MEBAA Convention News

VIP Aircraft Cabins Blend Luxury, Technology

 - December 11, 2018, 10:00 AM
Comlux the Aviation Group

The world’s leading VIP airliner completion and services specialists—and some of the stunning cabins they’ve created—are at MEBAA 2018, showcasing the pinnacle of interior design craftsmanship and technology.

Comlux the Aviation Group (Chalet, Static DIsplay) is displaying at MEBAA 2018 two aircraft sporting Comlux engineered, designed, and installed interiors, illustrating what the Swiss company can do for cabin completion clients. But platform owners can benefit from the craftsmanship and capabilities displayed on the ACJ319 and Sukhoi SBJ throughout the lifecycle of their aircraft, said Tobias Laps, senior v-p, large VIP aircraft at Comlux. “Clients don’t have to have work outsourced; we can provide a full package of maintenance, modifications for the cabin, and of course Ka-band communication installations.”

Laps also noted Comlux operates and charters the ACJ on static, along with other VIP airliners, providing additional valuable experience for clients. “Our mechanics know how important reliability is,” he said. “We cannot afford for an aircraft in our fleet to come back because things were not done properly.”

Moreover, with its VIP airliner fleet, Comlux can provide a “loaner” to clients whose aircraft are down for maintenance or modifications. “We have interim lift capability, we have the aircraft [available] on a charter basis, however they would like to use it,” Laps said. “We won’t leave them stranded.”

Comlux is an Airbus ACJ Service Center; a Boeing BBJ Authorized Warranty Repair Facility and Service Center; a Bombardier Authorized Service Facility for Globals and Challengers; and a Sukhoi SBJ Service Center.

Three major maintenance projects are currently under way: 12-year checks on a pair of BBJs; and a six-year check and interior modifications on an ACJ319.

An aerospace engineer and pilot, Laps said Comlux can also help customers whose VIP airliners aren’t performing up to expectations, for example not reaching anticipated range. “If people are not as happy as they should be with their finished product, we absolutely have the experience to have remedial work done,” Laps said. “Our strong engineering capability will be instrumental in finding out what can be done or what needs to be done.”

Furthermore, Comlux has a sales and acquisition division “active in BBJ, ACJ and large cabin Bombardier transactions,” Laps said. The Comlux team is eager to meet at MEBAA 2018 with parties seeking completion or other services, or interested in buying or selling these model aircraft.

In the U.S., Comlux Completion, the company’s purpose-built VIP airliner finishing facility, is inducting this month the world’s first BBJ Max 8 and second ACJ320neo for interior completions.

“Our challenges remain the need for a quieter cabin and more amenities—humidification, cook tops, pedestal seats, electro-dimming windows, glass and more extravagant materials—all while wanting more range and quieter cabins with a downtime tolerance of no more than 10 months,” said Scott Meyer, CEO of Comlux’s Indianapolis, Indiana facility. “The clients have waited so long to get their aircraft that they are not tolerant of a long completion cycle.”

Meanwhile Comlux Completion delivered its final last-generation BBJ in October, and will deliver a VIP ACJ330—the company’s first widebody completion—early in the new year. Then next-gen narrowbody activity heats up, with two more BBJ Maxs and ACJ neos slated for induction in 2019.

Amac Aerospace (Chalet A8) lands at MEBAA 2018 on the heels of its tenth anniversary in November, but don’t look for any grandstanding at the show. “We’re very conservative,” said Kadri Muhiddin, group executive chairman and CEO of the Swiss company, when asked on the eve of MEBAA about any celebration in Dubai. “That would be boasting.” Amac did host a gathering for employees at its Basel headquarters, he said, and given a moment for reflection Muhiddin stated, “From a single narrowbody”—a head-of-state ACJ320, the company’s first contract and completion—“to where we are today. It’s a phenomenal achievement.”

Amac Aerospace
Amac Aerospace

Today Amac has four vast hangars at Basel Airport, a new widebody hangar in Bodrum, Turkey, significant expansion projects at both airports pending, and has performed some of the most celebrated VIP airliner completions of the last decade, on time and on budget. Yet the company is showcasing in Dubai simply a Pilatus PC-12 NG turboprop single; Amac is the manufacturer’s exclusive sales representative for the Middle East and Turkey.

Amac intended to display a UBS-owned ACJ319 sporting an Amac cabin completion but, “We’re in the final stages of trying to sell this aircraft,” Muhiddin said. “We have an LOI in process, so we won’t be able to bring it. It’s got only 69 [flight] hours. It’s still a brand-new interior.” The aircraft was returned to service after redelivery but never flown.

Airbus assisted in the transaction, Muhiddin said, preparing range maps and other documentation for the prospective buyer.

Completion activity has slowed industry wide in recent years, and Amac has amply increased its maintenance work to compensate. But Muhiddin sees a completions rebound coming. “Since the last MEBAA, it’s a completely different story,” he said. “We have signed two narrowbodies,”–a BBJ Max and ACJ neo completion–“one for induction in early 2019, and second in early 2020,” and the company is “in discussions concerning completions” for post-2020, including a Boeing 787 and Airbus ACJ350XWB, he said. The parties are “not in rush” to go to contract with deliveries so far in the future.

Asked about new technologies shaping the completions and refurbishment space, Muhiddin mentioned induction ovens and dishwashers. With the ovens, he noted, an owner “can bring his or her own chef onboard” to prepare gourmet meals. But behind the scenes these amenities pose significant engineering challenges, such as venting of exhaust fumes and water circulation issues. Another innovation: Amac is “working very closely now with a manufacturer of self-defense systems,” Muhiddin said, declining to name the company. “We installed this on privately owned and government-owned aircraft. Amac holds the STC for installation. You’ll see more and more of it being requested.”

Amac has also been active developing STCs for Ka-band high-speed broadband connectivity, and can offer the installations to a growing list of executive aircraft models.

Meanwhile, at its Basel headquarters facility approval from the airport authority for a fifth hangar is “almost a done deal,” Muhiddin said. The planned 5,000-sq-m (54,000-sq-ft) facility will be dedicated almost exclusively to work on Bombardiers, pursuant to Amac’s approval earlier this year as authorized service facility for warranty, maintenance and modification work on Globals and Challengers. Some 800 such Bombardier aircraft are based in Europe, according to Amac, and the company is “recruiting between 15 and 20 people a month to cope with the expansion,” said Muhiddin. Moreover, Amac is “in dialog to expand approval to the Middle East” for Bombardier support, providing more care options for platforms in the region.

In Bodrum, Turkey, where Amac has established a maintenance base for business and commercial aircraft, the company opened a new widebody hangar this year. “At the moment it’s full with C-check and A-check, wide- and narrowbodies, a combination of VIP and commercial airliners,” said Muhiddin, and already the site is constrained. “We are in dialog with the airport for two more widebody hangars.”

At the smaller airframe end of its work, as a Pilatus dealer Amac will take two PC-24 jets, the rugged twinjet that entered service this year. The first production run of 84 aircraft has been famously sold out since the day the order book opened in 2013. Amac elected to take SNs #83 and #84, providing time for the production process “to mature a year or two,” Muhiddin said. Amac is scheduled to take the PC-24s in Q1 and Q2 2020.

U.S.-based Citadel Completions (Chalet A16), launched this March, makes its aviation world debut at MEBAA 2018, displaying a VIP ACJ340-500 that showcases the company’s interior completions and refurbishment capabilities.

Citadel Completions
Citadel Completions

“What’s really nice about the 340 is the way it’s got some very expansive open areas—the main lounge has a number of different private and group seating arrangements—and what’s unique is the number of private rooms available: about seven sleeping areas,” said Joe Bonita, Citadel’s managing director. “The owner uses it for his long-range travel, and a lot of times brings his family along.”

The aircraft’s owner, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, liked the interior refurbishment so much he bought the facility when it became available, and is now offering its services under the Citadel name. The company debuted at the Monaco Yacht Show in September.

The ACJ340 on static, open by invitation, features a large conference/dining room that can be converted into sleeping quarters and a large first class seating area in the aft cabin. Citadel owns the STCs developed for the A340’s refurbishment, and Bonita noted Airbus is due to receive several A340s back from lease that will be available for VIP retrofits, and “if [buyers] like that floor plan, a completion could be done in same plan very quickly.”

Citadel is showcasing in Dubai renderings of the plan in a variety of color palettes.

The platform also has plenty of range (“I don’t’ know that there’s a longer range airplane out there beyond the [Airbus] 350 and [Boeing] 787s,”) and versatility (“Studies we did show there are very few airports this airplane can’t get into that BBJs or other executive airliners can get into”), Bonita said.

Citadel counts among its target customers wealthy private individuals, and governments and heads of state, and said Bonita, “In the Middle East region, we believe there are opportunities in both those populations.”

The company’s facilities at Chennault International Airport in Louisiana include two hangars totaling some 260,000 sq ft, one large enough to house a pair of 747s “nose to nose,” Bonita said. A 19,000-sq-ft administration building is also part of the campus.

In addition to the Airbus 340, the company can complete Boeing 737, 747, 767 and 777 airframes, and Airbus A330 and A340 widebodies. Citadel is pursuing authorizations as Airbus and Boeing approved completion facilities, but Bonita noted such approvals typically come with winning a completion contract for the respective models. With its engineering expertise, the company can also help potential buyers with the selection of their aircraft, to ensure it can support their refurbishments plans and operational goals, he said.

Citadel also provides maintenance support for these aircraft; Bermuda authorizations are in hand, and FAA certification as a Part 145 repair station is imminent. The company currently has about 56 employees and is expected to hire over 250 more skilled workers, and invest $17.6 million in capital improvements.

Citadel owner Adelson is founder and CEO of the publicly traded Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which has global gaming interests and a large flight department, but the two companies are unaffiliated.

Aloft AeroArchitects (Stand 591) arrives in Dubai after the recent delivery of a new BBJ2 to a private company in Asia and induction for refurbishment of a BBJ on which the U.S.-based company installed the current interior 12 years ago.

Aloft AeroArchitects
Aloft AeroArchitects

The just-delivered BBJ2 features an Edése Doret designed interior and the latest Astronics CMS and Honeywell Ka-Band technology, said John Eichten, Aloft’s senior v-p of sales and marketing. The interior refurbishment for the BBJ was designed by Warja Borges of Germany’s Unique Aircraft and will be installed in conjunction with the jet’s 12-year check and landing gear overhaul.

Aloft is also the exclusive provider of auxiliary fuel systems for BBJs, and has been working on system upgrades to accommodate the BBJ Max and their more efficient engines. The Max 8 system includes new, enhanced AFS tanks and LRUs, and have been engineered to maximize fuel capacity and speed ground fueling, according to Aloft.

GDC Technics (Stand 545) appears in Dubai at the end of a year that included winning two separate head-of-state completion contracts, consisting of four widebody aircraft in total. Neither the customers nor aircraft types have been disclosed. GDC has recently focused on R&D investments aimed at improving the operational capabilities of client aircraft, and the effort is providing measurable results, according to the U.S.-based company. Using in-house R&D, this year GDC completed a head-of-state interior 20 percent lighter than industry estimates. By year-end, GDC will have delivered three widebody head-of-state completions this year.

GDC Technics
GDC Technics

Pursuant to its completion work on the composite Boeing 787, last year GDC accomplished penetrations on multiple airframes for installations including Ka-band, Inmarsat, Satcom, and Live Television connectivity.

Haeco Private Jet Solutions (Stand 635), known for the Asian influenced narrow- and widebody interior designs, is showcasing its full range of completion, maintenance and refurbishment capabilities for the VIP airliner market. The China-based provider remains the only facility in Asia designated as both an Airbus Corporate Jets and Boeing Business Jets factory approved completion facility.

Haeco Private Jet Solutions
Haeco Private Jet Solutions

The UAE’s own Greenline Interiors (Stand 321) is world renowned for the palaces, grand residences, and yachts it creates, and now is stepping into the world of VIP airliner cabin design. Last year Greenline signed an MOU with France’s Finaero Group to develop such aircraft interiors, and is highlighting its airborne interiors concepts and capabilities in Dubai.