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AMAC's decade of growth takes it to fifth hangar at Basel

In a little over a decade, Switzerland's AMAC Aerospace has gone from three founders with a vision – but no premises, customers, or employees – to being among the industry's completions elite, one of a tiny handful of companies in the world entrusted to design and install interiors on green corporate jets from Airbus and Boeing.

The Basel-based business, founded in 2008, is this week announcing plans to open its fifth hangar at the city's border-straddling Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg in the second quarter of 2020. The company will use the facility largely to service and carry out warranty work on Bombardier aircraft after the manufacturer last year appointed AMAC as an authorised service centre.

However, green completions remains AMAC's marquee business, with the current hangars housing, among types in for maintenance and overhaul, the first Airbus ACJ320neo – which arrived in Basel in January and is due for delivery to launch customer Acropolis Aviation this year – and a Boeing 747-8, the company's second project on a latest-generation jumbo. AMAC handed over its first -8 in 2014.

Work on the interior of the CFM International Leap 1A-powered narrowbody is progressing apace. Features on the aircraft – designed by French studio Alberto Pinto – include a 19-seat cabin, together with a private master bedroom leading to an en-suite bathroom with large shower. UK-based Acropolis plans to offer the ACJ for charter from next year.

AMAC has also won two completion contracts on the ACJ320's direct competitor, the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) Max. The first example – a Max 8 – will fly into Basel in the third quarter of this year, with a second, larger BBJ Max 9, coming in the middle of 2020. The latter will be fitted with what AMAC describes as a "special and unique" cabin, designed by the Gaugain agency.

"When it comes to expansion, we've never stopped," remarks Bernd Schramm, group chief operating officer, and an original shareholder. After securing land at Euroairport, AMAC erected its first hangar in 2008. Others followed in 2010, 2012 and 2015. "We’ve been in a state of perpetual construction for a decade," he says.

SPACE CONSTRAINED

That expansion may now have reached a limit, more through a lack of land at the airport than a slowing down of new business. The fifth hangar will be next to the other four – all have direct access to the airport taxiway – but any further physical growth would require the airport to convert agricultural land on its western edge to industrial use, unlikely in the near future.

The hangars are visually striking, with curved timber beams supporting the roof. Having them next to one another gives AMAC the opportunity to have "everything in the one place", says Waleed Muhiddin, director of business development and marketing.

Cabin completions is a highly specialist activity, requiring not just engineers but people adept in everything from carpentry to upholstery. It is why barriers to entry are high. Virtually every aspect of the interior – from the shape of a cabinet's handles to stitching on a seat cover – is by hand, and usually to the exacting requirements of the end customers or their design advisers.

Schramm says AMAC was able to acquire the skills it needed so quickly because of the region's industrial heritage. Basel stands at a junction between three countries – France, Germany and Switzerland – and the company's 750 employees are drawn from all three, as well as some 35 other nations. Staff converse in French, German and English – and sometimes a mix.

While some of the workforce are veterans of the completions sector, others have come from other industries such as automotive in nearby Mulhouse, where French carmaker PSA has had a factory for decades and a supply chain for electrical products and upholstery, while the Alsace region has a long tradition in furniture making.

However, Schramm says the company has also invested heavily in in-house training and prides itself in its recruitment policy. "Because we started out small, we have a very flat management structure and we involve the teams themselves in the process," he remarks. "We find that good people tend to select good people."

AMAC prides itself on the fact that it rarely, if ever, subcontracts to a supply chain, with all work on the cabin carried out by its own employees. "It can be easier to subcontract to deal with peaks and troughs in demand, but we intentionally did not go down that route," says Schramm. "We believed it was essential to have all the capabilities in-house."

The company’s internal engineering resources have allowed it to establish some 10 supplemental type certificates (STCs) to install its own or a supplier's kit on an aircraft. Its approvals include Honeywell's JetWave Ka-band connectivity package and Elbit Systems' infrared missile protection technology. It has fitted 13 of the former and three of the latter – on two Gulfstream G650s and an Airbus A340.

While its STC capabilities have bolstered AMAC's position in the MRO business, the fact that there is a strong pipeline of orders for the ACJ320neo family and the BBJ Max (current grounding problems permitting) should give the company plenty to compete for in the narrowbody completions market over the next few years, says Schramm.

Widebodies are another matter. AMAC carried out its first completion on a twin-aisle airliner – a Boeing 777 – as early as 2010 and it has since installed interiors on two more 777s and its first 747-8. It is still waiting for its first Airbus A350 or Boeing 787. Schramm believes it is almost impossible to forecast or plan for this part of the market, as large-jet completion tenders come up so rarely.

AMAC also has two hangars in Turkey, in Istanbul and Bodrum, a coastal city popular with upscale visitors who fly in on business jets. The Istanbul facility, opened in 2012, supports mainly Dassault Falcon and Pilatus aircraft, while Bodrum services business jets in the summer, and in winter – in a new departure for AMAC – A320s and 737s for charter airline operators.

DISTRIBUTION ROLE

The company also distributes the Pilatus PC-12 in the Middle East, although the aircraft, popular elsewhere for its short take-off and landing capabilities, has failed to counter the reluctance among many passengers in that part of the world to fly on a single-engined turboprop. However, AMAC expects a boost to the business when Pilatus reopens its orderbook for the PC-24 jet later this year.

AMAC operates its own PC-12 to transport its own staff occasionally for aircraft on ground support, while its executive chairman and chief executive Kadri Muhiddin has another. The company also has an order for two of the superlight PC-24s, which are scheduled for delivery in the first half of 2020, and is lining up to purchase more when Pilatus starts taking orders again.

Despite its multinational workforce and credentials, AMAC is keen to stress its "Swiss-ness", when it comes to the quality of its work. Although the Euroairport sits a kilometer over the border in France, AMAC and other industrial companies, including its neighbour Jet Aviation, sit in part of the complex connected to Switzerland without the need to cross a frontier. The business is Swiss registered.

AMAC's rapid emergence as a major player in business aviation has been impressive. "It has been fast, but we don't really know what to compare it with," concedes Schramm, one of a senior executive triumvirate that also comprises Muhiddin and chief finance officer Mauro Grossi. "But it has certainly been an enjoyable and a successful journey so far."

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