Comlux opens narrowbody completion center, eyes widebody expansion

Indianapolis
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Comlux has opened a new completion hangar at Indianapolis International airport for VIP narrowbody aircraft built by Airbus and Boeing, but is already eyeing expansion into a growing market for widebody completions. The 12,000m2 (129,000ft2) hangar opens four years after Comlux America acquired the Indianapolis Jet Center, a completions and service center for Bombardier Challenger-series business jets. The acquisition launched Comlux into the completions market, but the hangars were too small and too old to accommodate narrowbody aircraft projects.

"I remember when we came in for the first time," says Richard Gaona, chairman and president of Comlux. "Frankly speaking, I was not expecting that four years later we would have so nice a facility."

Completion positions in the new hangar are already sold out until the end of 2013, with some orders in the backlog for 2014, says David Edinger, chief executive and president of Comlux America. At the same time, the company is thinking of making the next move into the widebody completions sector for Boeing 747s and 787s and Airbus A340s, among other types.

"The widebody aircraft - maybe that's the future for Comlux and the next step," Edinger says. However, Comlux wants to focus on the narrowbody sector before taking on the challenge of scaling up operations dramatically.

"I don't want to make the mistake that other companies are currently making and take on too much," Edinger says. "I want to go slow. We started with one [narrowbody] airplane, and now we have two."

Another consideration in making the step from narrowbody to widebody is the availability of labour, a precious commodity in a booming market for aircraft completions, Edinger says.

"We've got to grow this workforce," he says. "A narrowbody compared to a widebody [requires] basically five times the amount of labour per aircraft, so let's take this in steps and not put the cart before the horse, and let's make sure we grow slowly and smart."

Comlux must also invest to build yet another facility. There is room on the other side of the airport from the new Comlux narrowbody completion hangar to build a facility large enough to accommodate widebody aircraft, Edinger says.

For Gaona, a decision to move up to the widebody sector is not a sure thing, and will require "some years" to pass before he would consider it. "Today, I cannot answer" that question, he says. The success of Comlux America depends not on venturing into the widebody market, he adds, but on making the narrowbody business work. "If we deliver on time and if we deliver the quality," Gaona says, "we'll be okay."