Paris Air Show

Liebherr keeps on riding

 - December 12, 2006, 10:18 AM

Air systems specialist Liebherr Aerospace Toulouse (Hall 2B Stand I6) is betting on regional jet production growth. The company counts both established and emerging regional jet players among its customers for products ranging from engine bleed air to integrated air management systems. Nevertheless, Airbus remains one of Liebherr’s major customers and the company has taken part in a recent joint equipment support initiative.

“During the [Paris] show, we hope to sign the definitive contract with AVIC 1 for the ARJ 21, the Chinese 78- to 105-seat jet,” president Francis Niss told Aviation International News. The company announced a provisional agreement with the Chinese here at Le Bourget two years ago. Similarly, it might also sign a contract for the Sukhoi-led Russian Regional Jet (RRJ) program here as well. The company is also committed to the Ukrainian Antonov An-148 twinjet program.

The Liebherr president also mentioned that the company is in “advanced negotiations” for a new application in air systems, landing gear and flight controls for the recently launched Bombardier C-Series airliner. The latter two sets of equipment would be provided by German sister company Liebherr Aerospace Lindenberg. At the same time, it is holding discussions on the new Airbus A350, and Niss said a possible 737 replacement would be among the prospects for an integrated air management system.

Last year, Liebherr’s largest customer was Bombardier. The Toulouse-based subsidiary of the Liebherr group supplies integrated air management systems for the Canadian airframer’s CRJ700 and 900.

Niss also said galley chillers on airliners are a product family that is experiencing significant growth. Chillers–or galley cooling systems–are vapor-cycle systems consisting of compressors, fans, heat exchangers, valves and a controller. The Liebherr president explained that new food safety regulations call for lower temperatures (4 degrees Celsius, or 39 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 7 degrees Celsius, or 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit). For flights longer than four hours, it may be worthwhile or even necessary to replace the current carbonic ice with chillers to achieve these temperatures.

Liebherr has inked its first contract with United Arab Emirates-based carrier Etihad for its A330s. “Our chillers are approved by Airbus and will soon be by Boeing,” Niss said. However, he added that there have been few Boeing applications for Liebherr products so far, with only a few pressurization system components selected by the U.S. airframer, such as for the 777 auxiliary fuel tank.

Another growing sector is military aircraft pod cooling. “Sophisticated, dense electronic systems need cooling,” Niss explained. This is one of just a few military applications for Liebherr.

Niss expects Airbus will be his firm’s number one customer this year, thanks to an increase in production rates. To support the Airbus fleet, Liebherr has joined Diehl Avionik Systeme, Thales Avionics and Zodiac IN-Services in the creation of a joint-venture dubbed OEM Services. “We want to offer integrated services to airlines,” Niss explained.

The four equipment makers are sharing some resources to set up their customer support network. The OEM Services platform was primarily launched for the A380 jumbo, but will be applied to all Airbus transports. Aftermarket sales account for 40 percent of Liebherr’s revenues.

Despite a rosy commercial outlook, Liebherr faces a triple challenge, as many European equipment manufacturers do. “First, the weak dollar; second, the increasing cost of raw materials; and third, the never-ending demand from aircraft manufacturers for cost reduction,” Niss said. The company is addressing the problems by reducing procurement costs and improving internal productivity. One positive factor for overall cost reduction, however, is Airbus’s planned production increase, which will improve unit expenses for equipment.