As long as manufacturers keep selling business jets, buyers will continue filling the cabins with the posh, the luxurious and, occasionally, the downright outlandish. The consensus among those with a front-row view of the completion and refurbishment industry these days is that the money is coming in faster than they can help everyone spend it. But is all this activity trickling down to the independent completion and refurbishment centers?
Kathy Gore, executive vice president and partner with husband Jerry at Gore Design Completions in San Antonio, said the hangar will be full well into next year. A Boeing 767 currently being completed is due out this month and a BBJ is to roll out next month. But these wide-open spaces won’t be empty long. Two BBJs are already waiting and another BBJ is expected early next month, to be followed by another 767.
“We consider ourselves full,” she said. The company doesn’t expect the next slot to open up before the middle of next year. Meanwhile, Gore is looking forward to getting an appointment from Airbus as an officially approved shop to work on the ACJ family. Association Air Center in Dallas is currently the only Airbus-approved independent center in the U.S.
Shops Mostly Full
Randy Keeker, president of Indianapolis Jet Center at Indianapolis International Airport, said his interiors shop has been “putting in 50-hour weeks since Christmas [and] we’ve been swamped for the better part of the year.”
“Swamped,” according to Keeker, means one hangar full of Challengers with two more of them waiting on the ramp outside, and another hangar holding seven Learjets with room for only one more. Fortunately, there is another hangar available, he noted, because a 737 was to arrive early this month, followed in a matter of weeks by a Canadair Regional Jet to be converted to corporate use.
Keeker could only chuckle when told that Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga sent his BBJ to Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg, Germany, for paint because he
couldn’t find a slot at any of the U.S. shops.
Aware of the shortage in the U.S. of exterior paint shops that can accommodate large bizliners, Keeker noted that his company is already presenting plans to the airport authority at Indianapolis International and arranging financing to build a paint shop large enough for a 737, “one strip-and-prep bay and one paint bay.” Keeker said he hopes to have it up and running in 18 months.
Things are apparently busy north of the border as well. Flying Colours in Peterborough, Ontario, is booked into February, said Sean Gillespie, director of sales and marketing. “Things are really picking up, especially with larger jets. We’re seeing more Falcon 50s, Falcon 900s and Challengers and we have four Falcon 50s scheduled to come in over the next four months for complete interior refurb and exterior paint.”
Gillespie said, in the past, about 70 percent of Flying Colours’ business came from U.S. customers, but that seems to be changing, especially in the jet market. The company recently delivered two refurbished Challengers to Canadian customers. “We’re planning to expand,” he added, but declined to offer details.
Labor Shortage Looms
The only down side to this booming completion and refurbishment market appears to be in a growing shortage of experienced labor–everything from engineers to upholsterers. “We find them and we do our best to keep them,” said Gillespie, who added that he recently began working with local colleges to set up training programs that would lead directly to jobs in the aircraft completion and refurbishment industry.
Gore Design Completions has about 130 full-time employees and a smaller number of contract workers. “We’re hiring,” said Kathy Gore, “in just about every department.”
In Brazil, where Embraer is ramping up to begin building two new members of its business aircraft family, the Phenom 100 and 300, the company has established a two-year training program for experienced engineers with guaranteed jobs with Embraer upon graduation. Embraer’s only current-production business jet is the Legacy 600. Deliveries of that airplane jumped from 13 in 2004 to 20 last year and are expected to reach 25 this year and 30 next year.
With an eye to this growth in Legacy production, and the arrival of the Phenom 100 in 2008 and Phenom 300 in 2010, Nordam Group of Tulsa, Okla., announced this summer the planned construction of an interiors shop in São José dos Campos, not far from the Embraer assembly plant. The move is a joint venture with Rio de Janeiro-based Jet Star Aeronautic Interiors. At this point, Nordam and Duncan Aviation of Lincoln, Neb., have been building Legacy interiors and shipping the kits to Brazil for installation by Embraer.
According to Embraer Executive Jets executive v-p Luis Carlos Affonso, the long-term strategy of the company is to move its completion installation activity to Gavião Peixoto, where it will be expanded to handle cabin interior work on the Phenoms as well as the Lineage 1000 executive/VIP version of its E190 jetliner.
In Europe, activity at independent completion centers appears to confirm a revival of demand for the big bizliners.
In Switzerland, Jet Aviation has a contract from an unidentified Middle Eastern customer to outfit an Airbus A330-200. The big twin-jet is due to arrive at the center in Basel in January and will require about 15 months for completion.
At Lufthansa, the hangars are packed with heavy iron–Challenger 850s being done for Bombardier, a 747 in the final stages of completion, and an Airbus A340, a Boeing 777 and an MD-11 in for major interior refurbishment.
Everywhere there are signs of a thriving completion and refurbishment industry–a new paint hangar at Duncan Aviation; a deal by Reheat International of the UK for the distribution and maintenance of International Water-Guard cabin water treatment products in Europe; new full-color passenger interface technology from Audio International; and a move by Italian helicopter VIP interiors specialist SEI into the very light jet market, and the planned opening of a U.S. shop for VIP helicopter interiors.
According to numerous completion and refurbishment shops, things are only getting better. “Better and better,” said Keeker. “It’s a real challenge to keep up, but it’s sure better than the alternative.”