Lufthansa Technik’s VIP arm is displaying its Explorer widebody VIP cabin concept for the first time in the region at the Dubai Airshow.
“This concept is unique and has never been on display before, except for a Monaco Boat Show sneak preview,” Wieland Timm, head of sales for VIP and special mission aircraft services, told AIN. “Now that shows are back, the entire design will be on view at the Dubai Airshow. This business is picking up and I expect huge demand. The first concept customer could come from the Middle East.”
The Explorer cabin targets new customer groups for widebody aircraft VIP completions, to cater to cruise ship-type two-week worldwide trips for wealthy individuals. The aircraft enables customers to bridge intercontinental distances in only a matter of hours, and once the desired location is reached, acts as a sort of a “boutique hotel” and “base camp” for further explorations using a broad variety of equipment carried in the cargo hold. One of the unique concepts that Lufthansa Technik has proposed would be to convert the cargo door of a former freighter to a sun deck.
“Regarding the platforms for VIP or government aircraft, we are pretty much limited to the standard aircraft types generally offered by Airbus and Boeing today,” Timm said.
Lufthansa Technik's VIP business year-to-date in 2021 is about 5 percent higher than the same period in 2020, while in 2021, compared to 2019, the company's VIP activities saw an increase in business revenues of around about 12 percent.
“It  has been one of our best-ever years, one of the most successful in our history," he said. "Although Covid had an impact, we did not see a shortage of work. In the same way, 2019 and 2020 were also headline years for our VIP and special mission aircraft business.”
The VIP division is currently sold out for completions and maintenance, the company’s two major products besides repair, until February next year. “We have no more slots to offer,” Timm said. “We also have a heavy workload for modification and maintenance of aging aircraft, which need to be refurbished because they are intended to be in use for an additional five to 10 years.”
Lufthansa Technik divides its key product lines into two areas: airline MRO business and VIP or special missions, which entail outfitting or modifying airliners for customers that are not an airline. “For example, we have modified airliners for medevac missions, for a French customer who wanted a ‘Zero-G’ aircraft, or even special mission aircraft for air forces,” Timm said. “My team sees a huge variety of non-airline customers, and we do business around the world.”
Lufthansa Technik has been in business since the 1950s. At that time, it did not use that name but was simply the technical department to sister airline Lufthansa. In 1995, the two entities were separated, and that is how Lufthansa Technik began.
Given the special niche that the Middle East occupies among the global business aviation fraternity, Timm agrees that its customers are among the most demanding and discerning in the world. “In our experience, Middle East customers seek the highest-quality work,” he said. “They prefer European completion centers to U.S. or Asian centers. This is obvious.”
In other regions, demand is similar but cabin design is different. “The classical design for the Middle East customer involves a very wealthy feel, with gold or other accouterments thrown in. In other regions, customers often focus more on sportive or simplistic layouts, because they are more concerned with design features. Systems and other elements are frequently similar.”
Timm said that in the Middle East, in addition to the traditional head-of-state, government delegation, and high-net-worth individual (HNWI) aircraft, two other categories exist are prominent.
“One category is VIP charter,” he said. “The number of HWNIs who do not own their aircraft but charter their own trips is increasing. Such families often have only one aircraft, which not every family member can use. Due to limitations in the availability of such aircraft, they increasingly require assistance from charter operators. Demand, especially in the Middle East, is increasing. Charter operators available in the region are also increasing the number of their aircraft. This is one of the new customer segments.
“The second one, which is also very interesting—less so now, but I predict an increase in future—is HNWIs who need VIP aircraft offering private world tours. Due to time limitations, businessmen request holidays—and this is often the case in the Chinese market—to see more or less the whole world in two weeks, flying to special locations like the pyramids or the African jungle. Specialized aircraft are currently unavailable for this business, so they will have to be developed.”
Around 2007, an Airbus ACJ380 was rumored to have been sold to a Middle East-based customer, but Timm confirmed that the prospects for the type were negligible. “An A380ACJ, one of Airbus’s former test aircraft, was on the market for a few years a decade ago,” he said. “We had a concept for it, but it never came to fruition, either with us or other completion centers. This aircraft stayed with Airbus if I remember correctly. No A380 has ever been modified for VIP or governmental use.”