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Challenger 300: Sourcing And Customizing A Unique Aircraft

In the small but rarified world of private aviation, the customer-supplier relationship can sometimes feel more like a partnership, or a meeting of the minds. XOJET, which owns and operates the Bombardier Challenger 300 within its floating charter fleet of super mid-size private jets, has a feel and affinity for this universally admired aircraft that is not so different from the manufacturer’s.  

To understand more about the making of a Challenger 300, I spoke with Bombardier’s industrial design manager Timothy Fagan, a 17-year veteran of the company’s design-engineering group, and asked him just how the customization process for XOJET unfolds.


Watching a Bombardier Challenger 300 climb toward 41,000 feet and a cruising speed of 520 miles per hour, you’re likely to think of all the high-tech engineering that powers it in flight. But those aboard the jet are likely to be focused on its high-end interior finishes, made predominantly of leather and wood.

Sourced from European tanneries that serve high-end furniture manufacturers, the luxuriant leathers found on a Challenger 300 are customized for color, texture, grain pattern, and other subtle features. Upholstering the cabin walls as well as the seating, they help create a first impression that soothes and gratifies any boarding passenger. The best steer hides are used, matched with expensive dyes to create a warm look enhanced by deep and uniform colors.

Timothy Fagan is industrial design manager for Bombardier’s business aviation unit. The team is well-accustomed to meeting with XOJET representatives in the Bombardier design center, having customized leathers for all the Challenger 300s in XOJET’s fleet. Fagan’s understanding of the interface between human bodies and plane seats is unsurpassed.

“Superior leather upholstery, combined with the structure of the seat, provide different comfort levels for the various phases of flight,” Fagan explains. “You have to understand everything about leather’s qualities to achieve these different comfort goals, because there’s a different geometry at work when people are seated upright seat for takeoff versus when tilted back for work or lounging, or when their seat is adjusted flat for sleeping.”

Interior of a Bombardier Challenger 300 With Chairs and Couch and Flowers

For all the importance of leather, most customers begin their discussions with Bombardier’s design team by focusing on another component that has little to do with comfort and almost solely to do with looks: the wood craftsmen will use to further distinguish Challenger’s cabin.

“The visual signature of any jet interior is very much derived from the wood cabinetry and accent pieces,” says Fagan. “The wood can be dark, medium, light, or even blond, with a classic straight grain or something more visually unique.” Once a selection is made, the wood is thoroughly inspected; the wood in a Challenger’s interior comes from a single tree, to ensure visual consistency.

“XOJET likes to up the ante visually by including some carbon fiber accents,” Fagan says. “The result is a sophisticated interplay between the threads and fibers of the tech material and the grain and warmth of your wood selection—whether that’s maple or cherry or eucalyptus or some other type.”

In designing a jet interior with sublime aesthetics, the lighting system becomes ultra-important. It starts with so-called wash lighting to create ambient luminescence that avoids all glare. Above every seat and table there is specific task lighting, plus floor-level accent lights and “perimeter glow” in the evening. “The design and fixturing allow you to tailor the mood,” Fagan explains, “whether that’s a quiet dinner gathering of the company board, or a lengthy meeting where important decisions have to be reached.”

Glasses of Champagne and Ice Bucket on Interior of a Bombardier Challenger 300

Comfort in the name of productivity is the value that guides Bombardier’s designers and engineers. That goal extends into the hours or even days after a flight is over. Sound levels and acoustics are critical to human comfort in flight, thus the value of Quiet Cabin technology in this aircraft. According to Fagan, flyers in noisy, droning jets don’t realize how taxing it is on their nervous systems—and those who fly the Challenger 300 don’t realize that sound control is a key reason they feel so energized and at ease even after a long flight.

“From wing to engine to cabin, all major components of the Challenger 300 have sound-dampening and sound-absorbing features,” says Fagan. “For XOJET, we use special sidewall panels and additional sound-dampening layers behind certain fixtures—the result is exceptional quiet.”

Fine leathers, woodwork, and lighting are the human-touch facets of the aircraft; its capabilities also include unusual power and maneuverability. Takeoff and landing distance requirements are modest, which makes small airfields appropriate for the flyer’s itinerary. “That’s a bonus comfort factor you don’t see just by looking at the Challenger 300,” Fagan says. “The ability to fly Carlsbad to Easthampton instead of LAX to LaGuardia, thus saving a two-hour drive after landing—that’s a beautiful thing in its own right.”

By David Gould

David Gould is a writer, editor and consultant with expertise in travel and the transportation industry. He is the former executive editor of Travel + Leisure Golf and the author of several books on golf history and course architecture. He is a Boston native and lives in Massachusetts.