It has been a busy 12 months for UK firm Aim Aviation since it appeared at last year's Aircraft Interiors show.
During the past year it has expanded its West Byfleet galley assembly facility, doubling the footprint there to 5,570m2 (60,000ft2), and seen its latest high-end lounge make a service debut on Qatar Airways’ Airbus A380, while in January it changed its name to Aim Altitude in the wake of its September 2014 acquisition of New Zealand business Altitude Aerospace Interiors.
And the company’s growth will not stop there. Next up is the construction of a new purpose-built facility at Bournemouth airport to consolidate its current seven buildings dotted around the airfield and, in the case of its headquarters, in the centre of the seaside town. The planned factory and offices will also add some 3,700m2 of floor space over and above the combined size of the current facilities.
But first to West Byfleet. Expansion of the site has allowed the company to “lean it out and keep costs down”, says group commercial director Richard Bower. Excess inventory and stockpiled work has been removed, with the result that each A330 galley shipset moves more swiftly through the factory. In fact, says the site’s managing director Wayne Bull, lead time on the galleys has been reduced by about 60%. And aside from the production flow, the changes mean that dedicated test facilities can be added in order to satisfy the requirements of the big two airframers.
The increase in factory space has also enabled other reconfigurations to take place, such as moving the electrical team to its own dedicated area, rather than having it marooned on a mezzanine level above the production floor.
"It used to be the worst area: they didn't have the space, it was badly organised," says Bower. “Now they have been able to lay it out exactly how they want it.” During the move the team also switched from paper to electronic plans. This is a double gain, in that the most up-to-date drawing is instantly available, while the chances of the workforce hoarding older iterations of a design are reduced. "It is exactly the kind of opportunity that investing in space gives you," says Bower.
“We as a business are focused on two or three aircraft platforms and for the future we want to grow that. And here we want to expand onto new platforms with the galley product.”
Although the majority of its work at present is destined for Airbus, Aim makes no secret of its ambition to work with Boeing, too, which was at the forefront of its plans when updating the plant, says Bower. He points out that the way the previous building was configured was not conducive to attracting new work from OEMs, not least because it appeared already to be at full capacity.
“We take the view that we are investing in a long-term business. We invested in the space partly as a marketing tool to talk to the OEMs and other airline customers about the facility we have,” he says.
That move is beginning to pay off. Aim is engaged with Boeing to produce galleys for a 777 customer programme for two aircraft, helping to secure Aim’s longer-term ambitions on the platform.
In part, building bridges with Seattle has been made easier through the acquisition of Altitude, which was formerly the interiors division of Air New Zealand and later spun out into a stand-alone business. Aim completed the purchase in September last year.
Relatively speaking, the deal does not add that much in the way of turnover to the group – Bower estimates that of the total £120 million ($180 million), Altitude contributes around £15 million – but what it brings are top-drawer capabilities; a large basket of blue-chip clients including Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa; and excellent links with Boeing.
Altitude, says Bower, is “more engaged” with the US manufacturer, which has “lots of trust in its design and engineering capability”. In the three months since it acquired Altitude, he says, “we have got much more traction with Boeing”.
As previously mentioned, galleys for a pair of 777s are in hand, and Bower is hopeful of winning more work on the 737 and 787. He says, though, that “the real prize” is the larger twin-aisle, “because getting on it now gets you [an opportunity] on the 777X in 2020”.
Also, galleys on the 787 are sole-sourced from Jamco, which means the majority of Aim’s work on the Dreamliner is confined to installations such as bars for the business-class cabins on Qatar Airways aircraft or branding panels for British Airways. Interestingly, it is also undertaking another door 2 bar installation on six Dreamliners for an undisclosed Latin American carrier, almost directly replicating the concept bar it displayed at the Hamburg show last year.
“The 787 is an opportunity for us, but there aren’t many airlines that will install a bar on their aircraft,” says Bower.
He sees more prospects for the 777, however. “It’s definitely an opportunity and we see it as a long-term play.”
Altitude’s lack of manufacturing facilities of its own was also a neat fit for Aim, as “we could take their design capability and leverage our manufacturing capability”, says Bower.
Integration of Altitude has progressed smoothly, he says, and been “pretty straightforward”, with Bower’s main headache being “phone calls at 6.30 in the morning and again at 8.00 at night”.
Around 70 staff are based in Auckland and Christchurch, with further customer-facing roles elsewhere in the region. “It’s quite an advantage with the likes of Qantas, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand, because not many others have that local presence,” says Bower.
Next up for Aim is the construction of its new factory in Bournemouth. It is at its facilities at the small regional airport that it produces the high-end bars and other installations for the likes of Qatar and, crucially, Emirates, for whose A380s it manufactures the horseshoe bar in the premium cabin. That particular contract still has another 36 months to run, notes Bower.
Other group operations include a single-aisle galley business in south Wales currently turning out six to seven shipsets per month, and a composite materials manufacturing operation in Cambridgeshire, which supplies both Aim and other industries.
Further out, Aim could consider expansion into the USA, of either “capability or capacity”, says Bower, as it is “always helpful to have something local [to the major OEMs]”.
At the moment, production in the A330 galley business runs at a rate of about two to three per month. “We have a 30% market share on the A330 and we hope to maintain that.”
Airbus has announced a cut to the build rate on the A330 from nine to six aircraft per month from the first quarter of 2016, but Bower is convinced the decision simply validates its strategy.
“That’s exactly why we are looking to expand onto the 777 and other things,” he says.
“We are a pretty small fish compared with some of those big [interiors] guys. But we are very lean and responsive and our customers like us for that.”
Source: Flight Daily News