In December the Comlux group is set to begin the expansion of the completions hangar at the Indianapolis, Ind. headquarters of its Comlux America division. The investment, announced at last year’s NBAA show, represents a leap of faith on the part of a company that believes rising demand for VIP completions of larger Airbus and Boeing aircraft will offset the relatively sluggish narrowbody sector.
Comlux is adding approximately 40 feet to the front of a hangar that was opened in September 2012, at a time when the narrowbody completions market was seen as the main plank of the company’s business plan. The expansion, which is targeted for opening in June 2015, will also see the addition of a new tail door that will allow Comlux to receive all widebodies with the exception of the Airbus A380. The facility can currently accommodate five narrowbody aircraft simultaneously.
Arnaud Martin, the group’s new executive vice president for operations, is confident there will be a resurgence in demand for completions as a whole, and that the new focus on widebodies will soon prove to be rewarding. In a pre-show interview with AIN he also reported tangible signs of recovery in the aircraft charter sector, served by the group’s Europe-based Fly Comlux operation.
Earlier this year, Comlux America delivered an Airbus ACJ321, the first VVIP example of the European airframer’s largest narrowbody airliner, to an undisclosed client based in central Asia. More recently, in June, the company delivered to a Chinese customer a refurbished Boeing Business Jet (BBJ). These two deliveries represent the seventh and eighth green interior completions since Comlux America became an authorized service center for both Airbus and Boeing in 2010.
The ACJ321 was delivered on time despite having an extremely demanding deadline and, like all other Comlux completions to date, also met or bettered contractual commitments for weight and cabin noise levels. The refurbished BBJ featured extra-wide seats with electric controls that were developed by Italy’s Iacobucci, as well as a high-performance entertainment system. This aircraft allows for four different interior configurations with the lounges and office area being converted into bedrooms as required.
The latest deliveries have cleared space in the hangar for an ACJ320 green completion that Comlux was awarded back in February and which is due for delivery in August 2015. Also now in the works is another major cabin refurbishment for a BBJ and one for another ACJ320, which is due to leave Indianapolis by the end of December.
“Even in a relatively weak market [for aircraft completions] we are satisfied with the progress we are making,” said Martin. “The new widebody hangar will be a strong compliment for our narrowbody capability.”
According to Comlux America CEO Jim Soleo, the company takes an exceptionally personalized approach to completions and devotes significant engineering know-how and energy to meeting customers’ exacting needs by developing bespoke components. For instance, when the company receives a green aircraft it takes out the existing ducting for the environmental control system and replaces it with its own hardware. This alone can result in weight savings of between 800 and 1,000 pounds, as well as delivering a quieter air-conditioning system for the customer.
Service Heats Up
Maintenance activities on the service side of Comlux America’s operations are also getting busier. This is especially the case since the company added Airbus aircraft to a portfolio that already includes Boeing, Gulfstream and Bombardier (for which the facility is an authorized service facility).
Learjets and Challengers account for much of the work handled in the maintenance hangar and Comlux is looking to increase its activity with the larger Global models through the introduction of the 10-year 8C check (the first of which it intends to complete this month). It is also adding support for the Learjet 70/75 series to its capabilities.
Another growth area is supporting the new FANS 1/A+ datalink requirement for which Comlux has developed a new supplemental type certificate covering the Challenger 600s (including the 604 model). The first installation on a Challenger 601 owned by Worthington Industries has been completed and the required flight-testing is due to be finished by the end of October.
“Right now on the services side we are packed with work and that’s great to see,” said Soleo.
Martin, who joined Comlux (Booth 685) in July, told AIN that demand for charter flights also is picking up. The managed and charter fleet consists of three ACJ319s (one of which is in completion), an ACJ320, an ACJ 318, a Boeing 767, four Bombardier Globals, four Challengers, a Dassault Falcon 900LX, two Embraer Legacy 650s and a Hawker 900X.
The FlyComlux subsidiary now is headquartered in a new 24/7 operations center on the Mediterranean island of Malta. Crucially, this gives the Swiss-based group an operating base within the European Union, avoiding several regulatory complexities.
According to Martin, the Boeing 767 has proven to be an exceptional charter asset, with strong demand from governmental groups. “If we had three or four of these at times when world summits are being held, we could easily charter all of them,” he said. “Overall, the charter market has been improving since around May or June of this year and we hope this is a good sign. We are no longer having to reduce prices.”