New Bizliners

 - November 1, 2007, 10:28 AM

As the normal business jet evolves to fill ever smaller niches in the market, it’s no surprise to see more airliner-derived VIP jets offered to an ever wealthier clientele. Airbus happily announced it has reached the 100 mark in Airbus Corporate Jetliner sales and Boeing has tallied firm orders for 151 BBJs and VIP jets since launching the BBJ division 11 years ago. Some buyers just want the ultimate in airborne space
and amenities. Now with airplanes like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 selling in VIP versions, buyers can have not only loads of space but also range that allows flights almost anywhere in the world on a single tank of gas.

Airbus A318 Elite
Launched in November 2005, the corporate version of the Airbus A318 made its first public appearance at September’s NBAA Convention. The A318 Elite on display there belongs to Swiss charter operator Comlux, which began operating the airplane in May and had logged about 450 hours in charter service by the time of the convention. Comlux’s A318 Elite completion was done by Lufthansa Technik and includes four cabin zones and seats for up to 18 passengers. The zones are separated into
a lounge, dining area/workspace, private office/bedroom and entourage/crew area.

The A318 Elite is available with an 18- or a 14-passenger interior, both of which are standardized to speed the completion process. While early completions are taking a little longer, according to an Airbus spokesman, the goal is to move Elites through completion centers in four months.

Airbus has secured orders and commitments for more than 30 copies of the $45 million A318 Elite, including four more for Comlux and six for Petters Aviation. Petters is opening a North American corporate jet center in Minneapolis to serve Airbus Corporate Jetliner customers with sales and acquisitions, charter, management and maintenance. Other A318 Elite buyers include China’s BAA Jet Management and Jet Alliance Group of Vienna, Austria.

At the NBAA Convention, Airbus celebrated a milestone, sales of 100 fly-by-wire Airbus corporate jets worth $5.5 billion since the program was launched 10 years ago.

Airbus A380 Flying Palace
An unidentified buyer has committed to the newest Airbus VIP widebody, the corporate version of the massive A380, which Airbus is calling the “Flying Palace.” Airbus wouldn’t confirm the buyer’s location but, as AIN reported in July, New York designer Edese Doret Industrial Design developed a proposal for an A380 interior for a Middle East customer. The final cost could be as high as $450 million, with the completion accounting for a third of that amount.

With 5,930 sq ft of floor space on two decks–50 percent more than a Boeing 747-400–the A380 will provide an enormous amount of flexibility for the interior design. “Depending on the scope of work, the design, the extras and last but not least the level of elegance,” said Joachim von Holtzapfel, Lufthansa Technik director
of sales for VIP and executive jet services, “I would assume that an A380 interior completion aircraft downtime of 18 to 24 months is appropriate.” Holtzapfel qualified that estimate by explaining that the Flying Palace’s “level of elegance will be on the higher side, [so] it will have a tendency toward 24 months.” The completion center for the first Flying Palace hasn’t been identified, but Holtzapfel added that wherever the job is placed, “significant work will be done in engineering and back shops prior to the downtime [for the completion].”

The A380 Flying Palace will weigh 1,235,000 pounds at maximum takeoff weight and with a full load of fuel will be able to fly 8,200 nm, which is pretty much anywhere in the world. Airbus anticipates that customers will use the flexibility of all the available space to equip their Flying Palaces with features such as observation decks, lounges, meeting and dining rooms, bedrooms and separate staff seating areas.

Airbus delivered the first A380 to Singapore Airlines last month. Orders currently stand at more than 170 A380s.

Boeing BBJ3
Boeing’s 737 series continues to be a popular foundation for the Boeing Business Jet line, and the latest in the 737 platform is the BBJ3, announced at last year’s NBAA Convention. The BBJ3 is based on the Next-Generation 737-900ER (extended range). With 35 percent more cabin space than the original BBJ and 11 percent more than the BBJ2, the BBJ3 can be outfitted for a maximum range of 5,475 nm.

Boeing Business Jets started 11 years ago selling corporate versions of the 737 series, but four years ago, according to BBJ president Steven Hill, Boeing asked its BBJ division to offer all the company’s airplanes to corporate and VIP operators. So now the BBJ line includes not only the 737s but also the 777, 787-8 and -9 and 747-8. All are sold green for completion by third-party providers.

For owners and operators who need to fly anywhere in the world, the 787 VIP is available in two versions, the 787-8 and 787-9. The -8 offers 2,404 sq ft of cabin area and range of 9,250 nm. The larger 787-9’s cabin has 2,762 sq ft and even more range, 9,620 nm. “It’s going to be the end-all VIP airplane,” said Hill.

The larger Boeings are gaining traction in the corporate/VIP market, Hill said, because of the global rise in the number of billionaires. “We have a larger marketplace than ever before,” he said. So far, Boeing has sold 13 787 VIPs (11 to operators and two to leasing companies). The first 787 VIP is scheduled for delivery in January 2010, followed by two to three deliveries per year. “We’re sold out so far in the future, it’s hard to tell people to wait,” he said. The next open 787 VIP slot is available in the second half of 2016.

Hill estimates that 787 VIP completions will take about 12 months, but he
is concerned that available completion centers are currently overtaxed. There
are seven companies able to handle 787 VIP completions, but Hill said that three additional centers are interested in the widebody market. And Boeing is ready to help new completion centers with auditing and assistance to prepare them for widebody completions.

For the 787, the airplane’s 50-percent composite construction adds new dimensions in completions, according to Hill. Attachment methods for interior components differ from those used in a metal airplane, with special vibration-isolation components at the attachment points. There are also different “stay-out” zones in the 787 compared to airplanes that are more familiar to completion centers. In the 787, completion centers should be able to tap into the airplane’s Thales and Panasonic IFE backbone instead of adding a separate system for in-flight entertainment systems. Some of the interior lighting will also be common to both the airline and VIP versions, especially in high-density seating areas.

Embraer Lineage 1000
Embraer joined the market segment for large airliner-based business jets when it announced the Lineage 1000 in May 2006. Based on the Embraer E190, the Lineage 1000 will become the third business jet with fly-by-wire flight controls once it enters service in the middle of next year (the Airbus ACJ is first, followed by the Falcon 7X).

Larger than a Boeing BBJ or Airbus ACJ, the Lineage 1000 has an interior that will seat up to 19 people and offer five privacy zones, up to three lavatories and
a stand-up shower.

To speed the completion process, Embraer picked a third-party provider–DeCrane Aerospace–to manufacture the airplane’s standardized interior. Green Lineage 1000s will be flown to DeCrane’s Georgetown, Del. facility for completions, although the airplane will already have extra fuel tanks installed at the Embraer factory in Brazil.

The advantage of working with a company such as DeCrane to pre-engineer the standardized interior is that completions will take much less time, according to Luis Carlos Affonso, Embraer executive vice president for executive jets. The standard interiors are not all one design but offer customers the option of mixing and matching products to make the interior that they want. Customers will have thousands of options, Affonso explained, with “high-end finish and style.” And the completion should take about six months, a third to half the time of similar large VIP airplanes.

Although the Lineage 1000’s 4,200-nm range doesn’t allow nonstop flight anywhere in the world, customers are happy with that range and the airplane’s roomy five-zone interior. “For 99 percent of flights, 4,200 miles is enough,” said Affonso. That range, for example, easily handles flights from Dubai to London. “We believe there is a tremendous market potential for customers who need large volume and don’t always do long-range trips,” he said.