The sports teams market is small but unique segment of commercial aviation. Professional sports teams typically charter airliners configured in first-class seating to fly between events. Some teams even own their own aircraft.
Historically, the Brooklyn/ Los Angeles Dodgers were early adopters of aircraft, although they currently don’t operate their own aircraft. Over the years, they utilized a DC-3, DC-6, Lockheed Electra and a Boeing 720B. Today they charter from United, A few other sports teams, like the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings share a DC-9. The NBA has a contract to transport 27 of its 30 team with Delta Air Lines, who have first class seats and added legroom to accommodate the tall players in comfort.
Until recently, there has been no aircraft manufacturer specifically designing an aircraft for sports team use. Sukhoi, with its SportsJet, will utilize a variation of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 to cater specifically to that market.
Recognizing that travel impacts athletic performance, Sukhoi has designed specialized equipment for the aircraft to increase the flight quality, physique, and morale of athletes. The aircraft features four functional zones – a team zone, a recovery zone, a coaching zone, and an administrative area.
The team zone will be equipped with “smart” chairs that allow players to comfortably rest in a horizontal position, but also continuously monitor body conditions. With integrated biomedical sensors, statistics on dehydration, hypoxia, stress, heart rate, and other information is available throughout the flight. The seats will also have air straps, diagnostic devices that are worn during the flight. These straps monitor the athlete’s functional state and continuously display an air adaptation index, gathering data from the chairs and straps through wireless transmitters.
The recovery zone is the medical center for the aircraft. An AeroScan diagnostic capsule provides comprehensive information on each athlete’s conditions. This zone also features a training area for athletes on the flight as well as a unique system for physical therapy, including cryotherapy, myo-stimulation, press and lymphatic drainage, and massage. This zone can also transport injured athletes, and includes a area in which injured athletes can receive treatment on board.
The AeroScan capsule includes a bioimpedance sensor with cable and electrode plates, a display for physiological data, and ECG recorder, spriometer, hypoxic generator, blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, dynamometer, data reading and processing unit, and an optional ergometer.
The coaching zone will feature large video screens for reviewing game film and reviewing performance with team members. This area was designed to facilitate teaching activities.
An administrative zone will have seats and equipment for those traveling with the team, such as staff and media.
The interior design of the SportJet takes sports team flying to the next level, leveraging high technology in both diagnosis and training, and providing the ability for a team to gain a competitive advantage. Combined with an advanced software product designed specifically for the aircraft that collects and analyzes physiological data on each player, the SportJet takes sports team travel to a new level of sophistication.
Sukhoi is optimistic that an aircraft specifically designed for sports teams will be a market success. If their technology results in a team flying the aircraft with a competitive advantage, showing that they can help teams win, the program will be successful. This is a unique business jet niche for the Superjet 100 airliner, and is the first jet specifically designed for sports team travel. Watch for the KHL as a potential launch customer.