(CNN) — A helicopter with vegan seats, a private jet with a sundeck and garage, and a hotelier’s plan to hold discos at 35,000 feet — all three concepts were unveiled at the Dubai Airshow last week among a host of others designed to lure VIP travelers back to the sky.
Despite the aviation industry being among the worst hit by the global pandemic, and criticism over its role in the climate crisis, demand from rich jetsetters show no sign of abating.
Lufthansa Technik, an aircraft overhaul specialist and sister company of the German airline, wants to offer a private jet that provides the same experience as a superyacht, taking owners anywhere at any time while also providing the comforts of a five-star hotel and base camp for leisure activities.
The “Explorer” concept includes a large cargo door that opens to reveal a superyacht-inspired sundeck after landing.
Lufthansa Technik AG
“We came up with the idea to show an aircraft which is like a flying hotel, so that guests who are chartering the aircraft can have a round-the-world trip in two weeks,” says Wieland Timm, head of sales for VIP & special mission aircraft at Lufthansa Technik. That way it would be a faster luxury travel option than a superyacht, he adds, allowing passengers to visit different corners of the world within hours.
But such a service comes at a hefty price. Lufthansa Technik estimates it would cost €100 million ($110 million) to fit the cabin in a 200-foot-long Airbus A330, on top of the cost of the aircraft which is usually listed for upwards of $230 million. “It’s a very big investment,” says Timm.
Using the latest projection technology, the cabin’s ceilng can light up with virtual content at a guest’s request, for instance mimicking the sky outside.
Lufthansa Technik AG
Before then, it will be revamping the 786-square-foot aircraft, complete with a dining table for eight passengers and a kitchen where gourmet cuisine from Dubai’s best restaurants will be served. The hotelier’s in-house DJs will perform on board and there’s a suite with a king-sized bed for whoever wants an early night.
The boom in private jets
“Business aviation has proved to be flexible and reliable and it’s got strong safety and security measures that have been in place during the pandemic,” says Timothy Hawes, managing director at Tarsus Middle East, which organized Dubai Airshow 2021.
Greener aircraft and narrow-body models created a buzz at Dubai Airshow.
The event, which was the first big gathering of the aviation industry since Covid-19, boosted confidence across the whole industry, Hawes tells CNN. Despite apprehension over the amount of business it would generate, he says that more than $78 billion worth of deals were secured or announced during the five-day event and it attracted more than 100,000 visitors.
“It was an excellent opportunity for people to come together face to face who haven’t had that opportunity over the last 20 months,” he says. “The Dubai Airshow was really that focal point that everyone was waiting for in the industry.”
Luxury jets generated a lot of visitor interest, he adds. Among the 175 aircraft on display during the event — representing all sectors from commercial to military — was Airbus Corporate Helicopters’ vegan helicopter.
The company had fitted out the interior of its newest luxury model, the ACH145, with ultraleather, a synthetic material that mimics the real thing, on the request of wealthy clients Urs and Daniela Brunner. According to Airbus, this was in keeping with the ethical values of Daniela, whose fashion label Giulia and Romeo uses no animal products and donates profits to animal welfare.
Vegan upholstery, designed on request of the super rich, was on display at the Airshow.
It’s not known what the emissions per passenger would be for Lufthansa Technik’s Explorer concept. The Airbus A330 typically carries more than 250 passengers, but the Explorer is designed for 12 VIPs, although its creators say they may develop other variants that could take up to 47.
Timm admits that to have a “green fingerprint” it would not make sense to fly with so few people, but says that “those people who want to do it, will do it.”
He adds that some VIP clients are taking steps to be more eco-friendly, for instance, asking for recyclable material to be used in the cabin, requesting new types of aircraft that are more fuel efficient, or modifying an aircraft to have two engines rather than four.
But ultimately higher on their list of priorities is comfort, security and privacy, says Timm, and while demand is there, airlines and manufacturers will continue to meet it.
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