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The next generation of widebody business jets is coming, and not a moment too soon. The cabins in the current fleet-once outfitted with the latest technology and considered luxurious-are really starting to show their age.
The new kids on the block are the Airbus A350 and A380 and Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and 747-8. The A380, which can fly at 547 knots, has two decks and some 6,000 square feet of floor space, roughly the size of a five-bedroom house. At $300 million, it's a bit pricier, but a house can't fly you from New York to Moscow. If your budget is a bit smaller, consider Airbus' A350, an all-composite-fuselage airplane, which is priced at $208 million, can fly 495 nautical miles per hour and offers 2,585 square feet of floor space. Airbus hasn't yet said when the A380 and A350 will be available in executive/VIP configuration.
The 747-8 is the fastest and largest upgrade of Boeing's venerable 747 jumbo jet line. It can fly 495 nautical miles per hour and has 4,800 square feet of cabin space and a price tag of around $285 million. Boeing expects to deliver the first 747-8s for executive/VIP configuration in 2012. (They will be delivered "green," meaning that a completion center will subsequently have to install cabin furnishings and amenities.)
The smallest of the next generation of widebodies is Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, from which the executive/VIP version will be configured. It has the same amount of floor space as the A350, a cruise speed of 487 knots and a price of $163 million. Boeing expects to deliver this model "green" (that is, with no interior installed) for executive/VIP use starting in 2019.
Designers are already creating proposals for cabin completions for these new widebodies. "It is that expanse of square footage that gives the designer a lot of latitude," said Paris-based Alberto Pinto. "On a widebody aircraft, everything is ripe for invention."
In addition to Pinto, designers and companies working in this area include Andrew Winch, Edése Doret, Greenpoint Technologies, Jet Aviation, L-3 Integrated Systems, Lufthansa Technik and M&R Associates. Two design departments (at Greenpoint and L-3) have even come up with elevators to carry passengers between the ground and airplane at airports where there are no jetways or adequate air stairs. L-3 is also working on a 747-8 proposal that would provide storage in the forward cargo bay as an alternative to space-hogging overhead bins in the aft section. The elevator would provide in-flight access to the forward storage hold.
Among the creations by Doret is a majlis-the word is Arabic for a meeting or gathering place. The majlis designed for an A380 has artfully draped fabrics in the form of a desert tent, low tables and an abundance of comfortable cushions on which to sit or recline.
Greenpoint Technologies' designers, meanwhile, came up with a dining area with a polished wood table that wouldn't be out of place in a palace. But the centerpiece is a chandelier of cut acrylic that incorporates fiber-optic lighting. Exposed faux-wood beams in an arched ceiling provide a feeling of warmth.
Alberto Pinto has designed a sumptuous stateroom meant for the nose of a 747-8. "Upholstery, bed linens, fabrics, carpets-not to mention soundproofing, lighting systems, telephony and in-flight satellite television-are all taken together to change a cabin into a full-fledged living space," said Pinto.
If you're planning to buy a new widebody jet, it's not too soon to start thinking about cabin design. The sooner you can decide on a layout, fabrics, seats, veneers and such, the sooner the completion center will be able to line up vendors and begin stocking materials so it can start work when the airplane arrives. Preliminary estimates suggest that it will take at least 18 months to outfit the cabin of one of the new widebodies, depending on the complexity of the plans.
The cost can vary considerably. For a corporate or government version of the 747-8 with a VIP section forward and first-class seating aft, the price might range from $50 million to $70 million. For a full executive/VIP interior with a lot of one-of-a-kind items, $120 million to $150 million wouldn't be out of the ballpark. As for the A380, a completion executive who asked not to be identified said, "Nobody's gonna know until the first one is delivered, but the far side of $200 million is perfectly possible."
Is it worth it? Only you can decide, but if you have the money to spend, you could end up with a mini-mansion with wings that can transport you and a few dozen of your closest friends virtually anywhere in the world in comfort and style.