President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has become the owner of a third Boeing jet.The interior design was completed by a Texan company, which works with the most discerning customers.
Only premium and exotic materials were used to decorate the cabin, and the en-suite lavatory is equipped with not only a shower but also a bidet.The office quarters showcase a custom-made six-zone massage seat.
Read this investigation by “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” to learn more.
Until recently it has been known that Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov used two aircraft a narrow-body Boeing 737 (EZ-A007) and a wide-body Boeing 777 (EZ-A777).
The President of the neutral country is a rare guest at international meetings and seldom travels outside Turkmenistan.
According to Turkmen wiki, whose editors keep a scrupulous track of all G.
Berdymukhammedov’s official trips abroad, during his 14 years in office the Turkmen President has traveled abroad 142 times, i.e.he takes an average of 10 international flights a year.
Additionally, the President occasionally travels to four of the country’s provinces by plane: to pay annual inspection visits, to go on vacation by the seaside in Balkan velayat or attend opening ceremonies for newly-built facilities.
For business trip around Akhal velayat he uses a car or a helicopter.Although it is impossible to сount all of these trips it would not be wrong to say there are also no more than ten such trips a year.
Thus, until recently two expensive aircraft have been used to operate 20 round trips a year to carry the head of state for presidential travel. Now there are three.
On 14 May, 2021 Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov paid a working visit to Balkan velayat.
Television footage covering the trip shows that the head of state arrived in the velayat in one of his jets (identified by white engines whereas passenger aircraft operated by Turkmenistan Airlines have green engines) with the tail number EZ-A700.
The Presidential airсraft fleet had previously included a Boeing 767 with this number, which was sold to President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko.We will talk about that later.
The use of the number seven in all tail registrations of Berdymukhammedov’s aircraft is no coincidence.This number is considered to be “symbolic for Turkmens” by the superstitious head of state.
For instance, number seven can be seen on the racing cars or horses which the President rides in races.
In 2017 seven Akhal teke horses were given to the President as a gift for the Turkmen Horse Day.
On 28 January 2018 the news outlet “Gundogar” reported that the Boeing Company was completing the manufacture of a Boeing 737 for the Turkmen President.
Having decided to check whether this is the very same aircraft and find out additional details, we searched for the aircraft data on plane spotting websites Jetphotos and Planespotters.
The websites did not have any single photo of the new jet, but it transpired that this is the third generation aircraft Next Generation 737-700 72K (WL) BBJ, where 2K stands for a customer number, WL means that the aircraft is equipped with winglets (wingtip devices) and BBJ is an abbreviation of Boeing Business Jet.
The manufacture of the aircraft was indeed completed on 22 February 2018 but it was only delivered to the customer a year and a half later on 23 September 2019.
This is because the Boeing Company only manufactured the aircraft, which was in Georgetown from February to May 2018 where the extra fuel tank was added.On 11 May the aircraft was moved to San Antonio in Texas, US for refurbishment and the interior design.
Thus, this is the third Presidential aircraft used by Gurbanguly Berdymukahmmedov.
The Boeing Company publishes the cost of its planes on its official website. The new Boeing costs approximately $89,1 million.
However, it should be taken into account that for VIP jets the cost of interior design and refurbishment can be very comparable with the price of an aircraft.
In its business jet section, Boeing lists all licensed companies which specialize in interior design and refurbishment.
Our attention was drawn to the first company in the list – Aeria Luxury Interiors, based in San Antonio. We thought that it might be a mere coincidence but we were curious to learn more about the company.
Aeria Luxury Interiors
It turned out that the company’s website is no longer operational.Its archived Internet copy is not interactive but an image of the luxurious interior of a private jet in the background was a bit reassuring: the company indeed specializes in what we are looking for.
According to Google search, Aeria Luxury Interiors is a company which is advertised in glossy in-flight magazines devoted to luxury the type which is found in economy class seat pockets, together with advertisements for Omega watch worth tens of thousands of dollars.
“Nothing in moderation, everything to the highest degree of excellence. Aeria Luxury Interiors will make every square foot of your aircraft into a one-of-a-kind sanctuary, replete with exquisite craftsmanship, premium material and uncompromising quality”, -the company’s advertisement says.
Wealthy businessmen using private jets tend to buy more affordable and smaller aircraft such as Embraer, Bombardier or Gulfstream.Orders for the full customization of a full-size aircraft are rare for such a company so it occurred to us that if Aeria did secure the contract, it is quite likely that some of its employees would brag about it.
We found the list of managers and company staff with links to their accounts in social networks in LinkedIn and Facebook on the website RocketReach the database for professionals in different areas.
Reviewing the profiles was a time-consuming exercise.Based on the messages full of drama it transpired that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent layoffs and downsizing, the company had curtailed its operations on 7 July 2020.
The first indirect proof that the company was engaged in refurbishment and interior design of the Turkmen aircraft was the reference by a former employee to an article on completion of a Boeing 737 as per orders of a VVIP (very very important person) – an undisclosed head-of-state customer.
The link is now inaccessible because the company’s website no longer exists but a copy of the text is available on an aviation website Business Jet Interiors.
According to the article published on 3 October, 2019, i.e.ten days after the delivery of the new Boeing to Turkmenistan, it is clear that the work was completed “months ahead of schedule”.
The jet, which can accommodate 26 passengers, has private quarters with a VIP bedroom and en-suite lavatory, including a bidet and shower.
“Aesthetically, the focus was on premium materials including exotic veneers, clean and crisp hues paired with chic accents, and gold-plated detailing, most notably on medallions placed throughout the cabin and intricate lattice detailing”, the report says.
The office quarters showcase large-scale furnishings including a custom handcrafted desk and a custom-made six-zone massage seat.
The cabin features the new Boeing Sky Interior. More information on this is available here.
The aircraft is equipped with a wi-fi network, enabling access to the internet and various video on-demand streaming. The aircraft also features HD monitors throughout, including a custom display in the galley and touchscreen CMS panels.
After reviewing more profiles we learned that Aeria took part in the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in Las Vegas in October 2019.
In the run-up to the event, the company prepared a press release detailing the refurbishment and interior design of the VVIP Completions, reiterating the information from the aforementioned article.
In other words, Aeria Luxury Interiors had indeed completed work on the new Boeing business jet owned by an undisclosed head-of-state customer.
At this stage it can assumed with confidence that the undisclosed head-of-state customer is Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov because the date of the aircraft completion coincides with its arrival in Turkmenistan.
Besides, this is prompted by the reference to golden-plated detailing and some medallions, most likely eight-pointed Oguzkhan star symbols used in the cabin interior design.The Turkmen television does not show the aircraft interior but the refurbishment of the helicopter he used to fly around the capital can often be seen.
The helicopter interior design is similar.
Anyway, we decided to confirm our findings. After many hours of cross referencing the profiles of the company employees in LinkedIn and Facebook, we managed to find evidence.
On 28 May, 2020 when Aeria was laying off staff, one of the former employees published a photo of his colleagues.
A Turkmenistan Airlines plane can be seen in the background.This post was also published in Facebook by a former manager who wrote: “What a great crew I will miss then, I hope to work with them down the road”.
In other words, the business jet which Aeria worked on does belong to Turkmenistan Airlines and, consequently, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.
After identifying the customer, we thought that it would be interesting to have a look at the interior design of Berdymukhammedov’s exquisite air sanctuary and the massage seat.
But how could we do it if even Turkmen television crews are not given access to the aircraft?
First, we found designers who worked for Aeria because we thought that they could use the concepts of their projects for the portfolio without referring to a customer. Regrettably, to no avail.
Then we continued to review the accounts of Aeria’s former staff in an attempt to find the leads. We were unable to find photos of the interior but we did find something interesting.
In an interview the former general manager Ron Soret said that they have a long history with the client and have completed several successful projects for them.
For this programme, the undisclosed customer elected for a traditional interior styled similarly to their existing fleet of VIP aircraft, but with a more up-to-date design.
In other words, all jets for the head of state have similar if not identical design and in order to have an idea of the interior design for all of them, it is sufficient to find one of them.
Soret also mentioned that the carpet for the cabin was custom-made and hand-woven to our customer’s explicit requirements and then imported to the USA for installation.
This fact allowed us to extend our search but neither spotters nor television crews in the countries the President visited had taken photos of his aircraft cabins.
After almost giving up, we started searching for images of the interior designs which look similar to the description and Aeria worked on to use as an illustration for this investigation when suddenly we spotted familiar outlines of a gold-plated map of Turkmenistan on the wall featuring a golden upholstered cabin.
The photo was used in the article with a self-explanatory title “15 Incredible Luxury Jet Interiors”.
It turned out that this was the work by an aviation photographer Nick Gleis.His website features a few other cabin images of the Turkmen President’s jet.
The photos without captions are in a shared photo folder along with images of other jets, but they can be easily recognized by exclusive hand-made carpets.
Nick Gleis is famous for taking photos of luxurious interiors of private jets.The Telegraph has even devoted an article to him, where the author criticizes the photographer for accepting assignments from African dictators.
However, he refuted the accusations in an interview to the news outlet Wired by stating that he simply takes photos of beautiful jets.
The photographer’s Instagram account also features a photo of the Turkmen jet. In the photo the author did not even retouch the symbol which is repeatedly used in the interior design of the cabin an eight-pointed Oguzkhan star.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Nick Gleis (@nickgleis)
The photo caption says that this is the office suite of a private Boeing 767. It appears that this is the former EZ-A700, which was sold in 2012 to Belarus President Lukashenko.
Price and feasibility
In 2020 a video featuring the interior design of Lukashenko’s Boeing was posted by a famous Belarus opposition Telegram channel Nexta. Judging by the footage, the new owner did not make any changes in the interior design except to the national symbols and photographs.
According to the caption of the video, the interior design cost more than the jet itself.The Boeing of the same model owned by the Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, who is said to have paid $300 million for the jet interior design, is given as an example.
This information was published in May 2019 by the British tabloid The Sun, which, with reference to the businessman, says that Abramovich has spent more than £200m (equivalent of $284 million) customizing the Boeing 767.
The aircraft, according to the Boeing website, costs $218 million.In other words, the refurbishment and the interior design can cost as much as the jet.
We were unable to find out how much the gold plating, exclusive materials and advanced equipment on board the new EZ-A700 cost to the Turkmen taxpayer. We even dared to contact the Texas internal revenue service with a request to release the Aera declaration but our request was declined.
It is unclear why Berdymukhammedov needed a new Boeing 737. “The old” EZ-A007 has been in the President aircraft fleet since 2008, i.e.it is only 13 years old.
Aircraft do not have a fixed “best before/expiry date” and their service life depends on its technical state as well as the conditions and frequency of use.However, even passenger airplanes operated daily remain in service for 25 to 30 years, and some earlier 737 Boeings have been in use for over 40 years.
Furthermore, the editor of the news outlet “Gundogar” wrote in his Facebook account that the order for the aircraft was placed in 2011, when the previous jet was only 3 years old.
Taking into account the small number of flights per year the upkeep of three Presidential jets is obvious extravagance and, if independent courts existed, this might have at least prompted an inspection by the public prosecutor’s office.
Before 2018 it was possible to keep track of the Presidential flights through Flightradar24.
Currently the routes of the Presidential jets are hidden.At that time EZ-A007 flew to Germany a few times a month despite the fact that Berdymukhammedov did not pay any official visits to Europe.
According to independent sources, the Presidential Boeing jets occasionally carried family members of the head of state as well as German doctors.Using public property for private use violates the law.
The website PriJet specializing in private aviation estimated total fixed costs for one BBJ at $730 thousand a year. With low flight hours, the hourly rate including all aircraft-related costs is estimated at $11,375.
The purchase of these jets does not appear to be a necessity and the spending of such huge amounts of money on excessive luxury during a severe crisis is considered extremely wasteful by Turkmen residents, to put it mildly.
At the same time, according to Gurbanguly Berdymukahmmedov himself, Turkmenistan Airlines are experiencing problems related to staff salary payments.
During the years of recession the social stratification of Turkmenistan’s society from very wealthy to the extremely impoverished has increased manifold. Regrettably, this happened due to the impoverishment of residents, who were far from being wealthy to begin with.
Because of the economic crisis the government is trying to save foreign currency, reduce the import of produce, limit opportunities for foreign currency exchange and money transfers to students and patients seeking treatment abroad. However, it appears that all these restrictions apply only to ordinary citizens. Heaven-dwellers continue to grow their wings.
Let’s light the torches, fill the glasses,
and drown our minds in jollity,
and, rousing feast and dance to frenzy,
let’s hail the Plague Queen’s sovereignty! (Pushkin)The post Berdymukhammedov’s third Boeing: gold-plated interior and exclusive massage seat.
An investigation by “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” first appeared on Chronicles of Turkmenistan.