September-October 2013 | FLYIN' HIGH




Discreetly tucked away in a series of hangers at the Sussex County Airport resides one of the country’s leading authorities in the luxury airliner industry

Written By: Nick Brandi

Ever look to the sky with equal parts envy and awe as that hotshot movie mogul, exotic head of state or titan of industry soared past in their sexy private jet? If so, you may have also ruminated about how you might trick out your own flying fantasy. Would it be with diamond chandeliers and golden fountains that spew bubbling Dom Perignon? Perhaps you’d prefer a state-of-the-art game room, complete with a deluxe Foosball table that uses real soccer players. Or, you may just do what Tony Stark did in Iron-Man and have a full-fledged dance club, complete with rotating disco ball and fawning club-bunny flight attendants.

Whatever your proclivities, the realities of owning a private jet are slightly more down to earth. Nonetheless, such rarefied dreams are realities in the lives of such mover-shakers as Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Mark Cuban and Michael Bloomberg. When the time comes to commission your own state-of-the-art aircraft, you may just want to get a leg up and fly on over to PATS Aircraft Systems in Georgetown, Del. because, believe it or not, that’s exactly what they do.

If such a glitzy, high-profile operation strikes you as being rather unusual for this area, you’d be spot on. In fact, PATS 
is one of only about a dozen companies worldwide that has the capability and experience to convert narrow-body commercial airliners into completely customized business- or personal-use jets. Currently, they specialize in five models of aircraft, ranging from the 88-ft. Bombardier CRJ200 and the 118-ft. Embraer Lineage 1000 to the 138-ft., 737-900ER-based Boeing BBJ3. These are the same aircraft routinely found at any Southwest or US Airways terminal, which in some cases fly as many as 200 paying passengers to destinations across the world. 

Using a Boeing Business Jet as an example, here’s how the process works: 

A brand-new BBJ aircraft is delivered off of the production line in Renton, Washington as “green aircraft,” meaning it’s unpainted (with a green-colored environmental-protection coating instead) and without an interior. The aircraft is then flown to PATS in Georgetown to have PATS install its patented, industry-leading auxiliary fuel system (AFS), which allows the aircraft to fly more than 50% farther before needing to refuel. PATS is the Boeing Business Jet’s sole-source supplier of auxiliary fuel tanks, which by itself has represented a consistent and solid business for PATS since the BBJ’s inception 
in the late 1990s — yet that’s just the beginning.

Once PATS has installed the AFS, the aircraft is delivered to the owner from Boeing. The owner then delivers the 
aircraft to a facility where the custom interior modifications will occur. PATS, as a third-party provider in a competitive environment, submits a bid to design, engineer, install and certify the custom interior on behalf of the owner, be it a head of state, business/corporate VIP or royal-family member. If PATS is awarded the job (and with 16 total BBJ projects under their belt so far, they are among the industry leaders), the client will likely hire a project manager to represent the client’s interests and help them determine how they want to layout the 800-1120 sq. ft. available for customization (depending on the model of BBJ). Based on the type of customer, intended use of the aircraft, aircraft mission, desired number of passengers and many other factors, the aircraft is carefully spec’d in an “Interior Specification” document, which details every intricate detail of the interior. In many cases, PATS provides a designer to help create the aesthetic features and the engineers to translate the aesthetic and desired systems and functionality into a detailed engineering package. From these “elevation drawings” a computer-rendering package is presented, which allows the principal to see what their aircraft will look like when the job is complete. 

As one might expect, the high-profile nature of these jobs, as well as the clients on whose behalf they are performed, 
requires that PATS (and therefore we) maintain absolute confidentiality. We were, however, granted authorization to use one “typical” job (as if any of them were actually typical) as an example. 

As with most BBJ layouts, this interior completion (for a rather well-known VIP business client) provides the crew its own lounge, rest and lavatory areas but also has a forward storage area that includes a multi-function center consisting of a flatbed high-speed color printer, fax machine and scanner capable of double-side copying and printing, along with a docking station and a laptop for interface to all of the Aircraft IFE/CMS equipment and components. There is also an entry aesthetic akin to a foyer, with a welcoming mirror and low cabinet supporting a fresh flower bouquet. There is a VIP-style forward lavatory, which includes amenities such as a large lower vanity cabinet with a natural stone counter surface, luxury-style sink and luxury fixtures. 

The forward lounge, meanwhile, features two distinct sitting areas where the occupants might gather for an informal discussion or even an important company meeting, including participants on the ground through video-conferencing. The area comprises two, three-place, side-facing, berth-able divans, a four-seat club group with a pedestal hi-lo table and a second four-seat club group aligned more informally with shared endtables between the seats for added comfort and convenience. The forward lounge also features divan surround cabinets for each of the side-facing divans that include half-height storage cabinets with decorative custom-made lighting fixtures affixed to the cabinets between the divans. 

A similarly themed aft lounge boasts two additional sumptuous divans, a two-seat club arrangement with fold-out table and the principal’s aft-facing single seat. The centerpiece of this aft lounge is the bar/galley. The bar provides general 
storage and meal-serving capabilities; it includes a refrigerator, wine cooler and ice drawer. The layout is intended to draw social gatherings toward the bar, to snack on the dinner spread and perhaps share a cocktail over pleasant conversation. The overall design elements, including carpet and material selections, provide a classy and inviting feel.

The forward lounge alone can sleep up to 10 passengers and includes large flush-mounted HD LED backlit LCD video monitors, supported by high-quality audio in the form of a 7.1-channel Dolby surround-sound system. The aft lounge sleeps an additional three and also offers a 32” HD LED backlit LCD video monitor. Most seats and divans are also outfitted with personal television monitors with individually controlled pop-up mechanisms that allow the monitor to be stowed into the sideledge when not in use.

It won’t surprise you to learn that with its custom-made, fully berth-able divan, which converts to a queen-size bed, the VIP bedroom is also what can be safely referred to as “special.” The room is outfitted with two single chairs so that when in a sitting-room configuration, a group of four or five is comfortably able to get away from the clamor around the bar 
and have a quiet, private conversation in an intimate setting. The room-length sideledge provides ample additional storage for the occupants, which comes in handy when all the seats are filled on take-off. Of course, the VIP bedroom has its own lavatory — complete with custom shower, full-height wardrobe cabinets, a custom-designed vanity mirror, furniture and lower sideledges featuring high-gloss finished wood veneer and luxury fabric covering the upper sidewalls. The bedroom also boasts high-gloss finished wood veneer and luxury wool-silk carpet on the floors, with upper sidewall panels covered in luxury fabric and upwash/ downwash effect lighting.
Additional features of this mansion in the sky include SATCOM, high-speed data, live TV and communications systems allowing full access to the accoutrements that the principal may have in his home, yacht or office, which may 
include a full electronic-media library of movies and music. Best of all, most of these conveniences — including lighting, audio and video — can be managed by a custom iPad app.

As one may clearly see, no expense was spared for this particular job. Within the PATS’ project catalog you might find wood veneers such as walnut burl, marbled Macassar ebony, Amboyna burl, birdseye maple, Pommele Sapele and waterfall bubinga, while leathers might include anaconda, alligator, crocodile, ostrich, python, rattlesnake, manta ray, buffalo and boar.

Are you ready to place an order for your very own custom dreamliner? 

Great, because it will run you only $75–$125 million. But don’t vacillate too much before placing your order, because these projects take between one and two years each, and PATS often works on multiple jobs simultaneously. Suffice it to say, between their interior completions, AFS installations, VIP aircraft maintenance and modifications, and component and systems manufacturing, PATS is one of the busiest operations in Sussex County. And with a staff of over 350 employees, they are also one of the county’s biggest employers, pouring millions back in the local economy each year.


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