Corporate 747-8s set to overtake stalled A380s

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Airbus will struggle to sell corporate versions of the A380, while Boeing could take orders for as many as 50 VIP-configured 747-8s in the next decade. This is the prediction from one of the most experienced figures in the high-end completions sector.

Heinz Kohli, the former chief executive of Jet Aviation, now heading Basle-based maintenance and completions start-up AMAC, thinks there will be no more corporate A380s beyond the one ordered by a Saudi prince at the Dubai air show in 2007. "It will not be a seller," he says.

The latest version of Seattle's venerable jumbo jet, however, could be as popular with the world's leaders, royalty and super-rich as its predecessor, he believes. There are around 60 VIP 747s still in service, mostly for governments.

Kohli says AMAC, which opened its completions and maintenance facility in 2008 next door to the super-hangar of his former employer, is "close to" securing its first 747-8 contract - one of four aircraft ordered by Gulf states. The green aircraft is expected to come off the production line in Seattle in late 2011, with outfitting likely to take 18-20 months.

With only Jet Aviation, Lufthansa Technik and two or three US firms serious players in the Airbus and Boeing corporate completions market, Kohli expects a "steady stream of business" from 747-8 owners over the next decade. He says that, despite the global economic downturn, the market for narrowbody and widebody conversions remains strong as it is driven largely by government contracts from oil-rich states.

"These orders were placed years ago, and they are not pulling out. There is still a shortage of capacity at that end," he says.

However, he says AMAC - which will open a new 8,400m2 (90,420ft2) widebody hangar in May - is not in contention for the Saudi A380 contract. "We are not in the game. It will go to Lufthansa Technik or Jet," he says. "It is too big a risk for us to commit resources to an all-new aircraft."

Kohli also expects the Airbus A350 XWB to be in high demand as a VIP aircraft with around 50 sales in the next 10 years. However, he thinks delays to the 787 could see many early customers for corporate configurations switch their loyalties to the 767 as production aircraft are available at short notice.

AMAC will hand over its first completion - a corporate A320 for a Middle East head of state - in early November. It will then begin a six-month project on its second aircraft - an A319 also for a Middle Eastern government customer.

Half AMAC's business comes from maintenance, where it also holds approvals for Bombardier Global and Gulfstream aircraft. It expects to increase its workforce of 190 to 350 by the end of 2010.