Bat­tle of the bling wings

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Lifestyle - By Harry Wal­lop

THE sign of ul­ti­mate lux­ury used to be whether you turned left when en­ter­ing an aero­plane. Could you af­ford the caviar, cham­pagne on tap and fully re­clin­ing seats of first class? To­day, the real test is whether, like Lewis Hamil­ton, you can af­ford the plane it­self.

Pri­vate jets, once only the pre­serve of Mar­vel Comics su­pervil­lains or roy­alty, are be­com­ing ever more pop­u­lar, as the wealth of the global elite con­tin­ues to ac­cu­mu­late.

Hamil­ton, 32, of course, has been ac­cused of avoid­ing a £3.3mil­lion VAT bill by im­port­ing his pri­vate plane into the Isle of Man from Canada.

But, for many, it was the jet it­self that raised eye­brows: a £16.5mil­lion red Bom­bardier Chal­lenger 650 with ten seats, a top speed of 540mph and with his ini­tials em­broi­dered into the black leather up­hol­stery.

In the world of pri­vate jets, how­ever, where on-board park­ing for your Rolls-Royce is a pos­si­bil­ity, this is pos­i­tively mod­est. True, you can pick up a sec­ond-hand Cessna for less than £100,000, but that won’t cut the mus­tard at the Dubai Grand Prix or Prov­i­den­ciales Air­port on the Turks and Caicos Islands.

To re­ally im­press your fel­low plu­to­crats, you need at least a Gulf­stream G650, or ide­ally, your own Boe­ing 737, fit­ted out with enough gold leaf for Croe­sus him­self to feel at home. The plane will cost you about £60mil­lion – and that’s be­fore you fit it out.

Take the Air­bus A340 bought by a mem­ber of a Mid­dle East­ern royal fam­ily and fit­ted out by de­signer Celia Sawyer. She won’t name the fam­ily but she did de­scribe ‘a spec­tac­u­lar gold liv­ing room, with a run­way down the mid­dle to the bar, flanked by gold so­fas, with the best leather. It was a lot of fun to do’.

FIT­TING out a jet that in nor­mal cir­cum­stances can fit 377 pas­sen­gers cost a strato­spheric £30 mil­lion, in­cluded fix­tures, fit­tings and labour – and her fee, of course. She says peo­ple with that amount to spend in­vari­ably want gold, mar­ble and leather –and plenty of gim­micks. ‘It can all get a bit James Bond,’ she agrees.

Ro­man Abramovich sup­pos­edly had a mis­sile sys­tem in­stalled on his Boe­ing 767-33A, nick­named The Ban­dit. The Sul­tan of Brunei had gold sinks in his plane and Don­ald Trump, never know­ingly un­der­stated, in­sisted the seat buck­les on ‘Trump One’ were plated in 24-carat gold. Sawyer con­tin­ues: ‘I’ve been asked to put in a bowl­ing al­ley. I laughed and said No. But spas are very com­mon, with a beauty ther­a­pist on board, a mas­sage ta­ble, sinks.’

Christo­pher Mbanefo, of Yasava So­lu­tions, a Swiss-based firm which spe­cialises in fit­ting out jets, says peo­ple who can af­ford a Gulf­stream, will in­vari­ably travel with plenty of staff. So cre­at­ing space is es­sen­tial – or at least the il­lu­sion of it. ‘What you don’t want is the se­cu­rity staff in the sit­ting room with the client.’ In his view, too many pri­vate jets are ‘no bet­ter than pre­mium econ­omy’ – packed with chairs that don’t even have the space to re­cline prop­erly.

Those that can’t af­ford to buy and run their own air­craft (it costs at least £500,000 a year to keep a pri­vate jet air­borne with crew and main­te­nance) can hire one. Pri­vateFly is the Uber of pri­vate jets, al­low­ing wealthy in­di­vid­u­als to char­ter their own planes. Its most pop­u­lar route is London to Ibiza in an eight-seater Cessna Ci­ta­tion XLS, which will cost you £12,300 (one way) for the use of the whole air­craft.

Most oli­garchs and oil sheiks want to do it the tra­di­tional way, of course – and own the plane out­right. And the sign you’ve re­ally made it? Ac­cord­ing to Celia Sawyer, noth­ing more com­pli­cated than an on­board bath.

‘It’s the big­gest chal­lenge. It’s ex­tremely hard to do,’ she says. ‘Where does the wa­ter get stored and where does it go af­ter­wards?’ The an­swer is into the cargo bay, usu­ally.

She says those with a spare £50 mil­lion tend to be­lieve more is more. ‘I’ve seen a fake fire­place be­fore. It’s a bit naff, though, I think.’ The one thing money can’t buy is taste.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.