Launched at the 1997 Paris Air Show, the A319 Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ) has already shown its mettle by winning sales in each of the principal market areas targeted by the Toulouse-based manufacturer.
Airbus Industrie says the ACJ is "part of our global strategy of competing in all areas of the market". It is also the first Airbus to be aimed specifically at the corporate/VIP market, although other members of the family - including the A320, A300, A310 and A340 - have also been given corporate interiors by specialist outfitters.
The ACJ benefits from the kind of design thinking that has in recent years won Airbus a half-share of the commercial airliner market. The aircraft takes the consortium into a hitherto unexplored field.
With a market requirement for this category of corporate jet projected at 15-20 aircraft per year, of which Airbus hopes to capture half, business arising from the ACJ is hardly likely to have a major impact on the consortium's financial bottom line. The aircraft is, however, competing as a derivative of an existing product which comes off the same production line as the commercial A319. As such, development costs have been minimal, having been limited mainly to designing the fuel tanks that are exchanged for baggage containers in the commercial A319 to give the ACJ its extra range.
Airbus corporate jetliner vice-president Richard Gaona says certificating the ACJ to commercial airliner standards gives operators "a mature product with proven economics. This means that we were immediately offering corporate customers a very competitive aircraft".
Ensuring that the ACJ was certificated to US Federal Aviation Administration FAR Part 121 and European Joint Aviation Authorities JAR OPS standards maximises the aircraft's resale value, adds Gaona. "The average time a corporate jet remains with its owner is between four and five years, whereas that of a commercial airliner is 15-20 years. This means an ACJ owner can sell aircraft on to the airliner market, which is a very strong commercial point for us."
Orders for the ACJ stand at 18 aircraft to date. Certification in July 1999 was followed by first delivery in December last year to the Al Kharafi Group. Six aircraft will be delivered this year, bringing the total so far to eight. Gaona says production will average between five and six aircraft a year for the first two years of production, adding: "We expect to increase production to between eight and 10 aircraft a year within three years," a figure he says is "set by the capacity limitations of the best interior outfitting companies".
The principal difference between the airliner-standard A319 and the ACJ is the provision in the latter for up to six extra fuel tanks in the belly hold, which can take an additional 40,860 litre (10,800 USgals) of fuel. "The system was designed by our own engineers," says Gaona, "because we believe the associated modifications to the fuel and electrical system should be done by us to ensure we get the maximum range out of the extra fuel available." The issue is more complex than it might seem, because customers are given the option of changing the number of tanks according to mission requirements.
The tanks are the same size as standard underfloor containers and each can be removed in 2h, allowing overnight removal or addition as required. The job is made easier by Airbus' outward opening cargo doors, "which don't have to be removed", says Gaona, unlike those of the competing Boeing Business Jet.
To remove tanks, mechanics simply disconnect the electrical and fuel supplies, leaving the fuel computer to calculate the changed parameters and ensure correct fuel distribution. The fuel tank modification is not available for retrofit to other Airbus single-aisle types, ensuring the residual value of the ACJ is maintained.
The extra fuel provides for a considerable increase in maximum range. At ACJ's maximum take-off weight of 75,500kg (166,500lb), the range with 40 passengers is 7,800km (4,200nm) against 6,600km for the standard aircraft at the same maximum take-off weight. With just 12 passengers it increases to 8,700km. The longest flight yet was performed in June 1999, from Santiago, Chile, to Le Bourget, Paris, when the ACJ covered 12,825km with a crew of six on board in a flight lasting 15h10min.
Following a "reference engine supplier" agreement at the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) show, Airbus now offers the 26,400lb-thrust (117.9kN) International Aero Engines V2527M-A5 powerplant as part of a "global package, making the overall offer even more attractive". The engine's higher thrust (compared to the 23,500lb-thrust V2524-A5/CFM International CFM56-5Bs which are standard on the A319) provides useful extra power for short-field take-off as well as reducing time to the ACJ's maximum altitude of 41,000ft (12,500m).
The ACJ is aimed at three main categories of market: companies, governments and wealthy individuals. Corporate customers to date include DaimlerChrysler, India's Sapo, Global and the Mouawad National Company of Saudi Arabia. The Italian air force is the first government customer, purchasing a version configured with 50 seats and a large private area for heads of state and other dignitaries. This week's NBAA show is expected to produce further sales. "We are extremely confident of winning more government orders" says Gaona.
Customers can opt for whichever internal configuration they want, but Airbus offers in-house assistance in terms of trade-off between configuration and range. "When we sell a green aircraft we like to make sure we are there to help the customer define the cabin, to ensure engineering integrity is maintained. A customer might define a really nice interior but find that the aircraft cannot make his specified mission, so we calculate cabin weight for a particular configuration and tell them what's feasible," says Gaona.
Proving its worth
The ACJ has already proved its worth as a corporate shuttle. DaimlerChrysler's aviation division is flying its example five times a week between Stuttgart and Detroit. In a 24h period the aircraft flies 10h one way, spends 2h on the ground, returns, and spends another 2h on the ground. "They are experiencing 100% reliability, and expect to achieve 120min extended range operations approval by the end of the year," says Gaona.
Airbus has approved four outfitters for the ACJ: Associated Air Center in Dallas, Texas; Jet Aviation in Basle, Switzerland; Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg, Germany; and Ozark Aircraft Systems, based in Bentonville, Arkansas. "We will reveal a fifth at NBAA," says Gaona. This will provide extra capacity to cater for expected ACJ production buildup as demand solidifies.
"A lot of people pretend they can carry out corporate jet/VIP conversions, but only a very few can do it", he adds. "What's important to our customers is not the green aircraft but the dream. They want to know when they'll get their beautiful new ACJ. Delays are therefore unacceptable." Accordingly, Airbus has set up partnerships with "quality companies" to ensure this is so.
"The deal is that they give us guaranteed delivery slots in return for Airbus-supplied training and technology. There have been no missed deliveries slots so far." Delivery times stand at between four and six months.
Airbus has also agreed with each outfitter a clearly defined set of options. These provide six standard layouts ranging from 10 to 39 seats, weighing from 3,800kg to 4,8000 kg and costing from $5 million for the simplest basic version, rising to $10 million. Alternative layouts can be discussed with the approved outfitters, and "customers are free to choose other outfitters, subject to negotiating their own arrangements".
The ACJ's principal competitors are the Boeing Business Jet (including the BBJ-2, based on the Boeing 737-800 instead of the original 737-700/800 hybrid), Gulfstream V, Bombardier Global Express and Dassault Falcon 900EX.
From the point of view of size alone, huge differences are obvious between the airliner-based options and those from established corporate jet suppliers. Airbus is fond of pointing out that the ACJ cabin has three times the cabin volume and 300mm more height than the Global Express - and 12% more cabin volume than a BBJ. Gaona insists this does not mean a proportional increase in costs. "We charge $37 million in January 2000 dollars, for a green, fully-equipped aircraft, including satellite communications, airstairs, extra fuel tanks and higher engine thrust. That's around the same as for a green GV or Global Express."
Cost of ownership is also claimed to be in the same league. A report commissioned by Airbus from US analysts Conklin & Deldecker comparing the BBJ, Global Express and GV comes up with the surprising result that the costs of owning an ACJ are around the same as those for a GV or Global Express. It finds, for example, that the ACJ costs almost $5 million per year in fixed costs, against $4.5 million for the GV and $4.4 million for the Global Express.
The report says that total direct operating costs per hour are $1,750 for the ACJ against $1,370 for the Global Express and $1,280 for the GV. This reflects slightly higher landing fees, overhaul costs (the ACJ comes with thrust reversers) and maintenance labour charges plus higher fuel costs (the ACJ uses 570USgal/h against 354USgal/h and 371USgal/h for the GV and Global Express respectively).
Trouble shooting guidance
To answer concerns about support for an aircraft originally aimed at airline customers, Airbus has teamed with United Services, a division of A320 operator United Airlines, to create a "one call" support service. An ACJ may be flown by a team as small as two pilots and a single mechanic "and a more comprehensive and different kind of support is therefore needed", says Gaona.
ACJ customers are given a phone number, open 24h a day, 365 days a year, which provides free access to immediate technical advice, trouble shooting guidance, spares co-ordination and warranty administration. The call will automatically identify the customer, aircraft and service history so that the response can be customised. The scheme takes advantage of United's Star Alliance membership, and associated worldwide Airbus service network.
Gaona rules out any dedicated corporate jet versions of other Airbus types. "The 319 is the maximum size that corporations can handle these days in terms of image, and a smaller version of the A318 would not carry enough fuel. The ACJ is the right aircraft and will yield steady sales for many years to come," he says.
Source: Flight International