When it comes to the biggest and most luxurious VIP completions, Lufthansa Technik is one of a very small population of 800lb gorillas. “We’re quite good at the big aircraft,” company chairman  modestly declares.

In fact, with 30-plus widebody projects completed over the years and at least half a dozen more firmly on the books, the Hamburg-based engineering arm of Lufthansa has a good claim to be king of the silverbacks.

Over the past 12 months the company has been labelled one of the two prime contenders for the biggest VIP job of the lot – the Airbus A380 “flying palace” ordered last year by Saudi Prince Alwaleed Al-Saud. But the company has been quick to damp down the speculation, insisting that an A380 arriving at the wrong time would leave it short of capacity to meet existing commitments.

These include no fewer than three Boeing 787s, and LHT’s ideas for the new long-hauler form one of the highlights of its presence here (Booth 2238). “Our model at the booth depicts such things as a mini-cinema, a bar with fixed stools, reclining chairs and a dedicated audio system, and a spacious master state room with a sofa and 42in plasma screen,” says Henningsen.

 August Henningsen

Also starring is NICE, Lufthansa Technik’s Gigabit Ethernet-based cabin network. Designed to support a wide variety of cabin management, entertainment, productivity and communications functions, the system will be operational on as many as 130 aircraft by the end of the year. It is installed as standard on about a hundred Bombardier Challenger 300s and is also being fitted to four Global Expresses, and it is flying aboard a number of Airbus ACJs, Boeing BBJs and 747-400s. 

NICE is fundamentally a versatile broadband data highway designed to deliver content from a growing range of sources, including an audio/video-on-demand (AVOD) server and the passengers’ own iPods, to screens and surround-sound trim-panel speakers throughout the cabin. The latest additions to the panoply of sources are a Blu-Ray player and the NICEview moving-map, both serving high-definition screens.

“We have a Blu-Ray player linked with an HD screen to show the quality that can be achieved,” says Henningsen. “This combination really makes a difference – the effect is fantastic and I think our customers will like it a lot.”

NICEview is the rebranded and significantly upgraded AirTrack, which entered service a couple of years ago with German low-fare operator Air Berlin. “NICEview represents a major step forward compared with AirTrack, and we’re aiming it at both air transport and business/VIP aviation,” says Henningsen. “A number of airlines, including some Airbus A380 operators, have already expressed interest.”

Besides HD, NICEview adds to the original AirTrack worldwide 3D maps and point-of-interest information from the Google database, airport, destination and weather information presented in tickertape or banner form, and video and audio entertainment. “It also gives customers more flexibility in terms of inserting advertisements and other customised content,” says Henningsen. “They can program the content in simply using a USB stick - we’ve made it as easy as possible for them.”

While Lufthansa Technik is achieving growing success with its line of cabin systems, its bread and butter still comes from maintenance, repair and overhaul. So Henningsen and his team are also here to promote a new concept for VIP aircraft support.

“We call it Modular VIP Support and it covers management services, maintenance and modification, component and engine pooling, and global technical support,” he explains. “We already perform these services, but we would like to package them bit more and make the offer more transparent for our customers.”

Lufthansa Technik is serving up all these good things at a time when the US and the world at large are battling through unprecedented levels of financial turbulence. How is the turmoil affecting the US business aviation market? “Our experience on the business jet maintenance side is that the market is very sensitive, very volatile in any kind of crisis,” observes Henningsen. “On the other hand, the manufacturers hold large number of orders for their aircraft, and we’ll just have to wait and see how well these commitments stand up over the coming weeks and months.”

The Lufthansa Technik boss sees good reason for optimism, however. “We’re still seeing a high level of interest in business jets because companies around the world want to make themselves more and more independent of the airlines, to have the freedom to travel as they please,” he says. “And the high end of the market, which is driven primarily by wealth from oil and other natural resources, is holding up very strongly.”

Meanwhile, the company continues to develop its US presence, which centres on Tulsa, Oklahoma-based subsidiary Bizjet International and installations partner Midcoast Aviation of St Louis.

“At Bizjet we have increased our capacity for customised VIP and business aircraft by setting up a single-aisle completion line in Tulsa,” reports Henningsen. “Midcoast handles NICE installations in the Global Express and is in the process of delivering the first one, with another three in work.”

Bizjet will also benefit from Lufthansa Technik’s moves to develop more completions capacity in Hamburg to cope with the present spike in VIP business. As well as setting up a third widebody line at its base, the company plans to free some narrowbody capacity by transferring the A318 Elite programme, with its choice of cost-saving standard interiors, to the Tulsa facility.

Elsewhere, the company is expanding its ability to serve the corporate/VIP community. Last week it took over the running of the former Swiss Airlines technical base at Basel. “We are now responsible for maintaining the carrier’s Avro RJs and regional aircraft belonging to other operators,” says Henningsen.

“But we also have capacity to maintain and modify business and VIP aircraft up to ACJ and BBJ size. This operation will allow us meet rising demand for base maintenance in the European VIP market.” The company plans to modernise the existing facility and expects to create up to 70 additional jobs there over the next few years.

Even closer to home, Lufthansa Technik is poised to open a brand-new Innovation Centre in Hamburg. “We needed to get the people who developed NICE and the other cabin products out of their old area, where we now do modification work, and into a place of their own,” says Henningsen.

“The new building will be ready by the end of this year and they will move in to continue their successful work on a wide variety of projects – the electronic products, of course, but also things like cabin noise reduction. We’re very keen to identify where noise is coming from, especially on the VIP aircraft, and get it isolated.”

Though he’s a busy man, with a vast portfolio of airline action around the world to manage, August Henningsen is glad to be here in Orlando. “North America continues to be a huge market, and one that’s beginning to develop an appetite for bigger corporate/VIP aircraft,” he concludes. “Though the really big ships aren’t coming here yet, the ACJs and BBJs most certainly are. The region has a major influence on our corporate/VIP strategy and accounts for a growing proportion of our business in the sector.”


Source: Flight Daily News