The VIP cabin completions industry in the USA may have begun in San Antonio, Texas, but if Comlux has its way, the Swiss business aviation services firm will place Indianapolis, Indiana on the map for aircraft interior modifications.
Comlux entered the completions market in 2007 following its acquisition of a 40% stake in Airbus's Corporate Jet Centre interior outfitting business in Toulouse. However, strong demand at the time for Airbus narrowbody types constricted positions at the facility and led Comlux to acquire its own dedicated plant, the Indianapolis Jet Center, in 2008.
TAKING ON THE WORLD
Tasked with turning the Indianapolis Jet Center - renamed Comlux USA - into a world-class completions business is division chief executive David Edinger, a 33-year industry veteran who started his career in San Antonio as an aircraft cabinet craftsman.
Edinger, who was head of programme managers for Airbus VIP cabin completions before Comlux snatched him in 2008, is ready for the challenge: "It's exciting to me because I know what to do."
When Edinger arrived in Indianapolis 15 months ago, the core of what would become Comlux USA was already in place. The Indianapolis Jet Center had already been in operation for decades. "The talent was here but we had a long way to go to make it world class," says Edinger.
A hiring push has seen Comlux USA boost its employee numbers by 60% since April 2009, to 181, including 103 craftsmen, 33 engineers, 21 mechanics and 24 commercial and administrative personnel. They work for Comlux USA's two business units, Comlux America and Comlux Aviation Services.
Located in hangar 2, which has been significantly refurbished with investment from the state, Comlux America is largely focused on cabin completions for VIP airliners, including Airbus Corporate Jetliners and Bombardier Challenger 850s - such as those operated by Comlux's VIP charter arm - and Boeing Business Jets.
Earlier this year, Comlux America started completion of its first large-sized corporate jetliner, an Airbus A320 VIP that arrived green from Airbus, notes A320 project manager Michelle Avers. Working jointly with Zurich-based interiors designer Comlux Creatives, Comlux America expects to deliver the aircraft on time in November.
Comlux is no longer linked to Airbus Corporate Jet Center. But this has allowed the firm to diversify with Boeing aircraft, which is "key to success in the USA", says Edinger. Comlux America in February was approved as a BBJ completion centre.
In addition to allowing Comlux to provide corporate aircraft owners with a comprehensive range of VIP aviation services, the formation of Comlux America allows the firm "to control our destiny", says Edinger. He points out that Comlux "has purchased over half a billion dollars" worth of Bombardier equipment, but has "also bought over $1 billion" worth of Airbus aircraft. "We can do everything in-house at our completions centre," he says.
Meanwhile, Comlux Aviation Services in nearby hangar 5 provides maintenance and completion work for the Bombardier business aircraft product line, "everything from the Challenger 604 to the Learjet", says vice-president of aviation services Mark Nelson. "If we've got a heavy maintenance job, we do that here. If the primary job is completion we do that at the other side [at Comlux America]."
A "woodshop" for cabinetry and upholstery is also part of the Comlux USA property at Indianapolis airport, while a separate finishing shop is located about 30min away in Whitestown, Indiana. Comlux plans to move the work performed at Whitestown to its airport operation next year.
Comlux USA can complete four to six aircraft simultaneously. Ultimately, however, the company wants to be able to handle between nine and 12 - including widebodies - within two years. It sees Lufthansa Technik and Jet Aviation as "the main competitors in Europe".
Space for a large, state-of-the-art facility to accommodate narrowbody and widebody hangar space may be available once the old, shuttered Indianapolis passenger terminal disappears.
"The business aviation market is in America and that's why we're here," says Comlux USA president Ettore Rodaro.
Comlux: no fly-by-night operation
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