The VIP finish: A look at corporate helicopter trends

Luxury comes in all shapes, sizes and price tags with VIP/corporate helicopters. For some owners, it can be as simple as upgrading the flooring and re-covering the seats — which can give a helicopter interior an entirely new look. For others, luxury means sparing no expense — which might look more like a modern, sleek interior with high-end accents and the latest technology.

At this year’s Heli-Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, EuroTec debuted an Airbus EC130 which featured custom paint, carbon fiber trim, and an Aston Martin DB9-inspired leather interior. EuroTec Photo
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With a range of materials available on the market, and technology continuously evolving, the possibilities for corporate helicopter interiors are seemingly endless. Vertical checked in with a few completions companies across North America to see what the latest interior trends look like in the VIP market, and what your money can buy.

Aesthetically pleasing

Although every part of a helicopter is important to its function, it’s not necessarily the components under the cowlings that create the “wow-factor” upon first look. The aspects that make a big first impression when it comes to VIP helicopters are the exterior paint and the interior of the cabin.

Located in Decatur, Texas, AeroBrigham — a helicopter completions and customization company, which also offers support and maintenance — is familiar with making VIP helicopters look extravagant. Looking specifically at seats and flooring, David Brigham, co-owner of the company, said a big trend in the corporate market lately is Lonseal flooring, which is vinyl flooring that looks like wood planking. With Lonseal flooring, a carpet can snap into place overtop if desired.

VIP helicopters are known for their luxurious interiors, featuring high-end seats, cabinetry and accents. Mecaer has customized cabinetry for all kinds of requirements, including cup holders, storage, refrigeration, or minibars. Mecaer Photo

“If [owners] are hauling VIPs, they can have the carpet in [the aircraft],” said Brigham. “If they’re going out on a beach adventure, they can roll the carpet out and people can get in the aircraft with sandy, wet feet; they can hose the aircraft out really easily.”

This type of floor looks modern while offering functionality, and is relatively inexpensive to install; the cost, depending on the aircraft, could range anywhere from US$9,000 to $17,000.

If corporate helicopter owners want to up the ante, they have many opportunities to do so with the seats. Brigham said the company has had requests for exotic hides like giraffe, as well as high-quality leather or sheepskin inserts. “We’ve done seats in buffalo and elephant [hides],” Brigham added, “but those can be really tough to find.”

David Brigham of AeroBrigham said a big trend in the corporate market is Lonseal vinyl flooring. A carpet can snap into place overtop of this flooring if desired, and can be rolled out easily based on preference. AeroBrigham Photo

Looking at luxurious options for cabinetry in corporate aircraft, Mecaer Aviation Group, known for its MAGnificent VIP interiors in Bell helicopters, offered some insight. Being an Italian-based company, with locations in the U.S. and Canada, Mecaer designs interior concepts for its customers from its MAG Design Studio in Rome, and also gets a lot of its materials from that area. Cabinetry can feature any material of the customers’ choosing, such as Italian-style wood or carbon fiber. Grayson Barrows, director of marketing and sales, said the company has customized cabinetry for all kinds of requirements, including “cup holders or storage; some [cabinets] are used for power . . . and then you get into more complicated ones where you have refrigeration, you could have a coffee maker, [or] a whiskey bar.”

Daren Humphries, sales manager for corporate aircraft, added that Mecaer also offers interchangeable cabinetry, which can be included as part of a supplemental type certificate (STC) kit for VIP interiors. “The cabinets install to seat rails,” he said, “so, a mechanic can remove the seat and then the cabinet just installs right back in the same way; it could take 10 or 15 minutes.”

Mecaer has developed an in-flight entertainment and cabin management system for VIPs called the I-Feel, which allows passengers to control cabin features such as audio and video functions, lights, air conditioning, or dimming windows – all from a smart device. Mecaer Photo

The cost of cabinetry can vary drastically depending on what materials are used to cover the cabinet, and what functionality is required.

EuroTec Canada believes luxury in the VIP market is often associated with fine products, exotic materials, and custom trim packages. “We create a one-of-a-kind aircraft tailored to our clients’ unique personalities and design visions,” said Hoss Golanbari of EuroTec Canada. “We begin all our projects with a face-to-face consultation. . . . Most of these first encounters include going through the various material samples, leathers, floor coverings, accent materials… right down to the type of stitching to get that truly unique and tailored look.”

The company recently debuted an Airbus EC130 corporate aircraft at Helicopter Association International Heli-Expo 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia, which featured custom paint, carbon fiber trim, the latest in Garmin TXi avionics, and an Aston Martin DB9-inspired leather interior. “A lot of our customers love the idea of replicating their car’s design into the aircraft they also own,” said Golanbari. “They appreciate the fact that we can incorporate what they drive into what they fly.”

EuroTec believes in creating truly customized interiors for its VIP customers, which includes discussing all the details from leathers to floor coverings to types of stitching. The company also offers custom embroidery and embossed designs in the cabin. EuroTec Photo

When it comes to exterior paint, there’s an overwhelming consensus on the completions side that a quality paint job is key to first impressions, but also doesn’t come cheap. The cost of custom paint varies based on the airframe as well as the prep work and process to remove the old paint, but can range anywhere from US$45,000 to $90,000.

Tech-focused

Technology is constantly changing and improving, which not only makes processes easier for helicopter owners, but also allows them to include more features in their aircraft.

Mecaer has developed an in-flight entertainment system and cabin management system combined into one platform, which it calls the I-Feel system. The I-Feel is completely customizable and allows the pilot and passengers to control virtually any feature in the cabin through a smartphone or iPad.

Corporate helicopter owners can really up the ante when it comes to seats. David Brigham said the company has done seats in buffalo and elephant hides, and has had requests for other exotic hides like giraffe. AeroBrigham Photo

“As an example, we provide the I-Feel in a Bell 429 MAGnificent,” said Mecaer’s Barrows. “That I-Feel runs the audio and the video, and in the 429 itself, the capabilities are dependent on what function of the interior the customer has selected. If they don’t have any monitors in the I-Feel interior, then of course the I-Feel will not provide video functions.”

The I-Feel also features what the company calls near-field communication. “When you get in [the aircraft], your phone will pair to the system, and then you can control features from your phone,” said Mecaer’s Humphries.

The system recognizes who you are, what seat you’re in and what functionalities you like to control – which could, for example, be the environmental control system, audio and video functions.

Mecaer offers complete VIP interior systems that are STC’d for various aircraft such as the Leonardo AW139 and AW189, the Airbus H145, and the Bell 505 and 429. Mecaer Photo

This high-tech system ranges in cost from US$100,000 to $150,000, depending on the functions the customer wants to include.

One other feature that can be controlled either with or without the I-Feel system is Mecaer’s electro-chromic windows. These windows are popular in VIP helicopters for a few reasons. The electro-chromic windows have two layers of glass to reduce noise in the cabin — a feature that is ideal for business meetings. Also, the windows are customizable; all the windows can be dimmed to different degrees, so, for example, passengers can dim only one side of the aircraft depending on the position of the sun. While the cost of these windows varies based on the size and number of them on the aircraft, it ranges from US$25,000 to $90,000.

At its Millgrove, Ontario, facility, EuroTec has done completions on roughly 30 VIP helicopters in the last decade. EuroTec Vertical Flight Solutions in Eudora, Kansas, also has corporate completion capabilities. EuroTec Photo

For those VIP helicopter owners who are also pilots, EuroTec Vertical Flight Solutions president Chad Decker said while they enjoy the paint and the interior of the aircraft, it’s often the technology and avionics that “motivate their desire to upgrade an aircraft.” Pilots rely on newly developed apps that help them with flight planning, navigation, and weather. Over the past few years, “iPad installations integrated with glass cockpits are becoming more and more popular in corporate helicopters,” said Decker.

IPads can be fully integrated into the avionics suite of an aircraft — with the proper mount and charging system — so “all the pilot needs to do, in an FBO [fixed base operation] or at home, is check the weather, look at their routing and put everything into their iPad,” said Golanbari. “And as soon as they get into the aircraft, everything is downloaded into the avionics suite of the aircraft.”

Lately, iPads being integrated with glass cockpits have become popular with VIPs, as well as the new Garmin TXi touchscreen flight displays. EuroTec Photo

The new Garmin TXi touchscreen flight displays have also been popular requests for VIPs, according to Golanbari, and EuroTec was the first to install the system in an EC130 B4 helicopter.

“Chuck Surack of Sweet Helicopters in Indiana had the new Garmin G500H TXi installed in his first H130 at EuroTec, and will upgrade his remaining fleet in 2019 and early 2020,” said Golanbari. The TXi designs can include up to four displays in a panel, and as a bonus, give the cockpit a sleek look.

With comfort being a priority for VIP owners/passengers, custom lighting and air conditioning are among popular requests for the cabin area. Mecaer Photo

For corporate helicopter owners interested in camera systems, AeroBrigham has completed some unique projects in this area. Brigham said one of the biggest projects the company has done for a corporate customer was installing multiple miniature HD cameras inside and outside the aircraft so the owner could make recordings of the flights for his guests.

“He wanted to be able to control all the cameras from within the aircraft on his iPad,” said Brigham. “We had to custom-make a Wi-Fi system and worked with VLC Player to make the system talk to an iPad. He wanted picture control, recording control and to be able to choose which cameras were on.”

Brigham said the cost of this custom camera project came to about US$40,000 upon completion.

AeroBrigham has been doing corporate completions roughly four-and-a-half years, but co-owner David Brigham has 20 years of VIP completion experience from the various phases of his aviation career. AeroBrigham Photo

It seems no request is too far-fetched in the VIP helicopter market. Completions centers all over the world are capable of providing extravagant VIP interior upgrades for popular types such as the Airbus H130 and H145, the Bell 429 and 505, and Leonardo A109 and AW139. It’s about finding the right provider for your needs; the sky really is the limit.

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