Business aviation services group Comlux is expanding its aircraft completions activity to include widebody VIP aircraft like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A330. The strategic move was confirmed by the company’s board last month and comes at a time when its Indianapolis, Ind.-based Comlux America maintenance and interiors division is seeing a declining backlog of new green Boeing Business Jets and Airbus Corporate Jets.
Ten-year-old Comlux, which has just relocated its corporate headquarters to Malta (see below), has reorganized its U.S. operations under a single company structure encompassing both green completions activities and aircraft maintenance, overhaul and refurbishment services. The two U.S. operations now share a common sales team and single reporting line to the main group.
In September 2012, Comlux opened a 129,000-sq-ft hangar complex for narrowbody green completions work at Indianapolis International Airport. The board’s decision to expand into widebody completions is expected to trigger further investments.
Meanwhile, Comlux America has continued to expand its services division, having recently added Airbus and Boeing aircraft to its maintenance portfolio. It already has established a track record in supporting Bombardier’s Global, Challenger and Learjet families, as well as having capabilities to maintain Gulfstream jets.
Comlux America CEO David Edinger said he has separated the green completions work from the cabin interior refurbishment work because they require different approaches. “Most completions centers prefer green completions because each project is fresh and outlined on a clean piece of paper, making it easier to bid,” he told AIN. “Refurbishments are much harder to bid because a 12-year-old aircraft can need a lot doing to it, and you probably don’t have the STCs [supplemental type certificates] and you didn’t do the original work so you don’t have all the reports and data that you need. It’s better to let each division focus on its strengths.”
The company’s new completions hangar is already working to capacity but the throughput of BBJs and ACJs appears to be slowing. Edinger wants to see his team bidding for major new programs like the 747-8, and this expansion into more complex widebody projects likely will require a further $5 million investment in modifying the building and buying new equipment. He claimed that the Indianapolis facility is the only completions center in the world to have been designed specifically for this function, with a configuration intended to make for an efficient flow of materials to the various shops.
At the same time, the services division of Comlux America is seeing more ACJ and BBJ maintenance work as the existing fleets start clocking up more hours and require more support, including C checks. Edinger said that he has been attracting more of both types from around the world, with clients bringing their aircraft to the U.S. from as far afield as the Far East and the Middle East.
Within a couple of years he wants to see Comlux involved in maintenance partnerships in Asia, but he sees no case for locating completions activity there.
Move To Malta
In August, Comlux completed the relocation of its main holding company from Switzerland to Malta with the formal opening on September 5 of its new headquarters on the Mediterranean island. Malta, which unlike Switzerland is a member state of the European Union (EU), is also now the headquarters for the Fly Comlux charter/management division and most of the group’s fleet will now be registered in Malta and operating under the auspices of EASA.
The new Malta operation will include activities such as aircraft engineering, maintenance, training and flight dispatch. The company, which has a fleet of just over 20 aircraft, will keep its offices in Zurich, Switzerland, and the company’s senior management team will largely operate from there.
Comlux president and CEO Richard Gaona said Switzerland’s position outside the EU has resulted in excessive legal complications, relating to issues such as cabotage rights for flights within the EU. Fly Comlux will still have four aircraft registered in Kazakhstan and one in Aruba. It also has three other sales offices–in Bahrain, Hong Kong and Moscow–as well as its Comlux America engineering and maintenance division in Indianapolis.
Gaona indicated that tax considerations were not the main issues in Comlux’s decision to move “onshore” into the EU. The main goal was to be established within the EU for the purposes of air transport regulations and market access. It chose Malta from among the 27 EU member states because the small country’s regulators are not too busy dealing with airlines and so can be more attentive to the needs of private aircraft operators. Government officials are comfortable conducting business in the English language and the country’s legal system is considered user-friendly.
At least six or seven business aircraft operators have established air operators’ certificates in Malta, including VistaJet. ExecuJet Aviation has also been relocating aircraft operations personnel from Switzerland, in its case by boosting its presence in the UK.
“In general, private aviation is doing better than it was two or three years ago and there is more business, but we have to compete harder for everything,” commented Gaona. “We are doing quite well and we’re seeing [management] customers coming back to us.”
The increasing numbers of ACJs in charter and management fleets has resulted in stiffer competition for Fly Comlux, which started life as something of an ACJ specialist.