EBACE Convention News

Completions backlog boosts business at Jet Aviation Basel

 - May 6, 2009, 8:35 AM

Jet Aviation Basel, one of Europe’s largest completion facilities, has to live with the long lead times unavoidable in its business, but they can be a blessing in recessionary times. The company has a several-year backlog for large airline-sized aircraft and a little less for purpose-built business jets, which should allow it to bridge a possible reduction in new orders.

The Swiss group, which is now a subsidiary of General Dynamics, employs a staff of some 2,200 in Basel engaged in maintenance (about 40 percent), large aircraft completion (40 percent) and completion of Dassault Falcon 900, 2000 and 7X jets. All three main sectors grew last year and existing backlogs demand a similar workload this year. The Basel facility workshops occupy 350,000 sq ft, including a 100,000-sq-ft hangar added last year.

The completions facility works close to capacity and has experienced no order cancellations so far, although customers seem a little more cautious about placing new orders, according to Eugen Hartl, vice president for completions and modifications. The unit’s main markets are the Middle East, Russia, Europe and the U.S., in that order. There has been a shift away from the American market, he said.

This market orientation fits well into new owner General Dynamics’ wider strategy of seeking growth outside its home U.S. market. About 50 percent of Jet Aviation Basel’s customers are governments, with the other half consisting of large corporations and wealthy individuals.

The completion of a widebody airliner takes well over a year today, while not long ago just one year was sufficient. “This is not because we are slower,” stressed Hartl, “but because customers want ever-more-sophisticated interiors for their aircraft, both in design refinement and electronic amenities.” In addition to sophisticated design, customers are increasingly requesting the latest in entertainment electronics, comfort and safety devices, all of which adds up to longer completion time and cost, he said.

In fact, Jet Aviation has streamlined the work process, as exemplified with the Dassault Falcon aircraft where, within the last two years, it has reduced completion time including painting from an average of six months to less than four. The company achieved this by rearranging the assembly line so that aircraft move to a new position for each step of completion, with intermediate stages in the paint shop. This allows all tooling and auxiliary equipment to be ready for each job. For example, in the Falcon completion hangar, aircraft stand in a crisscross formation rather than in a line to maximize the available space. They are repositioned during weekends so as not to disturb the workflow.

Jet Aviation (Booth No. 1163) works with customers’ personal interior designers, but also offers its own interior design department. The company recently appointed as head of the department Elisabeth Harvey, a graduate of the London School of Interior Design. Harvey, who has been with Jet Aviation since 2006, leads a team of 20 designers specializing in aircraft interior completion and refurbishment.  

Design work starts many months before the actual aircraft arrives in Basel. Recently, for example, Jet Aviation completed a full-scale interior mockup for evaluation by the customer before starting actual completion work.

Jet Aviation started outfitting airliners with VIP interiors in 1977, the first conversion being an ex-Cathay Pacific Convair 880. A number of other second-hand airliners, including five ex-Lufthansa Boeing 727-100s, followed it. After those pioneering days came an increasing demand for new VIP aircraft, such as the Boeing Business Jet and the Airbus

Corporate Jetliner. But while operators of large executive aircraft mostly want new models, numerous used airliners are on the market with many flight hours still on their airframes.

Since the start of its completion activity, Jet Aviation has completed 10 new widebody airliners and more than twice as many new single-aisle types. It also completed about 50 executive jets. In addition, the company has refurbished a considerable number of VIP interiors, but it lists these under maintenance because interior upgrades are usually carried out along with major maintenance work.

The newly expanded Basel facility has FAA/EASA maintenance approval, plus authorizations from 23 other national aviation authorities. It also is an authorized service center for Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Dassault, Gulfstream and Hawker aircraft.  

Jet Aviation also is involved in completion of latest generation of large airliners, including the Airbus A350 XWB and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for which the company has two and three orders, respectively. It has yet to sign a completions contract for an executive version of Airbus’ A380 airliner, but its new large hangar is ready for the giant airplane.