Airbus finds growing market for its corporate widebodies

 - October 1, 2008, 7:07 AM

Airbus, to date, has sold more than 100 single-aisle airplanes in executive configuration, including its first double-deck A380 “Flying Palace” and, in the first deal of its kind in the Middle East (and the largest ever for Airbus corporate jetliners) six VIP-configured A350XWB Prestige aircraft based on the A350-900, the newest member of the manufacturer’s corporate jetliner family. Now, Airbus is turning to outside sources as it ramps up its completions capacity to meet current and future demand.

Airbus Corporate Jets’ growing relationship with Zurich, Switzerland-based Comlux Aviation and Bahrain-based MAZ Aviation is reflected in the recent appointment of Richard Gaona, former vice president of Airbus’s executive and VIP aircraft division, as president and CEO of Comlux, and the landmark sale to MAZ in May of the six VIP-configured A350XWB Prestige models.

Privately owned Comlux and MAZ have also partnered to take a 40 percent minority shareholding in the Airbus Corporate Jet Center (ACJC) in Toulouse, France, through Comlux Completions, whose CEO is Mohammed Al Zeer, founder and chairman of MAZ Aviation. He is also the former president of Saudi Arabia’s National Air Services, a partner in NetJets’ Middle East fractional ownership program. Airbus retains the majority share in ACJC.

Launched in July 2007 with an investment of more than ?7 million ($10.5 million) to modernize and expand its Toulouse VIP cabin facility, the ACJC retains, under a new management team, most of the former EADS Sogerma’s experienced cabin-outfitting personnel. The center has outfitted 11 Airbus aircraft so far, including a handful of widebodies, and in April delivered an A320 Prestige, its first VIP-configured jetliner, to an undisclosed private customer.

The refurbished Toulouse hangar will be able to accommodate three Airbus ACJs–two of them in docks–meeting initial plans to expand outfitting capacity to three single-aisle jets a year. In addition to the center, Airbus has tapped the resources of Associated Air Center of Dallas; Amsterdam, Netherlands-based Fokker Services; Gore Design Completions of San Antonio, Texas; Jet Aviation of Basel, Switzerland; and Hamburg, Germany-based Lufthansa Technik as approved ACJ family outfitters.
David Velupillai, Airbus marketing director for executive and private aviation, told NBAA Convention News that Airbus is also working closely with other companies with a view to expanding its completions network.

Airbus’s record 38 firm executive orders in 2007 comprise 31 ACJ-family aircraft and seven VIP widebodies including four Airbus A340s, two A330s and the first VIP A380 Prestige, the corporate version of the world’s biggest airliner. This compares to 20 ACJ-family aircraft and one VIP widebody booked in 2006. Velupillai said he would not be surprised if the record were “equalled or even beaten in 2008.” Around 25 to 30 percent of Airbus’ sales are in the Middle East.

Airbus sold the VIP A380 to Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Abdulaziz Al Saud, chairman of Kingdom Holding Co. of Saudi Arabia. Powered by four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, the airplane will have an NBAA IFR range of 8,200 nm. The 163.7-foot-long airplane has a main deck width of 21.6 feet and an upper deck width of 19.4 feet, providing 5,930 sq ft of floor space. Velupillai said this is “50 percent more than in the largest corporate jet previously available”–the Boeing 747-400, for which Kingdom Holding Co. is the only private owner. The A380, which sells for $325 million plus VIP completion, is earmarked for delivery in 2010 with completion expected in 2013.

Airbus declined to give the exact number of corporate aircraft it has sold to date, but confirmed it reached the 100 aircraft mark in September 2007, 10 years after the ACJ program launch. Sales this year so far include eight VIP A350XWB jets, the first of which is for the use by Tony Chan, chairman of Hong Kong-based C Jet, which has also ordered an ACJ. The second A350XWB, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB87 engines, ordered by an unidentified Asian customer also will be based in Hong Kong.
BAA Jet Management will manage both A350XWBs. MAZ’s order for six Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered A350s is the first contract of its type in the Middle East and the largest ever for Airbus corporate jetliners. The deal comprises one A350-800 and five -900s.

In addition to the A319-derived ACJ, which typically accommodates eight passengers up to 6,000 nm, and the VIP wide-bodies, the other Airbus corporate jets comprise the eight-passenger, 4,300 nm-range A320 Prestige and the A318 Elite. The Elite, which flies with Pratt & Whitney PW124 or CFM 56-539/P engines, made its first flight in October 2006 and sells for $55 million including completion by Lufthansa Technik.