Sharing the detail with Christi Tannahill, Textron Aviation’s Senior Vice President Interior design and Engineering, and Embraer’s Vice President of Interior design Jay Beever
A great business aircraft cabin should be welcoming, comfortable, entertaining, relaxing, personal and universal. Achieving such greatness is tough, especially in a tightly regulated industry where weight is a perennial concern and customers may have very strong ideas on their ideal cabin, or none at all
The reality is that executive aircraft are depreciating assets and operators concerned about reselling are more likely to err on the side of caution in the cabin creation process. Those seeking a more individual look might delve deeper into the catalogue or request something bespoke, but detail design is often the key to a unique configuration.
Christi Tannahill, senior vice president Interior Design and Engineering, Textron Aviation, says individuality and detail design are more important than ever for the Citation range: “We’re seeing a shift, particularly in our large jets, where customers are requesting customisation in their interiors, often as an extension of their office, yacht or homes. In larger cabins, like the Hemisphere’s, more design elements and details can be achieved and our designers are acutely aware of the scale and proper form and function appropriate for the space. We continue to offer selected palettes of interior options to ease the design process for some customers, but manufacturing our own components allows us the flexibility to meet the needs of those who want to completely customise their interior.”
Embraer’s Vice President of Interior Design, Jay Beever has taken stewardship over several dramatic design concepts, not least for the Lineage, where the SkyRanch One and Kyoto Airship successfully challenged the boundaries of contemporary design thinking. They were concepts on a grand, perhaps outlandish scale, but Beever was never under the illusion that customers would subscribe to them in their entirety.
For him they’re catalogues of possibility to be dipped into, mulled over and adopted as the customer chooses, since at Beever’s insistence, every feature of every design had to be a real, certifiable possibility. And while the Lineage made a spectacular canvas, the attention to detail design inherent in SkyRanch One carries over into every Embraer cabin.
Like Textron, Embraer is able to meet much of its cabin manufacturing requirement in house, ensuring control over the product and maintaining attention to detail no matter how unusual or subtle a customer decides to be. Unlike Cessna, however, which has been in the bizjet business since the 1970s, the Brazilian OEM is a relative newcomer. Beever doesn’t deny that its earliest cabin efforts weren’t always the best, but the issues were recognised and decades’ worth of craftsmanship and design knowledge brought in to ensure Embraer’s cabins compete with the very best.
For Beever, much of a cabin’s individuality is in the detail. His overriding belief that technology should be there to serve rather than becoming a feature in itself has led Embraer’s designers to devise creative solutions, including the upper tech panel that activates when it detects the motion of an approaching hand and USB ports hidden beneath traditionally crafted lids, making a feature of the container rather than the tech, while always keeping the latter close at hand.
It’s in those details that individuality is also easily and usefully expressed. Fabric, carbon fibre or veneer inserts in lid undersides for example, add unique, luxurious touches to every cabin but are easily changed when an aircraft is sold on or its décor revised.
Alongside the details, however, major choices in fabrics and materials make the big-picture difference to a cabin and though manufacturers offer a wealth of choice, some customers bring along their own ideas. “Aesthetic inspiration and cabin comfort comes from endless sources including fashion, textiles, architecture and the automotive world, just to name a few. The artistic elegance of a timepiece, or even the texture and colour block of a handbag might be the spark for the look and feel of an aircraft interior design,” Tannahill says.
“Our team of highly skilled designers works individually with customers to align with the branding of a company, the tastes of an owner, or the operational needs of a flight department. From our showroom, we work directly with customers to select everything from fabrics, leathers, carpets and wood veneers to granite counter tops, to complete each unique configuration.”
Embraer’s customer centre offers its Legacy and Lineage customers a staggering choice of fabrics, veneers, colours and styles of which, Beever reckons, only a small percentage have ever been selected. But the palette is there nonetheless, presenting real possibilities to customers who may not see quite what they want, but might be inspired to help Embraer create it.
Thanks to Textron Aviation’s recently acquired Interiors Manufacturing Facility, Cessna’s ability to offer customers the flexibility to customise their cabinetry and fittings is greater than ever. As an example, Tannahill notes: “Our aircraft fixtures and sinks are routinely custom designed and, in recent years, fit the cabinetry contours and refreshing style of the interior.”
This in-house flexibility also facilitates quick response to new design trends, whether from inside the industry or without: “Current trends include sideledge beverage holders and device storage integrated into one functional and accessible feature adapted to the modern needs of the passenger, while table improvements include ease of operation, with self-closing mechanisms, while the table leaf glides gently and quietly back into the sidewall,” she says.
Tannahill has also noticed changes in how customers look to achieve cabin ambience, even as Cessna seeks to progress the state of the art. “Our design team is always researching and developing innovative new designs and finishes, and we continue to incorporate new materials throughout the cabin. Enquiries frequently focus on cabinetry finishes and fabrics/leathers that are highly durable, while maintaining luxurious and unique textures. Composite veneers are also gaining acceptance in many models, owing to their consistent results in grain pattern and stain absorption.”
Lighting the way
As recently as five years ago, LED lighting was the latest, greatest cabin technology, and cabin designers were busy exploiting the possibilities of its low weight, low energy consumption and minimal heat output. Today it’s the industry standard and designers are turning their attention to cabin materials that work best under LED illumination. Conversely, cabin windows have simultaneously become larger and natural light more prevalent, fuelling interesting new possibilities.
Tannahill sheds light on Cessna’s take: “Natural and ambient lighting play an important role in cabin design. Our designers select and place finishes strategically for optimum lighting effects for working, through to relaxing accents and reflections. Visually enlarging the cabin space for daytime and night flights also plays a role in the design balance. For example, the Citation Longitude cabin features 15 extra-large windows that fill the cabin with sky and light, enhancing the feeling of spaciousness. But it also provides an exhilarating view when the passenger simply wants to sit, relax and think.”
Cessna’s bizjet range is broad, extending from the seven-passenger M2 up to the three-zone Hemisphere, due to enter service in 2020. Does the variation in cabin space and configuration these aircraft offer pose Cessna’s designers a significant challenge, or are there common threads woven throughout? “Most finishes can be incorporated on any of our jet products and adapted to proper locations to fit the specific model,” Tannahill explains. “The fabric and leather qualities are just as luxurious and durable, but the large jets tend to have more detail touches owing to the additional size and scale.
“For example, carbon fibre cabinetry detailing and veneer are used on the M2, but can be used on the larger jets as well. Embossed or woven leathers and fabrics are used on any product, from the super-midsize Citation Longitude to the M2. The differentiator becomes apparent in our larger jets, where a thicker pile-height custom carpet or a stone floor tile can be used and still meet weight goals for performance.”