Revue Thommen enters business aviation market

 - September 25, 2006, 1:10 PM

Revue Thommen, the Swiss instrument maker, last month opened a U.S. sales office in Addison, Texas, that company officials said will serve as the base of operations for a push into the business aviation market.

Following an employee buyout of the 152-year-old company last year, Revue Thommen senior executives decided to expand the company’s focus. In addition to its traditional role of supplying instruments for airline and military aircraft primarily to European customers, Revue Thommen’s mandate now includes business aircraft.

Because more than 70 percent of the world’s business jet fleet is based in the U.S., it only made sense to open a sales office in the U.S., far from the company’s factory in Waldenburg, Switzerland, a tiny mountain hamlet south of Basel where Revue Thommen employs about 100 people.

For the time being, the company’s U.S. operation will have just one employee, industry veteran Kenneth Paul, who has been named director of business development for the U.S. and Canada. Paul has years of experience in the avionics industry, most recently as vice president of sales and marketing for Meggitt/S-Tec. Revue Thommen’s new office in Addison is near the home of Instrument Tech, its authorized U.S. service center.

The Business Aviation Market

Although Revue Thommen has been involved in aviation for more than 60 years, virtually all of the company’s business until three years ago had been focused on areas other than business aviation. But as U.S. avionics manufacturers started exploring broader uses for computer processor technology and LCD flat-panel displays, a void in the electromechanical instrument market suddenly emerged, Paul said. Known best for its line of altimeters, vertical speed and airspeed indicators and air-data computers, Revue Thommen soon found itself fielding calls from business aircraft builders in search of quality backup electromechanical instruments.

Revue Thommen said Bombardier has chosen its standby altimeter for the RVSM kit approved in the Learjet 31/35/35A/36/36A/55 models. In addition, Sino Swearingen has selected the standby altimeter and airspeed indicator, as well as the cabin altimeter, for the recently certified SJ30-2. Corporate Aircraft–in partnership with AeroMech–has chosen the company’s electronic RVSM display for the Cessna Conquest II. Revue Thommen also partnered with AeroMech on other RVSM projects, and it supplies backup instruments in the Gulfstream G200.

One of the company’s first activities after coming to North America, however, will have nothing to do with business airplanes. That’s because Paul is focusing his attention right now on getting ready for the upcoming Heli-Expo helicopter show in Dallas.

Revue Thommen produces a line of night-vision-goggle compatible instruments, which are flying today in a variety of helicopters.

Paul will remain a one-man show in the U.S. for now, but he said the company will add support personnel at its North American office as demand dictates. In the meantime, Revue Thommen’s offices in Waldenburg are staying open later to field questions from current and potential U.S. customers. Paul added that the strategy for the U.S. market is to bring Revue Thommen’s current product line to North America to serve available niches, indicating a go-slow approach for the time being.

“Our products are sought after because they are all business-jet quality,” Paul noted, adding that this fact helps differentiate Revue Thommen instruments from the products offered by some other manufacturers that primarily serve the general aviation market.

“Our instruments are actually built in Switzerland by graduate watchmakers. All our electromechanical instruments are hand-built. One of the watchmakers goes to the crib and gets a complete kit out and he takes it back to his station, and five days later you’ve got an altimeter.”

It is a labor-intensive–and entirely Swiss–production process that Paul said will allow Revue Thommen to compete against the likes of Exton, Pa.-based Innovative Solutions & Support, a company that has a strong presence in business aviation and a similar product portfolio.

Paul said that while Revue Thommen instruments may not be regarded as the least expensive, the company is “cost-effective” compared to IS&S. “But certainly there is nothing about our products that is based on price as the primary selling point,” he said. “Quality is the primary selling point.”