For A318, standard cabins mean faster completions

EBACE Convention News » 2006
November 29, 2006, 9:51 AM

Airbus has found a ready market for its latest corporate jet, and exclusive cabin outfitter Lufthansa Technik (Booth No. 744) is happily reaping the benefit of what appears to be a particularly promising new market niche for fast-turnaround completions using standardized components and cabin layouts.

Walter Heerdt, senior vice president of marketing and sales with the Hamburg-based MRO company, told EBACE Convention News that it was only last October when Airbus approached LHT for its support on the project. “We had a call from Airbus saying they were going to announce a new product based on the A318 and they wanted us to do the completions exclusively on their behalf. Then everything moved very fast,” he said.

Price negotiations were completed quickly, resulting in a list price for the finished aircraft of $45 million, then it was off to the U.S. National Business Aviation Association convention in November for the launch–and, it turned out, the first of an impressive 13 firm orders backed by options for as many more.

Zurich-based charter operator Comlux set the ball rolling at the event in Orlando, Florida, with a three-firm, three-option order. Ten days later at the Dubai airshow Saudi Arabia’s National Air Services weighed in with an order for five more with five options on top. And in December an “undisclosed multinational corporation” signed for a further five plus five.

The flurry of orders so far is unlikely to be the end of the story, according to Heerdt. “There are more promising projects in the pipeline, and I’m very confident sales numbers will be good,” he said.

At Airbus’ facility in Hamburg in March the airframer and LHT formally signed the contract for completion of initial A318s, and Airbus and Comlux concluded their contract for the first three. Comlux has also ordered a 19-seat A319-based Airbus Corporate Jet, due for delivery in June.

Heerdt said LHT and Comlux have agreed on the final appearance of the aircraft, and what they have defined will probably end up being the standard version. “It’s a very attractive project for us because we can offer very attractive prices,” he commented. “Obviously we were on target. We knew it would be very successful, but we were surprised by how quickly it succeeded.”

The Elite program breaks with traditional corporate jet practice, which typically involves owners acquiring a new or used airframe then contracting with a completion center for a custom cabin. It is offered only as a finished aircraft and in two cabin layouts providing either 14 or, in Elite Plus configuration, 18 seats.

Comlux CEO Ettore Rodaro said the airplane’s advantages compared with smaller business jets were the availability of “several different zones in the cabin providing unmatched privacy for work and relaxation for even the most diverse groups and delegations, together with many seats that can be converted into flat beds for overnight flights.” The result is “a better, more affordable way to fly,” he said, “and we will be able to offer a much more attractive product on business and VIP charters.”

Standardized Components for Leadership Select Cabins

Heerdt foresees a growing market for standardized products. LHT already has a contract from Bombardier for the completion of 17 Challenger 850s over the next three years, and has come up with its own Leadership Select design for the Boeing Business Jet. “We realized that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, that it makes sense to have standardized components,” he said. “So we came up with the project and offered it to Boeing.” Other manufacturers might be interested in a similar product, he suggested.

The Leadership Select cabin, marketed by Boeing as one option for the BBJ, carries a price tag of approximately $10 million and includes some features as standard that would be optional extras on the A318 or Challenger 850, such as satellite communications and a digital cabin control system based on Lufthansa Technik’s Nice equipment suite.

Heerdt sees a broad market for standardized airplanes among individuals, companies and governments, particularly in emerging markets such as Russia and China, as well as among charter operators such as NAS and Comlux.

One of their advantages is rapidity of completion, he said. “When people buy an airplane they want it fast, and we can do it a lot quicker with a standardized cabin. The first A318 Elite will arrive toward the end of this year and we will complete it in four months. You can’t do that with individualized aircraft. Even with preparation in advance it takes seven to twelve months for a narrowbody,” he said.

The upshot is that LHT is gearing up to run two production lines, with Challenger work already well under way and the first Elite due in November, while continuing a healthy throughput of individualized airplanes. It recently delivered a VIP Boeing 747-400 and currently has an ACJ, a BBJ and a Boeing 747-400 in the hangar, with major modifications scheduled later this year, including a replacement cabin on a 747-300 and another for an MD-11. There is VIP aircraft maintenance and cabin refurbishment as well, and the acquisition process is already under way for projects over the next two years.

“We have a large number of acquisition programs for government, military special mission, company, individual and head-of-state aircraft,” Heerdt said. “So we expect the level of business we are seeing this year to be maintained in the coming years.”

Also on the horizon are new products such as the A330 as well as airplanes not yet in operation, namely the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 and A380.

Latest A380 Design on Display

LHT has made no secret of its A380 ambitions, and here at the EBACE show it is unveiling a refined version of the A380 model that made its debut at last year’s event, now with both decks in a VVIP configuration. The model is just one idea, Heerdt stressed. “We have several others, and in any case we can only make proposals as customers will have their own ideas,” he said.

Discussions continue with potential customers who would like an A380 if they could get one. “Airbus is keen on getting the airplane into commercial operation first, but we believe once that is done there will be slots available. Then in the medium term we will see A380 completions,” Heerdt said.

On the airline side of the house, Lufthansa Technik is gearing up to support both Lufthansa and other operators’ A380s, with a line maintenance hangar under construction at Frankfurt, a joint venture with Air France called Spairliners to provide component support and another with Rolls-Royce to support its Trent 900 engines.

The company has modified its completions hangar to accommodate the A380 so “there will be no problem from the completion side,” Heerdt added. “And it won’t take twice as long as an A340. It is effectively two airplanes, one atop the other, so as long as you have the manpower you can work on both at the same time.”

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