EBACE Convention News

New Zealand company enters completions field

 - May 6, 2009, 8:29 AM

Air New Zealand subsidiary Altitude Aerospace Interiors (Booth No. 1333) has crossed the globe to be here to meet both customers and suppliers as it builds up its share of a VIP conversion and refurbishment market that shows no sign of slackening.

Born out of ANZ Engineering Services Design Engineering, Altitude was incorporated formally only last October, but it has already serviced and refurbished several Boeing Business Jets and by 2012 could be embarking on its first completion of a green BBJ.

Altitude has a workforce of just over 50 and a hangar at Christchurch staffed by its own engineers plus technicians working under contract from the parent company.
VIP aircraft commercial manager Matthew Woollaston said the new venture was broken out of ANZES so it could function as a more nimble, commercially oriented organization.

The airline’s technical division is essentially a cost center to the ANZ group, he explained. “Their task is to reduce the maintenance cost on their fleet of aircraft, and for us to develop and prosper as a profit-based organization really didn’t fit within that model. The Air New Zealand technical division numbers around 2,000 people, so the ability for us to be nimble out in the marketplace has been enhanced with a headcount of 50 and our own management structure, which enables decisions to be made quickly.”

The first decision was to focus for the time being on the BBJ. “There’s clearly a shortfall in supply, so it was a sensible fit given our expertise on the 737 and Boeing airframes in general,” Woollaston told EBACE Convention News.

In the longer term, though, Altitude is looking to support the completions and VIP refurbishment market for all the aircraft types on which ANZES has an established capability. That means the Airbus A320 as well as most Boeing types–737 Classic and NG, 767, 777 and 747, with the 787 to come.

“There’s an inherent link with the maintenance, particularly for existing aircraft,” Woollaston commented. “You’ll very rarely see an aircraft drop in for only interior activity, there’s generally some kind of technical modification work or a maintenance package that needs to be done at the same time.”

One potentially challenging job scheduled for next year is what will be one of the first 10-year checks on a BBJ. “From a maintenance standpoint it’s not going to be that interesting at all,” Woollaston predicted. “BBJs are low-cycle, low-hour aircraft on a calendar-based maintenance program, so we don’t expect the aircraft to be anything like a ten-year-old commercial aircraft with far more cycles and hours. That’s what ANZES has built its skill base around, so there won’t be any surprises from a maintenance perspective.”

Integrating the VIP interior aspect of the check, though, may be a different matter. Customers are likely to use the inevitably long downtime to undertake some significant interior upgrades, and the necessary inspections will require the interiors to be stripped out. “The requirement to remove them in their entirety, then put them back again with instructions that are somewhat lacking and probably processes that have been refined over the ten years since the first ones rolled out, is going to be a key challenge,” he said.

Other new opportunities for Altitude range from smaller maintenance and refurbishment projects–similar to one carried out in the first two months of this year–to significant refurbishment of a head-of-state aircraft and discussions on a potential conversion of commercial 737NG aircraft to VIP configuration. “We feel we’ve got the spectrum covered and it’s exactly the type of stuff we wanted to target in advance of going into a green completion,” Woollaston said.

Altitude has seen no sign of any reduction in demand for new aircraft or green completions, with inquiries and discussions continuing at their pre-economic- downturn level. “I think the indications from the OEMs, too, are that they’ve yet to see a significant impact on the backlog of their VIP aircraft,” said Woollaston.

The company is already talking to potential clients about completions and major refurbishments. “We’re using EBACE as a place to meet those people and discuss further,” he said. “But at the same time we’re also in the process of refining our supply chain and locking down supply partners. So, it’s a double whammy. From a customer-facing perspective, it’s ideal for us and great timing, and likewise for understanding new products on the market and developing relationships with suppliers. We’re really looking forward to that.”