Lufthansa Technik (LHT; Booth G55) is celebrating the rollout this week at EBACE of its nice 4K Cabin Management System (CMS) ond Bombardier’s new Challenger 3500. It is also spotlighting completions and refurbishment milestones that include four redeliveries scheduled for this year, said Wieland Timm, LHT's head of sales, VIP and special mission aircraft services.
The nice (Network Integrated Cabin Equipment) system on the 3500—an updated version of the bestselling super-midsize Challenger 350 introduced in September and slated to enter service later this year—features advanced voice control. This fulfills the desire LHT sees among many business aircraft owners to bring the at-home experience to the sky.
But unlike home or office cloud-based voice-recognition systems, nice is self-contained and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven, requiring no internet connectivity. LHT is continuing to develop the library of commands the multilingual system can handle.
The Challenger 3500 also incorporates wireless chargers throughout the cabin, allowing passengers to charge portable devices by placing them on tables and other surfaces, eliminating the need for corded chargers.
For entertainment, the 3500 includes advanced display technologies. LHT is demonstrating at EBACE OLED displays, niceOS “customer-centric and cloud-based open software platform,” and other creations for the cabin. Company representatives are on hand to explain the lifecycle benefits that OEMs, operators, crews, and passengers can expect from these innovations.
Meanwhile, LHT has four green redeliveries scheduled for this year—two ACJ350s for the German government (a third has already entered service) and a pair of ACJ321neos for an unidentified owner. These aircraft reflect the strong demand the Hamburg-based VIP airliner specialist sees ahead for completions and refurbishments services.
Timm noted that sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have “no effect” on the VIP side of LHT’s business, though he said it could create indecision among customers planning an aircraft purchase.
The market for preowned VIP airliners is strong among current owners, and “newcomers are showing up as well,” said Timm, stoking demand for conversions, with “more customers who need a slot for converting the aircraft than are available.” The shortage has been exacerbated by the closure of some completion and refurbishment centers in the last few years, he added.
However, “a lot of customers are not interested in going through the whole design process" to have a cabin be a "unique piece of art,” according to Timm. “They are more interested in having a proven design, with only a few options and maybe choices of colors and material—prespecified instead of starting from a clean sheet of paper.”
Buyers today recognize that a custom cabin takes longer to create and is more difficult to modify once built than a more neutral cabin, he said. That is one of the conceptual underpinnings of the ACJ330 Explorer design LHT is also showcasing this week at EBACE.
The Explorer incorporates a projection system that can transform a cabin's appearance via software-driven imagery and could be adapted for single-aisle airliners, including the ACJ320neos and BBJ Max, said Timm, allowing operators to create instantly customizable cabins. “If people want to resell the aircraft, you only have to change the content of the projection system, and then you have a totally different cabin,” he said.
Looking ahead, Timm sees demand for the in-development BBJ777X, hastened by the end of production of 747-8i passenger variants. The 777X, which is slated to enter service in 2024, will offer more floor space than the double-decker 747. LHT has had preliminary discussions with four "customers around the world” that are interested in Boeing’s forthcoming bizliner flagship, he said.
At the light end of the market, LHT also sees demand for the Sky Retreat-style open cabin design that it introduced for the Airbus A220. Airbus subsequently partnered with Comlux Group to co-market the first 15 ACJTwoTwentys, which will be outfitted with preconfigured interior designs. LHT intends “to also get into this market, with totally different cabins” than the Airbus-Comlux team offers, said Timm, though the next availability of the airframe isn’t expected before 2024 or 2025.
LHT’s Innovation division is marking its 20th anniversary this year. The Nature’s Touch cabin concept introduced in 2019 for ACJ and BBJ narrowbodies incorporated many innovations developed in partnership with the division, including wireless recharging of personal devices now seen on the 3500, along with electro-chromatic windows, and roll-up LED screens. The teams “are working very closely to bring the newest and latest technology on the market” to LHT’s cabins, Timm added.
The partnership has been strengthened by Lufthansa Group’s corporate restructuring last year, which reduced its operating divisions from eight to five entities. At EBACE, LHT are introducing members of the Innovation team who’ve come aboard in the wake of the overhaul, said Wassef Ayadi, senior director of customer relations for OEM and special engineering services.
Attendees can also meet up with Andrew Muirhead and Michael von Puttkamer, heads of original equipment and special aircraft services, this week to learn about the bespoke cabin innovations possible aboard VIP and special-mission aircraft.
One innovation you likely won’t find on its VIP aircraft is LHT’s in-development AeroShark airframe coating, based on hydrodynamic drag-reducing properties in sharkskin. Though the potential 1 percent or greater savings in fuel that AeroShark may offer has commercial customers excited, the film dulls the appearance of the aircraft and most owners of VIP airliners “like to have a very glossy, shiny airframe,” Timm said.