Hand-sewn with silk accents, the carpet features images of alligators, sea tu

Flying carpets

When you spend millions for an airplane, its carpet shouldn't look like the nondescript shag rug in your grandmother's living room.

A couple of decades ago, it might have. Back then, the carpets that adorned business jets were pretty similar to the ones homeowners installed. In those days, airplane carpet typically consisted of one ply of textured yarn and two plies of non-textured yarn; and the pile, or thickness, was often as long as five eighths of an inch. Pile was a measure of luxury, and the longer the better.

Some say this approach culminated in the so-called "shag" carpet, with pile so high it sometimes choked off air vents in the aircraft. And it had virtually no "memory," so that once it was crushed, it tended to remain in that position.

Today, everything is different. The most popular carpet fabric in business aviation these days is two-ply 100-percent wool. Its pile rarely exceeds three eighths of an inch and it has excellent "memory," so after it has been pressed down, it returns readily to its original state.

You can also buy silk carpet, but while silk has marvelous luster and shine, it crushes easily and has less memory than wool. It is also more difficult to maintain and considerably heavier. When customers insist on silk, most aircraft interior designers urge that it be blended with wool or used solely for design accents.

The average wool carpet for a business aircraft costs $400 to $500 a square yard, and if properly installed and maintained, lasts three to five years. Highly customized blends of silk and wool with unique designs and carvings-company logos, government seals and the like-may cost $1,200 per square yard or more. Carpeting a typical corporate Gulfstream will run $50,000 to $75,000, according to Penny Rickett of Glen Eden Wool Carpet in Calhoun, Ga.

Not all sheep are created equal and neither is their wool. Scottish wool differs considerably from Australian wool, and experts generally agree that the highest quality wool today comes from New Zealand. Even among wool from that country, quality varies, depending on the sheep's type, age and gender and even the time of year chosen for shearing.

Beyond design and color, say manufacturers, buyers should look primarily for carpet that will stand up to wear and clean up easily (see box). Still, some manufacturers work on the assumption that carpets will be replaced every five years-not necessarily because they'll be worn out but because, on average, business aircraft change hands that often and one of the first things a new owner typically does is refurbish the interior and install new carpet.

While most corporate aircraft owners opt for a top-of-the-line machine-made carpet, private owners tend to prefer unique designs, accents and hand-cut carvings as well as silk blends.

Glen Eden, for example, offers a collection of six animal patterns, including cheetah, leopard, antelope and zebra, as well as custom designs. For Michael Jackson's jet, the company produced a one-off carpet it dubbed "Jackson Purple."

Dallas-based Kalogridis International created an equally distinctive carpet for a Turkish Global Express owner. "It was a traditional design, a blend of wool and silk, primarily in blue and burgundy, and the silk made the carpet glimmer in a way you couldn't imagine," recalled president and CEO George Kalogridis.

His company is currently working on a carpet that Kalogridis described as "more like a tapestry for the floor." It replicates a rain forest as seen from the air.

Equally remarkable is a carpet created by Scott Group of Grand Rapids, Mich., for a Falcon 50 owner who wanted a Florida Everglades theme. Designed and hand-sewn of 100 percent wool with silk accents, the green-and-tan carpet features images of alligators, sea turtles, a fox, a heron and Everglades plants.

While something new often represents a welcome challenge to carpet makers, Kalogridis isn't fond of what appears to be a trend toward having fiber-optic lighting woven through the carpet. "It can be beautiful, but it has to be done carefully to avoid breaking the fibers," he said, "and because there are electrical plugs, the airframer has to plan for it differently than for normal carpet."

In the end, the choice of carpet depends on the buyer's preferences and the aircraft in which it will be installed. "It not only should represent the customer's taste or that of the company but should complement the overall cabin design," said Rich Ruggeri, president and co-owner of Scott Group.

Keeping It Clean

Botany Weaving Mill of Dublin, Ireland, includes a cleaning manual with its carpets but states that "the only reason for removing a carpet is to replace it, never for cleaning." Other manufacturers, though, recommend that for a thorough cleaning, a carpet should be removed.

In fact, many jet owners buy a second carpet to be installed while the first is being cleaned. (Other customers buy a second carpet to eventually replace the old, because purchasing both at once saves money. This is particularly true if the carpet is a highly customized, one-off design.)

For general cleaning, use a dry "host" agent (usually dust derived from corn husks) that will make it easier to vacuum dirt and debris, advised Penny Rickett of carpet maker Glen Eden.

Other carpet manufacturers disagree. Rich Ruggeri, president and co-owner of Scott Group, prefers a warm-water/shampoo extraction method "to thoroughly clean the fiber and restore it to its original state."

Experts warn against steam cleaning and emphasize the need to use an upright, beater-brush vacuum after every flight. As for stains, these should be cleaned as soon as practicable.

Red wine is particularly worrisome, but it's actually not so difficult to remove, said George Kalogridis of carpet maker Kalogridis International. As soon as possible after a spill, he advised, apply a clean, dry towel to soak up most of the liquid. Then apply club soda and soak that up with another clean, dry towel.

Kalogridis emphasized that any cleaning product must have a neutral pH balance, represented by the number 7. Most commercial cleaners have a pH balance of 8 or 9 and will strip out the wool's natural proteins, resulting in faded colors.