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Tom Chatfield on why a private jet is the ultimate in luxury

Helene Clabecq is back with another interview, this time with Camber Aviation Management CEO Tom Chatfield.

Camber Aviation Management is a new partner of Wall Street Luxury Europe and in this interview we will get to learn more about Tom and his company.

“The ultimate luxury is privacy”- Tom Chatfield

How do you know if a man owns a Porsche?  – He will tell you.

How do you know someone is a Pilot?  – He will tell you.

How do you know if a man owns a Rolex?  – He will tell you.

How do you know if a man owns a jet?  – You don’t. Unless he invites you on a trip. A jet is more of a cool understatement.”

Helene Clabecq: How can a transportation system be a time-saver?

Tom Chatfield: It encourages 1:1 private, undisturbed and concentrated conversations, on the ground or in the air, and is a great leverage to get business done. You can talk sitting comfortably in the lounge, over a meal, with a drink in your hand or not. I have an example of a recent client who kept saying he had no time to meet, and we got the deal done on the way by flying with him on his jet to his vacation. Most flight within a continent would take much less time if they were direct and if you could avoid the time-consuming process of check-in etc. This is where a private jet massively cut overall travel time.

HC: What is your background?

TC: I am a proud Canadian with German roots. My father was a pilot and I got the aviation bug from him. I remember his oversized flying boots, flying jacket and the smell of kerosene and gloves.
I started working in aviation when I was 14 as a dispatcher, then in the hanger as a mechanic, went on to becoming an avionics technician and touched private jets for the first time with Mercedes Benz, setting up their corporate division, going from zero to 12 corporate jets in a year, which started opening doors for me. Daimler, Qatar Airways … until I started my own business, which I have done ever since.
I’m fortunate to have travelled all over the world, met incredible people and worked on incredible projects for 24 years before I moved back home.

HC: What is one thing you have learnt in your past experience that can serve other entrepreneurs?

TC: I have learnt to be incredibly diplomatic. When something goes wrong with an airplane and your passengers cannot fly, you are sitting with CEOs and Board Members to explain why something does not work.
There is a closed loop circle of identifying a problem, figuring out what caused it and making sure it does not happen again, with as little disturbance as possible, despite the pressure.
Beyond the maturity that comes with experience, I meditate every day, which helps a lot in stressful situations.

HC: Some people live in a jet like a hotel room or an office. You not only have to be mindful of the architecture and interior design, but the air quality as well, the food, the comfort, select the right flight crew, offer the ultimate operation and maintenance… How is the creative process of thinking through every minute detail?

TC: That is true. First, we figure out what clients need, what their habits are? What their expectations are, and how important is a good night’s sleep. What is their sense of style? What are their expectations for food onboard? Do they need a shower, a sauna? A media room for the kids?
Most people are challenged to imagine the cabin of their new jet because they do not know what is and is not possible.
It is very difficult for anyone to start on a blank sheet of paper, so in order to design their dreams, we first need to start with a basic layout, which reflects their needs. Then, together with an exceptional designer, the furniture, the materials, moodboards are defined, much like you would do when designing a yacht or a house, and it becomes an enjoyable process.

After that, we write a very detailed specification, that can be up to 200 pages long, capturing precisely all aspects of the cabin fit out and send it to selected completion centers that sharpens their pencils and put together their quotes before we select the very best one. Next step we go into the marketplace and find the right aircraft, doing physical inspections and supporting the negotiation process. Once purchased, we oversee the transition from design to finished jet, ensuring that design is turned into a cabin that is as comfortable, as it is functional and reliable. Remember, we are creating a one-off aircraft, as unique as our client, and without the benefit of building prototypes, so we need to apply all of our knowledge and experience to make it perfect. The length of outfitting takes, perhaps 4 – 6 months for a restyling of a pre-owned Airbus ACJ319 and as long as two years for a Boeing widebody. The cost really depends on the complexity of the design!

NB: Camber just won an award in August in Venice together with the designer Jacques-Pierrejean, Kestrel Aviation Management and partners for Best Private Jet Cabin Design Concept, following our idea that an airplane should look like an apartment.

Most people are challenged to imagine the cabin of their new private jet because they do not know the extent of what is possible to do

Tom ChatfieldCEO, Camber Aviation Management

HC: What are some of the trends that you are seeing in private jets?

TC: People are seeking true customization, making their aircraft an extension of themselves. Design now more closely resembles a bespoke apartment with the luxuries that you would expect on the ground, ranging from professional kitchens to allow their chef to prepare memorable meals, high-seed connectivity and on to wellness, which may include a steam room, massage table and luxury shower.

HC: How far can Camber Aviation push the customization?

TC: The ultimate luxury, whether you are a man or a woman, is to have that suit or that dress that fits perfectly. You do not find that in stores, only a tailor can create such a bespoke piece of clothing. Same with a car. You can choose the options and finishes, but you have a catalogue to choose from. There may be 500 options, but the possibilities of you having exactly what you want are still dictated by the offer.
We first ask the question: What do you need? What is important to you? Who are you? Not: this is what we have, which one do you want?
We invest time into getting to really understand who our client is, what they like and what is important to them. We talk with their spouse, we visit their homes, their yacht, we maybe see the office they work in, and speak with its designer.
Truth be spoken, we can customize every little part of the aircraft cabin for our client, as long as we can certify it.

HC: What kind of emotions does one have when receiving their own airplane? Is it, perhaps, a bit like the feeling when you get your first car?

TC: Our clients are generally private individuals and Heads of State. The delivery is very formal.
Many very wealthy people smile during the handover, they are grateful. However, I remember a gentleman who purposely did not see the airplane during the whole build, he trusted us and the designer. It was his first airplane. And when it first landed, he was, with no disrespect intended, like a five year-old, so joyful, enthusiastic, yelling and running around the airplane. We all started laughing witnessing someone express such pure, unfiltered joy.
It is great to be cool and understated but seeing someone admit to the fact that they worked so hard was fantastic, one of the nicest moments I’ve ever been a part of.

HC: How did you spend your COVID time?

TC: During COVID, many flights did not exist anymore, and travel was at first, virtually impossible. Initially, it hurt us, as people stopped making decisions for a moment. Internally, we took the time to reevaluate the private jet industry and identify areas where we could create excitement and innovation, and, created the Revive Design Awards.
We gave competing designers, both students and professionals, the task of creating the best possible restyling of a private jet cabin starting with a dated 20 year old cabin design , with a budget of 10 million dollars within 8 weeks. The idea is to innovate, to show owners and future owners what is possible. The first Revive Design Awards will focus on the venerable Boeing Business Jet and next year, well, that’s a secret.

We also brought our innovative Streamline Method from first idea to roll-out. I also took some time off to ski in British Columbia, while there were no visitors.

HC: What is the situation now?

TC: In reality, now, private jets are more than ever the perfect solution. You fly directly, and you choose who flies with you. You never have to get into the country, you can talk on the plane; you can skip immigration and the vaccination process.

Interview by Hélène Clabecq

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