Comlux has survived in the completions market when many of its North American counterparts have not. Alone among the big European business aviation services groups to have a US interiors operation, the Zurich-based company has run its Comlux Completion complex in Indianapolis since 2008 when it acquired a small maintenance, repair and overhaul business specialising in Bombardier Challengers. It later added hangars capable of housing Airbus and Boeing narrowbody and widebody jets.
The expansion saw Comlux become one of four major European players in large business jet completions, alongside AMAC, Jet Aviation, and Lufthansa Technik. A downturn in demand for Airbus and Boeing business jets in the market in the middle of the decade saw a number of casualties among completions houses. This was particularly the case in the USA, with Lufthansa Technik moving out of the segment at its BizJets subsidiary in Tulsa last year, and Standard Aero shutting its Dallas-based Associated Air Center.
New executive president of Comlux Completion Domingo Urena Raso puts the Indianapolis centre’s longevity down to its "European heritage" and the Swiss group’s range of offerings across aircraft charter, management and transactions. The former head of Airbus’s military aircraft division, who is running Comlux Completion with chief executive Daron Dryer, says he wants to use his industrial experience to "push the company into the next step".
"I am not here to change the company," insists the Spaniard, who was a former colleague of Comlux founder Richard Gaona at the Toulouse-based airframer, and until moving to the USA to run the completions operation had been an independent member of the Comlux board since 2016. “My role is to work alongside and support the CEO by bringing my industrial experience, and helping to boost technology R&D and our efficiency.”
He points to the changes in the market in recent years. “In the past, there were many completion centres. Now that number has reduced by about 50%,” he says. “Comlux has been solid enough to pass the crisis period, and now business is going up again. We are one of the few that is still alive, but we must continue to innovate and strengthen our capabilities. We must decide what we need to do to become number one.”
However, being number one in the VIP completions market does not necessarily mean being the biggest, he assets. “We want to be in every competition, and we believe that we can compete with anything that is available in Europe, but we are not intending becoming Lufthansa Technik, which is a huge company,” he says. “What we do is tailor every cabin to specific customers. We want to be more competitive and offer things to customers that others cannot offer.”
Comlux employs around 300 staff at Indianapolis and, despite a lack of aircraft interiors heritage in the Indiana city, the company has worked with local universities and tapped local industries, including the automotive supply chain, to recruit and train specialists in interiors, says Urena Raso. It has helped bring Comlux Completion close to the customer. “When you become too big it becomes impersonal. When people visit here, they know the technicians who are doing the cabinet, the upholstery,” he says.
Comlux’s capacity at Indianapolis is around three or four completion or major maintenance projects a year. In addition to a “steady stream of recurrent maintenance clients”, the company says it gained four new BBJ operators during 2018. In addition, the company delivered two completions, on a 737 Boeing Business Jet and an Airbus A330-200, and this year has taken delivery of its first examples of latest-generation narrowbodies from the two major airframers.
The centre is due to complete an ACJ320neo, part of an order for three from Comlux itself, and redeliver it early next year. Meanwhile, its first BBJ Max 8 arrived late last year and is due for delivery to its US owner by the end of 2019. Comlux Completion is scheduled to take delivery in 2020 of two more green BBJ Max 8s, one of which will be owned and operated by sister company Comlux Aviation and made available for charter.
Meanwhile, Comlux is showcasing its transactions business at EBACE, with Frederic Dubant, executive vice president of sales keen to make clear that the Swiss company is also a specialist in large cabin aircraft when it comes to arranging purchases in the secondary market, as well as management contracts. “There is often a perception that Comlux is only involved in ACJs and BBJs,” he says, adding that 45% of the company’s transactions on behalf of customers, and 55% of its managed fleet, involve aircraft smaller than Airbus and Boeing jets.
The company is announcing at the show that it has sold a Bombardier Global 7500 and Challenger 650, with the latter to be operated by Comlux under a management contract. The Global had been part of Comlux’s own portfolio, and the buyer is an undisclosed US customer. It is due for delivery in 2020. With the Challenger, Comlux Transactions helped its customer acquire the aircraft from Bombardier. Based in Russia, the jet will operate as part of the 20-strong Comlux Aviation fleet, registered on Comlux’s Maltese AOC.