Leading business jet operator NetJets wanted something special to mark the addition of 33 Dassault Falcon 7Xs to its fleet. At $1.5bn, the jets, the interior design of which has been entrusted to Norman Foster, make up the largest order in business aviation history. Not just a Pritzker Prize-winning architect, but also an experienced pilot and NetJets customer, Foster has piloted all kinds of aircraft – helicopters, racing sailplanes, microlights, historic aircraft and jets. "In the early days, I would fly myself to all my business destinations. I would do that as a single pilot and I would chart the weather, draw up the flight plans – everything," he says.
NetJets commissioned Foster to design the interior of the 7Xs in 2006. Foster was not given any brief and consulted with NetJets clients and crew as well as the manufacturers, Dassault. Foster achieved the luxury finish with individual flair right down to the design of the seat belt buckles – black nickel for the crew, plain nickel for the cabin. "Every design assignment is special," says Foster. "It has nothing to do with the size or the complexity. You might assume that Beijing Airport would loom large, but as a design challenge the 7X was just as special."
Despite big business scaling down operations and cutting back on expenditure, NetJets is confident that the demand for luxury travel remains. Foster's work on the 7X is certainly helping NetJets sell the aircraft. "It is really interesting to hear a client sit across from you and spill back to you all the things that you would love them to say," explains Graeme Weston, chief operating officer of NetJets Europe.
"One of my most difficult-to-reach clients is a very private person – very, very wealthy, and afraid of flying. He flew recently on the 7X and said to me: 'I felt like this was my own plane, I did not feel like it was a liner. I felt this was something very private and very special'."
All 7Xs on order from NetJets will have the new interior as well as livery designed by Foster – a bold blue stripe running the length of the fuselage. "We wanted something timeless," says Weston, "something that was iconic, which would give our brand some definition." So impressed were the NetJets executives with the exterior livery that it is to be replicated throughout the rest of NetJets fleet.
The interior of the 7X is thematically zoned into a well-being space for passengers and a work space for the crew. The design of the passenger cabin is muted, and features a cream and tan colour scheme and fiddleback sycamore wood fittings. Foster redesigned the seating arrangements based on how NetJets owners and passengers use the aircraft.
"He has created something very light – an environment that you can work and relax in," Weston says. Foster used robust materials such as carbon fibre for the crew areas. "With the 7X, we tried to create an environment that would offer comfort and the luxury of choice – to be quiet and undisturbed, but able to be whatever you need discreetly and without fuss," explains Foster. "It is about catering for the extremes of community and privacy."
Advanced business jet
The 7X is the most advanced business jet flying today. Employing the same fly-by-wire technology used by Dassault Rafale fighters, the three-engined business jet is a considerable aviation achievement in its own right and can fly non-stop from Paris to Tokyo. "Its ultra-long range means that it is important to have a design where you could work, play and feel comfortable," adds Weston.
The meeting of Foster and NetJets has produced a slick master class in luxury design. "In aviation there is no such thing as a hit," explains Weston who worked in the music and film industry before joining NetJets.
"These are pieces of tin flying around the world with different performance levels but I believe our 7X is as close to a hit as business aviation has ever seen."