Originally created to support airline operators, Lufthansa Technik is now also a major player in the corporate/VIP world. And soon the Hamburg-based company could be casting an even bigger shadow, executive chairman August Henningsen tells Brendan Gallagher.
“The market is showing interest in a VIP version of the Airbus A380 and we have talks under way. We are nearly ready to host the A380 in our completion center, and I think we can expect to see even more momentum in this area as more examples are built and fly.”
HenningsenLufthansa Technik boss August Henningsen thinks the first order for a VIP version of the giant Airbus, when it comes, should be business as usual for his Hamburg-based operation. “We have the resources to handle several smaller aircraft, a number of larger types or one really big one,” he says. “If an A380 came in, it would clearly need more capacity than a Boeing 747-400. But from the end of this year we will be fully prepared for an A380 completion.”
Henningsen’s confidence is based not only on the specific preparations under way in and around the completion center, but also on Lufthansa Technik’s uniquely intimate relationship with the A380 program as a whole. 
“Lufthansa will be one of the first A380 operators, so we are readying ourselves technically to integrate these aircraft into the airline, as well as to support other carriers,” he says. “We have the Spairliners spares operation with Air France Industries and the N3 engine joint venture with Rolls-Royce, and we have been involved from the beginning in the overall engineering and maintenance side of the A380 program.”
The A380 is not the only big ship likely to find its way to the completion center, Henningsen believes. “We’re seeing market interest in used Boeing 767s and Airbus A340s – with their long range these can make excellent VIP aircraft - as well as the 777 and the other widebodies, whether brand-new or used.” Other types dropping into Hamburg for the VIP treatment include the Airbus ACJ and Boeing BBJ, and the top-end Bombardiers and Gulfstreams.
The Lufthansa Technik chairman sees Russia as one of the most significant emerging sources of this kind of work. The company recently won its first contract for a Russian VIP completion – a BBJ to be operated by Vizavi Aviation from the middle of next year – and it’s not expected to be the last.
“Russia’s an interesting market, with its long distances and the need to connect Moscow with places like St Petersburg, Novosibirsk and, elsewhere in the CIS, Kiev,” he says. “There are also increasing numbers of companies who want to communicate ever more strongly with the rest of the world. So I see a growing requirement there for corporate and VIP aircraft.”
Elsewhere, Henningsen has higher hopes for India than for China. “For cultural reasons there’s more of a need in China for corporate shuttles than for VIP aircraft,” he says. “India is more privately oriented and will have a requirement for VIP aircraft: we’re seeing increasing interest in that market.”
Earlier this year Lufthansa Technik added another string to its completions bow in the form of a deal with Bombardier covering the CRJ200-based Challenger 800 Corporate Shuttle. “Right now we’re working on the first aircraft and the second and third are in the pipeline,” says Henningsen. “The fact that we already support Lufthansa’s CRJ200s and 700s means that we have a head start in understanding the Corporate Shuttle.”
Lufthansa Technik has another Bombardier relationship through Lufthansa Bombardier Aviation Services (LBAS), established at Berlin Schonefeld to support the Canadian company’s business jets. “LBAS has built up a very high reputation in Europe and the Middle East for modifications and services, and we’re looking to expand the business. As for the possibility of a ‘Lufthansa Gulfstream Aviation Services’ – I don’t know, but we’re always open to interesting things.” 
When it’s not completing VIP and corporate aircraft, Lufthansa Technik is making sure they get quick-reaction aircraft on ground support wherever they may be. “We support about 60 aircraft all over the world under our Platinet scheme,” says Henningsen. “We’re very pleased with the response from the market, and our partners are co-operating very well.”
In North America the keystone of Platinet is Bizjet, Lufthansa Technik’s Tulsa-based wholly owned subsidiary. “It’s an ideal platform in the centre of the USA for operators who need upgrades and support, and it’s also the base for our quick-reaction team in the region,” Henningsen says. “At present we have no plans to draw in any more North American partners, though that of course depends on how our customer base develops there.”
But Platinet development continues apace elsewhere: “We plan to expand the network beyond Europe to Russia and the Middle East. In general, as we acquire new customers, we will be flexible in adding the resources to support them, wherever they are and whatever aircraft they operate.”         
Over the years Lufthansa Technik’s exposure to the whims of its VIP customers has prompted some deep thinking about the ultimate potential of aircraft interiors. This has resulted in recent times in the creation of the Innovation Centre – the company’s cabin systems “Skunk Works” – and development of the Project U cabin design methodology.
“Commercialization of the Innovation Centre’s output is going very well,” declares Henningsen. “Products include the AirTracks moving-map system, which we have also sold to airlines, the MAR passenger communications router, and the NICE cabin network. Here in Orlando we are introducing our new HDTV-ready LCD screens, as well as a crew cabin management terminal for VIP aircraft.”    
Introduced at NBAA in Las Vegas a year ago and being formally offered from this week, Project U is intended to draw the VIP principle as deeply as possible into the cabin design process so that the result is a true reflection of his tastes and desires.
“There is now a lot of market interest in the Project U approach, with people asking us how they can work with us to incorporate these ideas into their aircraft,” says Henningsen. “The greater part of the interior of a Boeing MD-11 now with us in Hamburg will be developed on a Project U basis, which will allow us to come much closer to realizing the vision of the customer.”


Source: Flight International