The Gold-Plated Cabin

There aren’t many companies that can make an airliner fit for a king.

A Bombardier Challenger 850 executive jet gets a cabinet of fine wood veneer, made by Lufthansa Technik craftsmen. Finishes add tons to an airplane’s empty weight. (Courtesy Lufthansa Technik)
Air & Space Magazine

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How much does it all cost?

Lufthansa Technik offers a completion for the Airbus Corporate Jet or the Boeing Business Jet, with a cabin starting at six million euros ($8.5 million). A high-end completion can add $30 million to a hull that costs $60 million empty, according to director of marketing and sales Thomas Foth.

“Of course this depends on the materials,” explains AMAC’s Ruedi Kurz. “One customer wants mother of pearl inlay on all of the cabinets. Another wanted all of the carpets to be silk, and that’s another half-million right there.”

“Smaller business jets can be completed in the lower eight-figure range,” says Wolfgang Reinert, a spokesman for Lufthansa Technik. “The bigger an aircraft is and the more individual a customer’s wishes are, the more expensive it will be.” Wide-body hulls, such as the Airbus A340 or the Boeing 747, “can reach the nine-figure range.”

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.”

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