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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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.

Managers repeatedly emphasize that their company’s competitive edge is the quality of work, and quality depends on the skills of the engineers and craftsmen. Anja Reichardt, Lufthansa Technik manager of personnel marketing and recruiting, says that if her company can’t recruit enough workers for the demand from the aviation industry, it will hire workers from similar professions like yacht construction and completing. What she looks for in a worker is accuracy as well as creativity and a sense of responsibility.

In addition, the company is trying to recruit the best workers through cooperative exhibitions and activities with schools and universities and through media campaigns targeting a range of ages: Some seek to interest seven-year-olds in the basic concept of flight; others try to lure older students to start an engineer­ing career with the company.

“We’re trying to make aviation sexy,” says Reichardt. “We put a lot of effort in the branding.”

Lufthansa Technik, for example, is assisting with the restoration of a 1950s-era Lockheed L-1649A Super Star. The aircraft is important to the company because in 1958, it became the first airliner operated by Lufthansa capable of crossing the Atlantic without refueling.

In Europe, the aviation industry competes for engineers and craftsmen with the automotive industry. In surveys in which engineering students have stated preferences for places where they’d like to work, Lufthansa Technik is in the top 10 choices, but still falls behind the German automobile companies BMW and Porsche.
AMAC executive Heinz Köhli picked up skilled workers from automaker Peugeot, which last year cut thousands of jobs from its plants. Cutbacks at air force bases in both France and Germany also sent a stream of talent, he says.

“Everyone is stealing engineers from everyone else,” says Bernhard Conrad, Lufthansa Technik’s chief technology officer. The main challenge for the aviation industry, he says, is that “aviation begins with a fence around it, while you can go with your dad to the car dealer and see the oil being changed.”

After the Berlin Wall came down and the Eastern bloc’s aviation industry fell idle, Lufthansa Technik took over the Berlin-based, 500-worker maintenance facility of the former East German airline, Interflug. Conrad was impressed by how quickly the workers became adept at repairing Western aircraft. “The massive insufficiency of spare parts in Eastern Europe,” he says, developed in the workers “excellent repair expertise and great flexibility.”

Ingenuity may be the most important qualification for workers in the luxury completions industry today. That 300-pound bronze racehorse? Lufthansa Technik engineers found a way to install it in the private jet and still meet all the safety requirements.

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