Europe's top MRO and completions provider is at Asian Aerospace to proclaim the success of its Philippines subsidiary in supplying heavy checks for Asia-Pacific's Airbus A330s and A340s. Lufthansa Technik chairman August Henningsen talks to Brendan Gallagher about the company's operations in the region and its growing involvement in advanced-technology cabin systems.

Q: What's your main message for the Asian Aerospace attendance?

A: Asia-Pacific is a very important market for us.

Over the last few years we have developed our presence here, not only in China but also in the Philippines, and we expect to become more and more active as the region realises its great growth potential.

Q: Why did Lufthansa Technik choose the Philippines as its second base in the region rather than, say, Singapore, Indonesia or Australia?

A: It was a matter of matching the availability of our service with an existing demand.

In this case it was Philippine Airlines' need for long-term operational support as it began to upgrade its fleet in the late 1990s.

Initially we were contracted to help with the airline's line maintenance, then in 2002 we moved into the supply of A330 and A340 D-checks for Philippine Airlines and other operators from around the world.

Q: What are the particular strengths of the Philippines operation?

A: The Filipinos have good skills and English is almost their mother tongue, which helps a lot in the aviation services business.

Our initial experience has shown that we made a good move in setting up in the Philippines.

The line maintenance activity got up to speed very quickly and the D-checks are being turned round even faster than expected. We've done nine checks since summer 2002 and we're very satisfied with the whole operation.

Q: Do you plan any other new operating locations in the region to add to China and the Philippines?

A: There's always a chance. If a strong demand for our services emerged in another location we would sit down with the potential customer to talk about a dedicated operation - it all depends on the nature of the demand, and we have shown that we can be very flexible. Otherwise we would look at meeting the need from our existing locations.

Q: What are your hopes for your Chinese operations over the next ten years?

A: Growth, first and foremost. The country's airlines have placed big orders for new Airbus aircraft and these need support both inside and outside China. So we're intent on making ourselves available to the big airlines.

A specific example of our capability is the big autoclave recently installed at the Shenzhen facility.

We believe it's the first of its kind in mainland China and it will be used by the existing MRO activity to repair composite structures - cowlings, reversers and so on.

But Chinese aerospace manufacturing is developing quickly and I wouldn't exclude the future use of the autoclave in, for instance, the regional aircraft programme.

More generally, we simply have to be in China, to have a sustainable presence there and to build up our reputation over many years.

Q: What prompted you to develop the new NICE cabin network system?

A: We wanted to deliver an outstanding product to our VIP completions customers. There's nothing like it on the market at present, so we put the latest technologies together and built what we believe they need.

It's certificated and flying very successfully in a Boeing BBJ. The system got a very good response at NBAA and Dubai, so we feel sure the demand is there for installations in significant numbers of aircraft.

Q: After your success in developing the pioneering installation for Lufthansa, do you expect Connexion by Boeing to generate significant amounts of business for you?

A: We pushed the Lufthansa installation forward because we wanted to make it happen.

The antenna was there and Boeing was committed to providing a network, but the cabin system was taking too long to materialise.

So we took the initiative to develop the individual pieces and the regulatory approvals.

How this will pay off for us in the longer term is hard to say - other suppliers have produced boxes and are marketing them.

But we have had enquiries from a number of airlines about the unique antenna installation kit that we have developed and are in early talks with some of them.

I personally think that all the major carriers - and some smaller operators looking to differentiate themselves - are seriously interested in broadband connectivity, whether through Connexion or some other supplier.

Q: How do you expect your work with QinetiQ on advanced cabin concepts to be affected by this month's technology-development MoU between the British company and Boeing?

A: QinetiQ is an excellent company that has invested a lot in making new technology available. So I think it's a very clever move by Boeing.

We teamed with QinetiQ for exactly the same reason, and we already have a couple of projects to address cabin noise and the like.

The arrival of Boeing with its extra energy and resources could end up benefiting us all.

Q: How do you see the heavy corporate and VIP completions market evolving over the next five years?

A: There's always a certain level of demand for this type of work.

At present, because of the recent downturn, it's on the low side. But I'm very hopeful that it will come back as strong as ever.

Q: Given your experience on the Luftwaffe's A310 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), were you disappointed not to be involved in the successful EADS-led Air Tanker bid to supply RAF in-flight refuelling services?

A: It's important to understand a big distinction between the two programmes. MRTT was a conversion for which we supplied cockpit and system modification packages based on our experience with earlier A310 conversions.

But the Air Tanker team will work with new aircraft from the beginning - it's a completely different approach. We are however very interested in providing component, modification and maintenance support services, and we have already raised that possibility with the Air Tanker team.

Source: Flight Daily News