The Gold-Plated Cabin
There aren’t many companies that can make an airliner fit for a king.
- By Roger A. Mola
- Air & Space magazine, March 2010
Courtesy Lufthansa Technik
(Page 4 of 6)
No figures have been confirmed for the completion of the so-called “Flying Palace,” a $320 million Airbus A380 with an interior designed by British firm DesignQ for Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. One aircraft interior design firm estimated that finishing the two-level, 6,000-square-foot interior will cost $150 million.
Such high-profile projects—Prince Al-Waleed made headlines by becoming the first individual to purchase the enormous Airbus—may be good for business, but AMAC’s Schramm says that word of mouth is the completions firm’s best marketing tool.
“The customers know each other, and they know each other’s pilots,” says Schramm. “They go to the Gulfstream operators’ conference and the other operator groups. They go to EBACE [a European trade show]. They know who is getting service at each of our competitors.”
“I have customers contacting me, I have never contacted or heard of them,” says Ruedi Kurz. “It’s a different kind of corporation than a typical U.S. one. In these regions, it’s more like a private family operation.”
Although all three companies at EuroAirport have a backlog, they compete vigorously for VIP customers. David Stewart, a partner with the forecasting company AeroStrategy Ltd, estimates that only five percent of worldwide maintenance, repair, and overhaul spending is for completing VIP aircraft. That means companies are chasing a piece of approximately $3.3 billion a year, and maybe another $1.5 billion for refurbishing and upgrades.
In a market where money appears to be no object, what makes a customer choose one company over another?
“We would not try to compete with others in this industry on price,” says Schramm. “We would go by our quality and by the guarantee of our on-time delivery. We have comments from our customers that they feel taken care of, like a concierge service in a good hotel. Especially people in the Middle East, they want to come during our Christmas or New Year holiday and you have to find a way to support them.”
Says Foth at Lufthansa Technik Switzerland: “We have an ambitious turnaround goal of four weeks for a VIP refurbishment. That’s 4,000 man-hours to remove all of the cabin, repair all of the components and re-install. There’s a dedicated team for each part. Even a base maintenance on a VIP cabin in this time is very ambitious. Generally [maintenance alone takes] six to eight weeks.”
How a company presents itself, says Lufthansa Technik’s Wolfgang Reinert, can also influence customers. When prospective clients visit the firms at EuroAirport, they see uniformed craftspeople at work. At Jet Aviation, the company uniform is an Old World-style French smock in navy blue. By contrast, the AMAC shop has a preppy J.Crew look: khaki shirts and gray trousers. At Lufthansa Technik, master craftsmen with special functions, like shift supervisor, wear white.
“You don’t want to brush against a soft hide in a dirty uniform, and dark colors hide that dirt,” says Lufthansa’s Goodison in a sly poke at the others.