This story first appeared in the Sept. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Purchasing the plane is just the start. Then comes personalization. Completion shops specialize in tricking out your winged chariot -- which comes pretty much bare off the manufacturing line -- letting fantasy take flight (within FAA regulations, of course).
Although there are occasional mile-high grotesqueries, like one owner who had painted a replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, most go understated, bearing in mind charter-flight potential and eventual resale value. "People who buy these things are fairly pragmatic," says private-jet designer Rob Lancaster. "They are always looking down the road."
Weight concerns are another issue. There are stories of such indulgences as karaoke machines, pianos and even hot tubs, but they are rare because such extravagances can overload a plane's carrying capacity. Indeed, far less sexy topics, such as choosing lighter-weight dishes or flame-retardant fabrics, are what A-list designers spend their time discussing with clients.
This is usually news to owners who swoop in with the decorators of their houses and yachts (often there is a desire to give each trophy toy the same aesthetic). "When those external designers come on board, they have to be educated that, for instance, you can't use solid wood and that the seat structure has to withstand 16 times the force of gravity," says Sean Johnson, director of completions at Bombardier.
Most custom requests tend to be low-key: Asian clients seeking round tables for family-style meals, lighting that simulates daybreak during the course of an hour, a "master chair" molded to the owner's body with memory foam. Those in the know bring in noise consultant Otto Pobanz to reduce cabin decibel levels.
One amenity that has become a must is state-of-the-art Internet access. Basic in-air BlackBerry capability starts at $100,000, while full international video-streaming over a top-line Ku band satellite service can run $500,000. "It's for the office in the sky," says Clay Lacy Aviation head Brian Kirkdoffer. Or the man cave in the clouds. Explains TrueNorth Avionics CEO Mark van Berkel: "We had a customer who watched the Super Bowl on his iPad while over the Pacific. That game cost him 14 grand in airtime-minute charges."