The large-cabin completions sector is continuing to add capacity - albeit cautiously - as demand for VIP versions of Airbus and Boeing airliners shows little sign of slackening in the face of the likely global downturn.

However, for the handful of interiors specialists that dominate the market it is a delicate gamble. Adding infrastructure and training staff takes time and having too much capacity at the wrong time could lead to a repeat of the price war that took place earlier this decade.

"We have to manage demand. In this business it is easy to bite more from the cake than you can digest," says Lufthansa Technik's senior vice-president marketing and sales Walter Heerdt.

The German company is building a third widebody hangar at its Hamburg base, due to open in mid-2010, as well as setting up a single-aisle completion line at its US subsidiary Bizjet at Tulsa, Oklahoma, which until now has mostly carried out work on Bombardiers, Dassault Falcons and Gulfstreams.

The US facility - announced at NBAA - will begin outfitting Airbus A318 Elites from next year and will from 2011 have three single-aisle completion lines. Lufthansa Technik is the contracted completion partner on the VIP version of Airbus's smallest airliner.

The move frees up capacity at Hamburg, where single-aisle completion space is booked until 2012. "Customer demand is still growing," says Lufthansa Technik chairman August Henningsen.

The company's Swiss rival Jet Aviation is also bullish about the market. "There is still more business out there [for high-end business jets] than the total capacity can handle," says Eugen Hartl, vice-president completions and modifications.

The business, which earlier this year opened a conversions hangar at Basle in Switzerland capable of handling the Airbus A380, is opening a third narrowbody line there in 2011. Its US subsidiary Midcoast, which now specialises in Bombardier cabins, will also begin handling Airbus and Boeing narrowbodies by the end of next year.

At NBAA, Francois Chazelle, head of Airbus's executive jet division, said there were "not enough" specialist outfitters and that Airbus could sell more corporate jets "if there was more capacity in the market".

Meanwhile, Comlux, the Swiss business jet management company, which is a partner in Airbus's own corporate jet conversion centre in Toulouse, has acquired cabin completion specialist Indianapolis Jet Center (IndyJet). It will be renamed Comlux Completion USA.

Source: Flight International