Paul Priestman, co-founding director of aircraft interior design consultancy Priestmangoode, discusses what makes a successful business jet cabin in today’s competitive travel market
The travel industry is evolving rapidly. A range of factors, including the rise of high-speed rail, is changing the outlook of the aviation industry. In terms of design, this has been most evident on commercial aircraft, where differentiation between cabin interiors – particularly in business and first class – is used to attract passengers. Business jets have remained comparatively traditional. Fewer restrictions and regulations, however, mean there is great scope for innovation in business and private jet cabin design.
For me, one of the most important aspects of private jet design is honouring the aircraft. They are inspiring pieces of engineering, and their interior design should be as beautifully crafted. Attention to detail is key and a foundation in product design is a great asset. It gives you an understanding, beyond the way something looks, to what passengers want and how things need to work and feel.
Knowledge of the manufacturing process is important in delivering cost-effective design. Even where private jets are concerned, efficiency and optimised use of resources must be at the heart of the design. For a luxury airline cabin as much as a budget hotel room, it is important to deliver a design that is hard-wearing, easy and cost-efficient to maintain.
Business jet owners have been known to use the interior designer of their home to design their cabin. However, this is a specialist industry and expert knowledge of the technical requirements of aircraft is essential. Weight and serviceability for instance have a huge impact on cost, so experience in this market is crucial.
It’s also important to keep your audience in mind. You cannot have a “signature style” if you are designing for a wide range of markets. In 2008, we designed the cabin interiors for Embraer’s Lineage 1000 jet. Embraer was targeting sales in Russia, the Middle East and Europe, markets with very different cultures, customs and tastes, so we created one modular design with three different options for trim and finish.
As a general rule, neutral palettes seem to be preferred for business jet interiors. Clients are in a hurry, so you want to create a relaxing environment onboard. It is also important to keep in mind that trends are short-lived, while aircraft remain in service for a long time. Keeping trend elements to areas of the aircraft that can easily be changed results in a more timeless cabin design that is still adaptable to passengers’ tastes and needs. Neutral palettes can be chosen for seat fabrics, carpets and other more permanent items, while trend elements are incorporated in cushions, antimacassars and attachment parts. We are also using coloured LED lighting as a tool for customisation.
Many designers are now working to incorporate standalone seats and furniture instead of traditional airline seats. They must also reflect broader social trends, in technology for example, and work with IFE suppliers to bridge the gap between products that people use in everyday life, like smartphones and tablets, and products onboard the aircraft. It’s about creating an onboard environment that makes for a seamless passenger journey from home to destination.
None of this means anything unless you can actually deliver a concept. The most important aspect of the relationship between design consultancy and client is honesty. Know what is achievable, and that you can deliver what we promise. Business jets differ from commercial aircraft in that customers can at times be more demanding as regards particular finishes. When you’ve been doing this long enough, you know when to dig your heels and when to let things slip in order to deliver a project on time and on budget.
We’re firm believers in physical mock-ups. Business jets represent a significant investment, and clients must understand exactly what they will be getting. We use computer-generated imagery throughout the process, but we find that to sign things off, nothing is quite as effective as standing in the space you will ultimately end up with. We have produced high-end mock-ups notably for an A380 concept, but also many other widebody and narrowbody aircraft, including an A330 section for the recent Turkish Airlines/Manchester United TV advert.
The only difficulty is finding the right space to build the mock-up. At the recent Business Jet Interiors conference in Cannes, there was a lot of talk about shortfall in completion centre capacity. While some see this as a problem, from a designer’s point of view, I think this is the result of more business jet owners seeking customised cabin designs. And surely, that’s a great sign for the future.
Priestmangoode is a leading multidisciplinary design consultancy whose designs, from the first lie-flat airline seat for Virgin Atlantic in the early 1990s to the world’s fastest trains and smallest hotel rooms, have revolutionised the aviation, transport and hospitality industries over the last 25 years. Working in the business aviation sector as well as for commercial airlines, the company has developed innovative cabin concepts for Embraer, Airbus, Lufthansa, Swiss and Qatar Airways. In 2010, Paul Priestman was one of 40 delegates on the UK’s trade delegation to China. Priestmangoode recently opened its first overseas office in Qingdao.