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A380 completions squeeze

In the Middle East size really does matter. The region dominates the market for airliner-derived business jets and seven of the eight VIP versions of the Boeing 747-8I on order are destined for there, as is the only corporate Airbus A380 so far purchased.

But with both airframers pushing their new widebody as well as narrowbody products aggressively at the show, questions persist over who in the ultra-specialised world of high-end completions can - or wants to - commit to turning the world's biggest airliner into a luxury private jet.

The three European companies capable of handling the biggest business jets, Jet Aviation and AMAC of Switzerland and Germany's Lufthansa Technik, appear to be securing between them the backlog of 747-8s, five of which are due to be delivered from Seattle next year and three in 2012.

Jet Aviation announced at MEBA it has the first deal to outfit a VIP 747-8I. It will receive the new-generation jumbo at its Basle centre in early 2012 and install the interior, for an undisclosed Middle Eastern customer, over 24 months. The company's in-house studio will design the cabin.

President Peter Edwards says the General Dynamics subsidiary is "excited to take on the challenge" of the first VIP 747-8, adding that the contract is "a validation of the investments we have made in technology and training to build the in-depth know-how of the aircraft".

 © Airbus
Major players not in any rush to invest in equipment needed for large-aircraft completions

Jet Aviation's Basel neighbour AMAC - which was not at MEBA - last month announced that it had a letter of intent for the completion of a 747-8 for a Middle Eastern customer, and hoped to sign the contract by the first quarter. The company earlier this month officially opened its new "widebody" second hangar.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa Technik's senior vice-president of marketing and sales claimed at the show that the Hamburg company was expecting to complete four of the eight VIP 747-8s.

However, when it comes to the A380, the completions giants are cautious. Airbus believes there is a market for 30 VIP versions of the superjumbo and is talking to most of the owners of the around 25 privately and government-owned current generation 747s, Airbus vice-president executive and private aviation Francois Chazelle said at the show.

However, the massive investment involved in equipment and capabilities to outfit its 551m2 (5,930ft2) interior, together with a long backlog of other large-aircraft completions, means none of the big players are rushing to take on the first VIP A380, to Saudi Arabia's Prince Al Waleed and due to come off the Airbus production line next year.

"We cannot accept the A380 any time before 2014," says Walter Heerdt, senior vice-president of marketing and sales for the German company. "There is 18-21 months of lead time before we could touch the airplane, and we have told Airbus this."

Jet Aviation agrees that 2014 is the earliest work could be carried out, and even Airbus admits that 2014-15 is realistic for the first VIP A380 to enter completion.

Meanwhile, Switzerland's SR Technics is the latest company to announce plans to enter the Airbus and Boeing completions sector. The Zurich-based maintenance, repair and overhaul house, majority-owned by Abu Dhabi's Mubadala, will partner business services provider TAG Aviation.