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Mon 25 Feb 2008 09:59 AM

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Rich Arabs driving luxury private jet market

Fireplace, stable and carpets like desert sands some of features requested by clients.

Rich Arabs driving luxury private jet market
FLYING PALACE: US design firm Doret Industrial unveiled plans for that could be the interior of Prince Alwaleeds A380 last year.

Driven by demand from rich Middle Eastern clients and high-flying businessmen, the market for luxury private jets is booming, industry leaders said at the close of the Singapore Airshow.

"We have orders that will keep us busy until 2011-2012. Never in the past did we see such demand," said Bernd Habbel of Germany's Lufthansa Technik.

The story is much the same at Switzerland's Jet Aviation, where Alain Thomann noted: "We have steady work until 2012."

When it comes to turning a commercial jet with more than 100 seats into a flying palace with all the trimmings, the two firms are the industry leaders.

It's a relatively hush-hush business: clients usually wish to remain anonymous, according to Thomann.

"They see their plane as their home. You wouldn't want the inside of your house to be on display for all the world to see," he told newswire AFP.

One client who does not mind the publicity is Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who has bought an Airbus A380 superjumbo jet for his own personal use.

"He still has not decided who will do the interior. For the client, the process needs to move quickly, the quality must be the best on offer and of course, the price must correspond to his requirements," Habbel said.

For such a huge aircraft, never before kitted out for private use, the price will likely top $100 million - that is, a third of the cost of the plane itself.

Depending on what features the client is looking for, the refitting could take as long as two years.

For other long-haul aircraft like the Boeing 747 or the Airbus A340, two-thirds of the orders for private refittings come from the Middle East, industry experts said.

"Their economies are soaring, boosted by oil revenues. In that region, people are truly fascinated by planes," Habbel said.

For medium-haul jets like the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320, new clients have emerged like expanding business jet operator NetJets, which offers fractional-share plane ownership and manages a fleet of more than 700 aircraft.

More traditional clients in the mid-range market include governments that put planes at the disposal of key ministers.

Before they approach firms like Lufthansa Technik and Jet Aviation, clients usually already have fleshed out a plan with their private decorators, which then have to get pass the firms' engineers.

"We never do anything to alter the actual structure of the plane. For example, enlarging the windows is impossible," Habbel said.

So what are the most outlandish wishes that have not been granted? A fireplace and a stable, Thomann noted. In-flight baths are also only a fantasy, as turbulence could send water spilling from the tub, causing short-circuits.

But decorators make many of their clients' wildest dreams come true, installing lights to simulate the stars, carpets that look like desert sands, giant TV screens and systems that show passengers where Mecca is at all times.

Habbel recalls how one seemingly impossible request led to an innovation for all air travellers.

"One client wanted to watch the local TV channels in the country he was flying over. We managed to create the necessary technology, which later helped us figure out how to provide internet access aboard commercial jets," he said.

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DONNELL GREER 12 years ago

It is interesting to note the level of investment in aircraft and airport development in Dubai and other countries with vision for the future. We are in the process of developing a new international airport on the west coast of Canada and finding investment or vision for such a development almost non-existent in North America. You would think that at least having the opportunity to put their own name on an international airport would be attractive to somebody. Canada is asleep at the switch once again.

Marcellus Ramone Kelley 9 years ago

Every entity should own a piece of stock!