In a Q&A session, Robin Dunlop, Partner (Business Jet & Regional Aircraft Acquisition & Design Specialist) at business jet and regional aircraft specialists, ALTEA looks at the latest trends and demands taking place in aircraft interiors.
ALTEA was founded by Andrew Butler, Robin Dunlop, Jean Sémiramoth and Angus von Schoenberg, four highly experienced aviation professional partners specialising in business jets, regional aircraft and helicopters. They are supported by a multi-skilled and multi-lingual team with ingrained expertise across transaction and asset management; financing; contractual & commercial solutions; design and engineering.
Through a proficient and balanced combination of traditional skills, unconventional techniques and innovation, ALTEA brings a respected perspective that is valued by manufacturers, completion and maintenance centres, financiers, and customers alike – and is designed to deliver success.
Q) What specific areas of the interior are you involved with?
At ALTEA we guide a potential client through the complete process of planning and customising their aircraft or helicopter. The number of passengers they wish to travel in their entourage and the main flight missions are our priority.
These can shape the aircraft choice because that information trickles down into the information we need to determine how much stowage they might need on board and in the hold, to the service they wish to deliver from a galley. We can advise on the necessary equipment a galley might need, to the set-up of the right communications and entertainment they might want.
We can also advise on the integration of the cabin management system (lighting, blinds, temperature, control, airshow, etc). Our experience in the completion industry over the last 25 years means we have excellent market intelligence on the supply chain and the key completion centres across the globe.
From concept to completion, ALTEA is known for our precise attention to detail. Our platform is dedicated to deliver bespoke aircraft to VIP customers from light business jets, to narrow and wide body VIP aircraft.
Q) What is driving the types of aircraft interior trends and demands placed on your company by today’s customers?
Trends are just that, trends. A general direction that becomes mainstream. Our clients tend not to fit that description. Normally they are who they are due to extraordinary acumen. In the case of Government or charter aircraft we tend to specify a broad layout and create an interior style that is classic and timeless, we use quality materials and push for exemplary workmanship in our expectations.
We know that’s what flying passengers of these aircraft expect. There are some ’trends’ we do follow – for example the demographics of the new aircraft owners. Recently we are seeing a younger ‘billionaire’ - not necessarily in age but in outlook and how they live their lives - this of course can encompass climate conscious buyers, keeping away from viral hotspots - airports. Simplicity in the look and style of an aircraft interior is definitely more often what these customers are looking for. The days of burl walnut, 16k gold plated details and a heavy ‘antique’ leather look are waning.
Recently we carried out some research into the design outlook of potential 40 year old+ aircraft owners. This has culminated in a concept we have been working on for a Bombardier Global 7500 - we will be revealing our findings and the concept soon.
Q) How important are aerospace (FAR) legislations, flight safety critical issues, fire, smoke, toxicity (FST) issues and lightweighting, to name a few, during the design stage?
We pride ourselves at ALTEA in that we can design creatively even knowing all the regulatory hurdles we will have to cross. FST is always in our minds when selecting materials and putting together the design for a customer. There is no point showing them something that later gets kicked out due to non-compliance. Being within weight is another key parameter - beautiful interiors need not necessarily be heavy – it’s a balance and you have to be mindful of this throughout, not just in the design process.
We act as the customer’s representative throughout an aircraft’s completion so we are their eyes and ears and we pay particular attention throughout all the stages of what are challenging and complex projects, making sure everything is heading in the right direction in the eyes of the customer and their expectations.
Q) Do you sometimes need to adopt a kind of ‘Feng Shui’ visualisation of the cabin interior to create the right impression for air passengers so it makes passengers feel like they are ‘flying in their home’?
I wouldn’t call it Feng Shui approach - I would call it a ‘good design approach’. Just designing for the sake of one aspect, for instance aesthetics or style, is not using your design toolbox to its full potential. Good design is about bringing together all the stakeholders’ requirements from VVIP passenger to maintenance engineer, to crew and operator. You then get the right balance of all of them. Naturally the VVIP owner’s wishes are weighted appropriately in the discussions and then you put your design thinking cap on pulling on a wealth of experience and knowledge and throw in some creativity and innovation. My job as design director for projects is to be the conductor and make sure everyone gets heard at the right moment and can flourish.
Q) Is there a particular aircraft interior success story you can share without breaking any non-disclosure agreements?
Yes, two actually. Our BBJ for the State of the Netherlands and their Royal Family will always be a flagship project for us - after all we had to meet the challenge of designing for the Dutch taxpayer - who generally have a good eye for design themselves. Seriously, this was a Government project with Royal ‘wishes’ and a committee of interested parties looking into every detail for over four years. We enjoyed it very much and it was a great project to deliver - culminating in us winning the ‘International Yacht & Aviation Design Awards 2019’. Secondly, a helicopter we customised and delivered to our long-term South American client. This was a Leonardo Agusta 109 GrandNew, we created a bespoke interior with a fantastic exterior paint design. It glows in the dark using electroluminescent paint detailing!
Q) What kinds of aircraft interior developments will we be seeing in the future? Touchless technology, smaller footprint, increasing integration, higher reliability lower cost, faster time to market?
You’ve pretty much listed what every owner wants at any point in time. What that actually looks like over the last decade has indeed changed. Expectations are high on system integration; passengers expect a seamless experience from a digital point of view with the pressure on higher reliability - no one wants the dreaded spinning rainbow ball or blue progress bar taking forever to update your devices. The Asian market definitely expect faster delivery of their projects - we try to educate them to respect that quality interiors come at a cost of time and effort in order to truly deliver outstanding products. Certainly completion centres do look at how they can improve production techniques and reliability of products, but then the emphasis of the quality is repositioned and expectations go higher. So you might improve in some areas but generally expectations outstrip any significant time gains.
Q) What differentiates your company from the competition - why should a customer use you over your nearest rival?
ALTEA does have competitors and indeed the OEMs have certain capabilities themselves, however we do not have rivals that have the full range of ALTEA’s in-depth knowledge and range of capabilities. ALTEA know aircraft, inside and out. We are multidisciplinary, with a collective expertise that is trusted to deliver. ALTEA’s authoritative approach and meticulous attention to detail protects our clients’ interests. A preferred partner, ALTEA is retained by financial institutions, operators, aircraft manufacturers, governments and private clients who seek a blend of specialist knowledge, integrity, and inspiration to resolve complex and sensitive aircraft projects.
Q) Would you say that your long-standing partnerships have brought huge benefits, particularly as trusted relationships can lead to a better way forward for all?
Definitely - not to mention great industry friendships as a bonus. We will always seek out our trusted partners to assist us in delivering. The sum of any team definitely exceeds those individual parts. With our network we know some truly reputably people with extraordinary experience and skills. Put this altogether and you have the very best team working on any customer’s aircraft.
Q) Where to next for your company?
We are pretty busy at the moment - the pandemic slowed a few things down - mainly our ability to see customers and our projects in situ. But we’ve adapted. We have a customer’s aircraft going through completion at the moment - a Bombardier Global 5500 and we have a team on site in North America able to deliver this project on behalf of the customer. He is new to aircraft ownership, so we are honoured to act on his behalf. We have been pretty active in the regional jet/turboprop space - we foresee some adaptations of fleets and some new aircraft types in the planning, willing to tackle the eco-friendly challenge and changing marketplace of passenger loading.
We also see another pocket of opportunity in the commercial and regional aircraft segment. An increasing amount of the travelling public who may previously have flown business or first class on commercial aircraft are seeking greater privacy not just on board an aircraft but throughout the whole end to end journey including at airports. More often than not, such passengers cannot make the leap to a private aircraft, but are increasingly willing to pay a premium to avoid congested airport terminals and cramped aircraft interiors. We are therefore seeking increased demand for generously configured commercial aircraft in all business/first class configurations. For example, the Embraer E190 appears to be arousing particular interest in a 50-60 seat layout.
At ALTEA we are definitely in the market to grow, become more visible not just the design and completions side of things but our asset management and finance capability. We can deliver these additional services to business jets, regional aircraft and helicopters alike. We have strength and depth in both these areas and want to assist customers on that front - we also see a growing area of expertise in the eVTOL market as technology and new start-ups bring momentum to shift and develop in directions which will truly shape personal air travel – and this will happen relatively soon.