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Where the rich and famous give their private jets a glow-up

The pandemic brought a business boom for International Jet Interiors, a Ronkonkoma firm that remodels private jets for wealthy consumers and businesses.  Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

One of Eric H. Roth’s high-flying clients wanted a custom-designed yoga and meditation space on a private jet.

A movie producer needed an airborne screening room.

Another customer who brings his big dogs aboard wanted to assure their in-flight comfort.

Welcome to the world of customized ultra-luxurious private jets.

Roth, president of International Jet Interiors in Ronkonkoma, has spent decades catering to the rich and famous —his past customers include Donald Trump — and his 34-year-old firm has never been so busy.

It has fielded 25% more business than normal since January, Roth said.

Why is that? COVID-19 turbocharged the private aviation industry: Affluent Americans grew wealthier and gained an even greater appreciation for personal space — socially distanced in more ways than one — in the rarefied style to which they are accustomed, industry analysts said.

After buying a plane, many want to make it their own, similar to how people feel after buying a home, Roth said. International Jet Interiors spent 14 weeks transforming the Bombardier Global 5000 below into a bespoke aircraft for one company.

International Jet Interiors focuses on larger aircraft such as Gulfstreams, Falcons, Globals, Challengers and Boeings, which Roth said range from $8 million to $60 million — before modifications.

Its clients invest anywhere from $100,000 to more than $3 million on refurbishment projects that may involve changing floor plans, adding new technology or introducing fresh design schemes, Roth said.

International Jet Interiors features more than 25 wood species in its design studio and offers 5,000 materials, including fabrics and leather from Italy, France and Germany. Roth's team can plate items in platinum and 24-karat gold and has commissioned hand-loomed silk carpets that cost more than $1,300 a square yard.

Roth recalled one past client who was so particular that he accompanied her to a wood mill in Indiana, where they toured nearly 1 million square feet of exotic woods, before she selected a Madrona Burl for her Gulfstream.

"They flew to Long Island to pick me up, and then we were off to our mill," Roth said in an e-mail. "After spending a full day inspecting every species of wood in their unique inventory, she finalized her decision."

The majority of International Jet Interiors' customers are domestic, but the firm has served clients from Europe, Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, South America, Israel and Canada, according to Roth.

"We have designed, engineered and fabricated almost anything that has been requested by a client," Roth said. "At times, we have visited clients’ residence(s), offices, yachts and even private islands to gain a very intimate understanding of their world and what details and features make them exceedingly happy."

Pending photo permissions
Some of the work performed by International Jet
Pending approval...
Some of the work done by International Jet Interiors.

International Jet Interiors has created bedrooms, yoga studios, baby bassinets and dog sanctuaries — complete with custom bowls and pillows — as shown in the gallery above.

Roth, a North Shore resident, said International Jet Interiors maintains a "strict" policy of protecting clients' anonymity, but noted that it has served a "who's who" of celebrities, brand name companies, ultra-high-net-worth individuals, sheikhs and Trump, before he was elected president. The company created and gifted Trump this custom-made pillow for his jet.

This class of upper-end travelers has been more active on Long Island during the pandemic—with flights up 47.65% between January and July 14 at Republic, Francis S. Gabreski, Long Island MacArthur, East Hampton and Brookhaven airports compared with the same period in 2019.

Today the firm is busy with projects like the refurbishment of a Gulfstream 450 seen in this video.

Some of the crush comes from owners who delayed projects that would have grounded their aircraft during the peak of the pandemic, Roth said. International Jet Interiors' business declined about 35% during the height of COVID-19.

"We initially thought that the mandated restrictions on travel would present a scheduling opportunity for owners to refurbish their aircraft," Roth said in an email. "We came to find they wanted 'uninhibited access' to their aircraft should a family member or close friend require travel for medical purposes, as the airlines were not a dependable means of transportation."

Client calls started picking up around August 2020, Roth said.

Structural designer Maurice Blibaum and president at International

'We have been experiencing unprecedented demand … We have been so busy keeping up with market demand that our employees are averaging about 15 hours a week in overtime.'

-President Eric H. Roth

Roth aims to expand his work and hangar space at MacArthur Airport by nearly 40% and add five or six craftspeople to his 25-person team to keep up with demand.

The volume of used jet sales across the world grew from 2,334 in 2019 to 2,534 in 2020, according to Global Jet Capital, a jet financing firm. The number of new jets delivered fell in 2020 because COVID-19 halted production.

But the private jet market as a whole is poised to rebound to pre-pandemic levels this year. Global Jet Capital forecasts that 3,308 private jets will sell for a total of $29.3 billion, up from the 3,128 transactions in 2019 that were collectively worth $28.2 billion.

The industry is faring well because many multimillionaire and billionaire Americans grew wealthier during the pandemic, according to Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute, a research and training firm focused on the high-end market.

He said the top 1% felt more comfortable spending because property values grew, the stock market rose and government aid was plentiful.

'The pandemic gives you a life or death reason to splurge ... Once you go private, you never want to go commercial.'

Milton Pedraza, CEO of Luxury Institute

Traditionally, people who have never or rarely flown private do not immediately buy a plane, but rather charter flights or purchase jet cards — a debit-card style travel program, said Doug Gollan, founder and editor of Private Jet Card Comparisons, which publishes consumer guide information. But amid the pandemic, the share of first-time buyers has grown dramatically, Gollan said. That means more opportunity for International Jet Interiors.

"It’s a strong market," Gollan said. "You buy a plane, and you want it refurbished? Stand in line."

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