Airbus Promises Outfitters a 'Different Story' on ACJ350

 - September 11, 2019, 6:41 AM
The A350XWB on September 1 at the Ramenskoye aerodrome where MAKS'2019 was held. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Airbus Corporate Jets has established “an outfitters advisory board” to work more closely with five OEM-approved completion centers “to ensure total quality” while allowing the selected partners “to sell many fancy things” to their customers. “This is a good area to work in the coming years” especially in relation to the next-generation airplanes with airframes made of composite materials, ACJ president Benoit Defforge told journalists at the Russian Business Aviation Exhibition 2019, which opened on September 11 at Moscow-Vnukovo Airport.

The board began functioning three months ago in a wake of allegedly negative experience that completions outfitters have had with the Boeing 787. “They sold 14 aircraft, and only four are flying. Their outfitters are in the middle of the difficult situation they had not anticipated. We shall be a wiser team…with the ACJ350.”

Airbus has put together the EasyFit package developed to optimize installing a custom interior for the ACJ350. “It was a good solution, and it is working,” Defforge said.

“We have a very different approach," he explained. “It is not good enough to just sell a green aircraft. We consider that it is our responsibility to be with our customers all along, including creation of the cabin. It does mean we oblige our customer to go for a turnkey [process], with the airframer also providing the cabin. In fact, it is not about a turnkey solution, but customer care. We are working with the five outfitters to be sure that the way they are working with the customers is in line with the philosophy and the vision we have of quality.”

Historically, Airbus came to the market for VIP conversions of next-gen widebody jets later than Boeing. Having sold 80 ACJs based on the A300/310 and A330/340 platforms, the European manufacturer has found it difficult to introduce the newer models. The ACJ330neo went on offer in 2017 and still has no buyers. Although an A380 was sold to a Saudi prince, it never transformed, as originally planned, into a “Flying Palace.” While acknowledging that “the ACJ380 did not happen," Defforge maintains “the demand for very large business jets is still quite important in the oil-rich countries” despite a decline in the region's overall economy. The manufacturer continues to cultivate friendly relations with Middle East customers “since the wealth is still there.”

In the widebody sector, the focus is now firmly on the ACJ350, which is able to fly 22-hour legs. After a nearly-three-year marketing campaign, the ACJ350 won its first orders earlier this year: one went to a private customer and three to the German government. The latter urges Airbus to try harder in the CIS. Of 30 ACJs placed so far in the region, 10 serve local administrations.

Not waiting for first expected delivery of a green ACJ350 next year, Airbus demonstrated an A350XWB operational prototype at the close of the MAKS 2019 on September 1. The widebody offers 3,315 sq ft/ 308 sq m of floor space, which the manufacturer considers an important factor in its sales campaign.

“It is human nature to desire a bigger house, apartment, or aircraft," ACJ commercial vice president Chadi Saade explained. “Russians are big and tall; that’s why they want space. This is the mentality of the Russian customers and the rich people in the Middle East as well.” Touching on cabin customization, he added, “I would not say the Russians are different. It is more of a customer’s taste, rather than functionality.”

For Saade, it's important to view the needs of businessmen and career bureaucrats differently. From the standpoint of the interior, “airplanes intended for government officials make a completely different market, so they should meet other requirements.” Often, they come with economy-class seats at the back for the entourage, “while businessmen rarely order their aircraft with that kind of interior.”

Due to the poor Russian economy, “the market here is still difficult, so we can’t say every businessman wants to buy an ACJ.” And yet, Airbus tries to view the Russian market from a long-term perspective. “Commercial activities are still ongoing here. There must be a splash in orders, but I can’t tell when it is going to take place.”