a dramatically different flying experience. In the Kyoto Airship, the interior is outfitted with shoji screens and a low sushi table, a profile that takes advantage of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

“This goes beyond trim and leather and interior aesthetics,” Beaver says. “It goes into the structure of the aircraft being modified to suit an individual’s lifestyle.”

Of course, not every jet that comes out of production is already tailored to a customer’s needs. Some clients opt to order their private jets “green,” meaning the interiors come empty. From there, they hire an outside design firm to trick out the jet’s interior. That’s when things really get luxe.

Los Angeles-based firm SottoStudios, an experiential design and brand agency, launched its $83 million Skyacht One conceptual design in 2016. Skyacht One marries the Embraer Lineage 1000E aircraft with an interior design inspired by one of the world’s most breathtaking yachts—the 1939 mahogany-hull Thunderbird. The jet is outfitted with gleaming wood veneer panels, white leather soft details and brass fittings. In separate sleeping quarters meant to resemble a ship’s berth, there’s a full bed, nightstand and built-in bookshelves complete with leather-bound volumes.

MAHOGANY RUSH: The Skyyacht One aircraft boasts gleaming wood veneer panels, white leather soft details and brass fittings, a separate sleeping quarters and even skylights.

Chuck Farney, sales director at the Naples Jet Center, feels that a jet’s interior is a reflection of quality and status—both of the airplane and its owner.

“A lot of times people don’t see the inner workings of a highly sophisticated jet aircraft, it’s powerful engines or state-of-the-art avionics systems,” Farney says, “but what they do see is the jet’s interior. Like when you look at the Mona Lisa, when you look at a beautiful and luxurious interior, you get a certain feeling of quality, value and expertise. It’s a reflection of its owner, how it is maintained and the value added within the investment.”

He compares a private jet’s interior and design to other upscale purchases like an expensive home, a luxury car or a stay at a five-star resort. “Without a beautiful, sophisticated and high-quality design, what do they have?”

From floor-to-ceiling windows, to design inspirations pulled from outside of aviation, to exquisite levels of personalization that reach all the way down to the seat buckles, private jets have achieved new heights of customizable luxury.