The top completions centres face a wild ride over the next few years as they scramble to add capacity to cope with a growing bulge in the number of widebodies to be fitted with VIP interiors.

“We expect to see 18-20 widebodies – Boeing 747-8s and 787s, Airbus A330s, A340s, even an A380 - coming on to the global completions market between now and 2015,” says Walter Heerdt, senior vice-president for sales and marketing at Lufthansa Technik. “I see this level of activity being sustained in the longer term rather than peaking for two or three years. It all adds up to a shortage of capacity.”

Boeing Business Jet president Steve Hill says that steep growth in the number of people with very high levels of personal wealth is driving up demand for VIP aircraft. “At the moment there is enough completions capacity, but I worry about 2010 and beyond.”

Lufthansa Technik, which is completing a world-record thirteenth 747 at its Hamburg facility, is determined not to be caught out. “We’ve decided to add a second widebody completion line to enter service in 2009, when the 787 should start to come into the picture,” he says.

Rival Jet Aviation Basel is about to break ground for a new widebody hangar to enter service next spring. It will add close to 35,000m2 (377,000ft2) of space to the company’s Basle facility and will be big enough to house an Airbus A380 and a Boeing 787-8 simultaneously.

BBJ’s Steve Hill sees some of the slack being taken up by new players looking to break into the charmed circle comprising the two European companies and US equivalents Associated Air Center and Gore Design Completions. “We expect to see new completions centres emerging to cover the demand generated by the widebodies,” he says. 

But Heerdt of Lufthansa Technik cautions against seeing these moves as any kind of quick fix. “Creating widebody completions capability isn’t something you can do overnight,” he says. “Anybody can build a hangar, but you also need qualified engineers, mechanics, project managers, craftsmen, backshops and so on. Even we, who have been in the business for decades, estimate that it will take 24 months to add another widebody line and make it fully operational.”

And with the memory of the 2003-4 downturn in the VIP market still fresh, he points to another potential hazard. “If we’re not careful, the industry could run into overcapacity,” he says. “That would lead to a huge fight over every aircraft and deals done at dumping prices as the providers tried to keep their expensive new lines loaded. If that happens, the new entrants could be the first to suffer.”

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Source: Flight Daily News