LBAS hopes to benefit from Berlin airport privatization

 - January 11, 2008, 10:55 AM

Although plans to build Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport have been progressing more slowly than anticipated, Lufthansa Bombardier Aviation Services (LBAS) remains confident that the new facility will eventually be built on the grounds of the current Schönefeld Airport, giving the company a major boost in activities and a solid base for growth.

Established on Nov. 19, 1997, as a joint venture between Lufthansa Technik and Bombardier–which hold 51- and 49-percent interests, respectively–LBAS today is a maintenance facility and, partly, an FBO. It has been a success story even without Berlin-Brandenburg, yet it was founded at Schönefeld with the assumption that the future single Berlin airport would be constructed there, on the site previously occupied by the busiest airport of the now-defunct German Democratic Republic.

LBAS general manager Andreas Kaden said, “During ILA 2000 [held at Schönefeld], three years after the company was established, we greeted our 500th maintenance customer. Between ILA 2000 and ILA 2002 we had another 500. In 2002 we again had 500 maintenance work orders.” So the company’s workforce has increased accordingly, from 17 to more than 100 employees, and its facilities have expanded by 5,000 sq ft.

The maintenance division has 60 “direct employees”–inspectors, lead technicians and project supervisors. They work two shifts five days a week, from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. In addition to the full-time staff, LBAS has “about 10 people on call who are available for the night shift or on weekends,” Kaden said.

The reception desk is staffed between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., but the company offers 24-hour service; at night its main telephone number is switched to an answering machine with a voice-prompting system that can route urgent calls. There is also an AOG hotline for operators. An airplane operator can call and select whether he would like to talk to somebody who is responsible for parts supply or to a maintenance technician. “If a customer calls us at night and says in an excited voice that his aircraft will be in Berlin in one hour, it needs an immediate tire change and will be leaving two hours later, we’re in a position to send people, receive the aircraft, do the work and let it go,” Kaden noted.

LBAS is one of the seven service centers operated by Bombardier Business Aviation Services (BBAS), which is responsible for covering Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the CIS. Additionally, LBAS is the only maintenance operation in Europe with an unrestricted license for Learjets, Challengers and the Global Express. Some 270 Bombardier business jets are based in the region, and “we see a hundred of them more or less regularly,” Kaden said.

LBAS’ approvals cover all Bombardier business jet types, excluding the out-of-production Learjet 20 series, of which there are few in Europe. The Learjet 40 will be added to the list soon after its entry into service, as will the Challenger 300. “We are in the process of adding the Challenger 300 to our capability list, which means we will invest in spares, tools and the training of our employees,” Kaden explained. The newest Challenger is believed to be “perfectly suited for the European market in terms of both range and size.” Also destined to join the list will be the under-development Global 5000.

LBAS also offers FBO services that, while they are not yet available for transients, can be used by maintenance customers. The full range of services available include ground transportation, hotel accommodation and entertainment packages. Hangar space is also offered when available.

Maintenance customers have access to LBAS lounges where they can relax, watch TV or sleep. Customer representatives accompanying aircraft in for maintenance have use of an office in LBAS’ main building, complete with telephone and modem connection. Catering arrangements and flight-planning services are provided on request. The reception desk is currently staffed 12 hours a day, and the coverage is likely to increase in the future. “We plan to expand our handling services, probably with a partner,” Kaden added.

Schönefeld does not actually have a full-service FBO; instead it has a handful of handling agents specializing in “meet and greet” operations that typically offer arrangements for a car or a limousine to pick up passengers and crew.

In Germany the airports grant concessions to fuel companies to sell fuel. Two companies operate at Schönefeld, with one servicing commercial aviation and the other providing avgas and jet-A for general aviation aircraft. LBAS, as well as other would-be FBO service providers, could receive the airport’s exclusive license for general aviation fueling business, but this does not make sense in light of the low-volume of GA traffic at Schönefeld.

This could change in the future, Kaden said, with construction of Berlin-Brandenburg airport expected to start early next year, after Schönefeld’s privatization is completed. Currently 100-percent state owned (with the German government and the provincial governments of Berlin and Brandenburg acting as shareholders of Berlin Brandenburg Flughafen Holding), the airport is on its way to moving completely into the hands of private shareholders. This will be the first such case in German history.

The investment consortium Berlin-Brandenburg International Partners (BBIP), led by construction company Hochtief and infrastructure management company IVG, has been selected to construct the new airport and take over the existing Tegel, Tempelhof and Schönefeld airports in concession for 99 years. The sales agreement is worth o290 million ($290 million), and is supported by the BBIP promise to provide a total of o650 million of capital. Plans call for o1.7 billion investment for building the new airports.

LBAS hopes this deal will bring in more customers as all air traffic to Berlin will be directed to its home airport following the closing of Tegel and Tempelhof. “We expect a major boost in activity not only when the new airport opens but before that when Tempelhof is closed,” Kaden said. Today’s major destination for GA aircraft flying to Berlin, Tempelhof is to be closed well in advance of the new airport’s completion. Unlike this “downtown airport” located in the heart of Berlin, Schönefeld has poor road links with the city. This will change with the completion next year of a freeway linking the airport with the downtown business and government districts.

After the expected closing of Tempelhof next year, all GA traffic will be redirected to Schönefeld. Kaden believes operators will benefit from this: Schönefeld is one of the few fields in Germany that have unlimited operation hours for Stage 3 aircraft, as well as a dedicated maintenance facility for business jets.