MRO Profile: Lufthansa Technik

 - September 19, 2006, 1:51 PM

Lufthansa Technik makes its home at the south end of Hamburg International Airport in a neat sprawl of voluminous blue and gray hangars, workshops, research centers and administrative buildings. The lights rarely go out altogether as one shift relieves another and the work goes on apace.

Lufthansa Technik has been around since the early 1950s, when the nation was still digging out of the rubble of war and the Allies had disbanded the old Lufthansa. A successor company was founded in 1953, and in succeeding years the foundation was built for a new Lufthansa.

Until 1995, Lufthansa Technik existed as Deutsche Lufthansa AG, a technical division of Lufthansa Group. Today, as Lufthansa Technik AG, it exists as an independent stock corporation. Today, it is not only certified as a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, it has become a major source of executive/VIP interior completion and refurbishment, as well as a manufacturer of aircraft parts. Its abilities are global in scope, and many of its subsidiaries serve business aviation.

In Tulsa, Okla., the Lufthansa flag flies over Bizjet International. The aircraft services shop is an authorized overhaul facility for the Rolls-Royce Spey and Tay, for General Electric’s CJ610 and CF700 series and Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15Ds, and it is a Honeywell-authorized service center for the TFE731.

The company also handles major interior refurbishment work on business jets as large as the Global Express and has a paint shop capable of accommodating Boeing Business Jets. In fact, Lufthansa Technik claims its 50,000-sq-ft shop in Tulsa has painted more BBJs than has its main paint facility in Hamburg.

Lufthansa Bombardier Aviation Services (LBAS) was formed in 1997 as a joint venture of Lufthansa Technik and Bombardier Aerospace, “exclusively dedicated to supporting Bombardier business aircraft.” Most recently, the two companies welcomed ExecuJet Aviation Group as a new partner, with ExecuJet acquiring a 20-percent equity stake in the maintenance facility. No less important, it expands the LBAS scope to include aircraft management.

Lufthansa Technik’s investment in research and development is clearly considerable. Some years ago, the company took research and development to a more practical realm with the creation of its Innovation Engineering, stocked with 40 of its best engineers, who were told simply, “Innovate.” And they have.

Among the first innovations was the networked integrated cabin equipment, or NICE. The system replaces the mix of in-flight entertainment systems with numerous separate networks to distribute entertainment and cabin control functions. NICE controls all cabin functions and distributes audio/video and data on one digital Ethernet network over a 1000BaseTX uplink and 13.6-gigabyte backbone. In other words, it’s more reliable and user-friendly.

Another new product offered by Lufthansa Technik is its Platinet global support network for all large executive jets. The program covers every operational, technical and logistical requirement 24/7, for both normal operations and extreme AOG situations.

Now, says Walter Heerdt, senior v-p of marketing and sales, Lufthansa Technik is taking its interior completion work in another direction.

In the past, the company has gained a reputation for doing highly customized executive interiors in aircraft from the size of an Airbus ACJ to a Boeing 747-400. More recent projects are a product of what Lufthansa Technik calls standardized pre-design.

It began when Airbus approached Lufthansa last October for support. “They were going to announce a new product based on the A318 and they wanted us to do the completions exclusively on their behalf.”

From there, things moved quickly. Price negotiations resulted in a $45 million price tag for a finished airplane, to be called the A318 Elite. A month later, Airbus announced the program at the NBAA Convention, and Zurich-based charter operator Comlux was revealed as the launch customer with a firm order for three aircraft and options for three more. Since then, National Air Service of Saudi Arabia has put in firm orders for five A318 Elites and an unidentified customer has placed firm orders for another five, with options for five more.

What makes the A318 Elite stand out is the interior. Rather than deliver a green airplane to the completion center for a customized interior, Airbus offers the Elite only as a finished aircraft in two cabin layouts–a 14-seat configuration or the Elite Plus 18-seat configuration.

Lufthansa Technik is already hard at work on a similar program with Bombardier under a contract for the completion of 17 Challenger 850s over the next three years. Bombardier is actually offering the airplane in an 850, 870 and 890 model. Lufthansa is finishing only the Challenger 850 in executive configuration, and five are already in various stages of completion.

Well aware that there is another OEM out there, Lufthansa has approached Boeing Business Jets with a “Leadership Select” cabin version to be marketed as a BBJ single-option with an interior price of about $10 million. It would likely include a number of options available on the A318 Elite and Challenger 850, such as a satellite communication and digital cabin control system based on Lufthansa Technik’s NICE equipment suite.

Heerdt told AIN he sees a broad market for standardized-cabin aircraft, among individuals, companies and governments, and in particular in emerging markets such as Russia and China, as well as charter operators for whom acquisition price is a major consideration.

“But we want to make it clear,” said Heerdt, eager to avoid ruffling the feathers of its OEM customers, “we are selling cabins, not airplanes.”

The crowded hangars at Lufthansa Technik–which now house a Boeing 747-400, an Airbus ACJ, a Boeing Business Jet and five Bombardier 850s–would seem to confirm Heerdt’s prediction of a rosy future. In November the company will start work on the first A318 Elite.

“In the past two years, we have been pleasantly surprised at the demand for VVIP aircraft,” said Heerdt. “And I think there are more surprises to come."