First showing in region for VIP Airbus ACJ
The Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ) on display here at the MEBA show is the first to be shown with a true VIP interior. The aircraft is operated by Swiss-based charter and management company Comlux Aviation. It makes full use of its ample interior dimensions, starting with a bedroom with ensuite bathroom at the front of the cabin, with a lounge and dining area in the center and 12 first-class seats in the rear section.
Airbus (Chalet No. 26) has now sold well over 100 executive/VIP versions of its single-aisle A320 family of airliners (including the A318 and A319). The Middle East has already accounted for some of these sales, as well as proving fertile territory for special versions of Airbus widebodies.
Last year, Prince Al-waleed bin Talal Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Co., ordered the first-ever VIP version of the massive A380 super-large airliner. In May, MAZ Aviation of Bahrain ordered six VIP-configured A350XWB Prestige models. MAZ (Chalet No. 19) and its partner Comlux have close ties to Airbus, having recently taken a combined 40-percent stake in the European manufacturer’s Airbus Corporate Jet Center (ACJC) completions facility in Toulouse, France, through their Comlux Completions subsidiary.
In fact, the Middle East now accounts for as much as 30 percent of all business at Airbus’ Executive and Private Aviation division. This has prompted the company to increase staffing levels in its Dubai office to be more responsive to its growing clientele in this part of the world.
Prince Al-waleed’s A380 will be powered by four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, allowing the aircraft a maximum range of 8,200 nm. The A380 is almost 164 feet long; its main deck measures 21.6 feet in width and its upper deck 19.4 feet, affording a staggering 5,930 sq ft of floor space. According to marketing director David Velupillai, the so-called Flying Palace will provide 50 percent more space than the largest existing executive jet, the Boeing 747-400. The base price for the A380 is around $325 million but the lavish VIP completion work will add significantly to this figure by the time the first VIP version is delivered in 2013.
Airbus offers a portfolio of executive and VIP models that can carry from 14 passengers to more than 100. With its supplementary fuel tanks, the A319-derived ACJ offers range of up to around 6,000 nm. The A320 Prestige can fly up to 4,300 nm and the smaller A318 Elite model up to 4,200 nm. The widebody A330, A340, A350 and A380 are all available as part of the Prestige product line. The ACJ offers the widest cabin in its class and also the greatest amount floor space.
In September, Airbus reported that it had logged a total of 23 corporate and VIP orders so far this year, including nine ACJs, five A318 Elites, eight A350 Prestiges and one A340 Prestige. Velupillai said the company is on track to beat its 2007 record sales of 38 firm orders.
Airbus has been working to boost the rate at which ACJs and Prestiges receive their VIP interiors partly through expansion and modernization of the ACJC facility in Toulouse. Work can also be done by the following factory-approved completions centers: Associated Air Center of Dallas, Texas; Amsterdam, Netherlands-based Fokker Services; Gore Design Completions of San Antonio, Texas; Jet Aviation of Basel, Switzerland; and Hamburg, Germany-based Lufthansa Technik. This capacity could be increased following Comlux’s recent announcement that it is taking over the Indianapolis Jet Center, which will now trade as Comlux Completion USA.
Among the other Middle Eastern clients for Airbus’ corporate and VIP aircraft are the Royal Air Force of Oman, with a pair of A320s, and Qatar Airways, which operates three ACJs and has committed to buying two more. The UAE’s Al Jaber group has two A318 Elites on order and one year ago signed a letter of interest in acquiring two A380s.