As Lufthansa Technik’s Mercedes-Benz-styled cabin makes waves, the German giant continues to boost regional ties
By its own admission, Lufthansa Technik appeals to a well-defined quality market that appreciates traditional styles and décor in the custom fitting out of private jets.
However, the 2016 Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) Show in Dubai, UAE, revealed the beginnings of a change in Lufthansa Technik’s portfolio with the presentation of its new Mercedes-Benz styled cabin.
The new offering, in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz Style, was officially launched at the Monaco Boat Show last year.
Walter Heerdt, Senior Vice President VIP and Special Mission Aircraft Services, says that Lufthansa Technik studied the VVIP market and concluded that there was an emerging younger generation of clientele that the new design would appeal to. “In the past, we have attracted a very traditional market, and we still do that. Now we are looking to address a more modern style. We would like to attract the younger generation as well those who want modern styles. The reaction we are getting at these events (MEBAA) demonstrates that we are heading in the right direction,” Heerdt tells Arabian Knight.
“I emphasise that this is not a design study. What is on show is the example of what we can do, and if the customer wants it that way, we can build it, and build it now,” he adds.
Heerdt observes that Mercedes-Benz has a reputation for outstanding quality as a car manufacturer and customers could now harmonise styles across their boats, cars and airplanes if they so wish. “It is innovative design from a German company with an enviable reputation that we can offer and actually deliver. It is a natural pairing – Lufthansa Technik is also German and has a very good reputation for engineering quality and style. The DNA of both companies integrates well,” Heerdt notes.
While the new cabin was designed for narrowbody jets such as the ACJ and BBJ, there has been interest for both larger and smaller airplanes as well. And though Heerdt terms the present market as difficult for high-end products, he is confident that good times will return and “modern designs like this will find their place in VVIP cabins”.
Working together was a master class in co-operation between the two companies – there were many technical and design issues that had to be overcome to fit the design into an aircraft while meeting the requirements of safety, engineering, airworthiness regulations and also the design parameters of the Mercedes brand. Both parties learned a great deal and the result was this magnificent cabin that can actually be delivered now with all issues resolved.
“It also built a knowledge base for future products and co-operation,” he says.
Heerdt has noticed that some design elements of this product are suddenly being seen in other branding operations. “I would not go so far as to say that we are a trendsetter, but I think we are leading this particular style of cabin branding in quality and the ability to meet all the necessary regulations and the essential style of the brand. And don’t forget this is not just a design study, this is a real thing.”
He continues: “Besides outfitting new aircraft, there is a demand for upgrades and major modifications of used aircraft. We have ideas for respective products, which cover not only the cabin itself but also the IFE (inflight entertainment) and cabin management system. We understand the requirement of our clients and that we can offer attractive solutions.”
Heerdt agrees that the market over the last couple of years has been depressed and that there has been over-capacity.
“Nevertheless, we have been pretty successful in sales. We cover all sizes of projects for all different customers in our market segment. In order to do so, we have increased our flexibility to handle more small and medium-sized projects alongside large ones.”
Also, in the completions section, Lufthansa Technik recently delivered a third VIP 747-8 jet in a little more than 15 months – three months ahead of schedule, becoming the only centre to have completed three aircraft of this type!
As examples of the company’s expertise, Heerdt pointed to the two Royal Jet BBJs – one completed in nine months and one in seven – which were on display at MEBAA. Both aircraft were fitted with KA-Band antennas (for which LHT is STC holder) allowing high-speed internet on board.
The two BBJ cabins were designed by New York-based designer Edése Doret and are characterised by a clear, minimalist aesthetic style, equally combining geometric shapes and organic structures. The dominant cabin elements were produced from modern materials, such as genuine carbon fibre as well as metal and plastic surfaces. A highlight of the interior design is the starry sky, consisting of approximately 15,000 light points running across the ceiling throughout the entire cabin.
The integrated “niceview mobile” flight information system from Lufthansa Technik supplies passengers with the widest variety of travel information. The installation of a fully digital mobile phone network (GSM) also allows use of mobile phones in flight.
Amongst other features, both jet cabins include a bedroom, two fully-featured bathrooms and two VIP lounge areas. Overall, the aircraft are designed for 34 passengers.
Heerdt says that Lufthansa Technik learned lessons from the past on these highly complex products and subsequently improved its processes.
Commenting on business for government aircraft, Heerdt says LHT has been very successful and well loaded for 2017. “For 2018, we are well loaded, but with slots in production available. The changed processes have an effect on both price, turnaround times and on-time performance. We do not compromise on quality as you can see when you look inside the Royal Jet planes.”
Lufthansa Technik was successful in getting work for 2017-18 and is confident of adding more governments to its existing client list, he adds.
“It is a learning curve as some of their requirements are different from the VVIP market where the airplanes might have different purposes. As the results reveal, we have managed this well.”
Currently, the majority of Lufthansa Technik’s work is for governments, however the company will keep serving all customers, private, charter and government. “
How does he see the future, given that the world is in flux? Technical areas, green fuels, composites and so on are all issues that can be accommodated. The business intangibles – politics and economics – present a different challenge. Would he agree with that?
“Absolutely,” Heerdt agrees, pointing out that only time will tell if Opec’s cuts will have its desired effect on the oil prices. “There are political crises worldwide and fewer private airplanes are being sold but the completions and maintenance capacity remains the same. The bottom line is that there is over-capacity. Given that, I wonder if a shake-out will happen,” he muses.
Flexibility and innovation are the key drivers for any company that intends to survive challenging times. Building on that, Lufthansa Technik last year formed joined hands with a joint venture between DC Aviation from Stuttgart and Al Futtaim in Dubai.
DC Aviation CEO Michael Kuhn says: “We are very glad we joined Al Futtaim, the right partner in the right spot in Dubai and the Middle East. It is a good combine of the strengths of DC Aviation-Al Futtaim (DCAF) with Lufthansa Technik’s capabilities.”
Kuhn explains that DCAF has committed to support Lufthansa Technik in the Middle East to carry out A-checks for heavy maintenance.
Heerdt comments: “Lufthansa Technik is glad to have found a reputed partner in the Middle East, allowing us to offer our customers much better on-site support without having to take their aircraft for small tasks to Europe or elsewhere. Lufthansa Technik will support the operations in Dubai by engineering, personnel assignment and any other support needed. It is a positive move to have a partnership between two German companies in the Middle East. It gives us the chance to support each other to develop both companies’ businesses.”
Lufthansa Technik and DC Aviation recently completed the first A-check for an A319 at DCAF’s facilities in Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai South. The work took around 350 hours and included the check of all flight safety, the exchange of several components, the completion of service bulletins and, as a special topic, the test of the ram air turbine.
DCAF Managing Director Holger Ostheimer says this venture would establish the first fully integrated facility in the Middle East providing the capabilities to further develop beyond its primary core of expertise.
“It allows Lufthansa to have a footprint in the area, and extending the facility by another 7,500 sq m gives us the infrastructure to meet client demands as DCAF and Lufthansa find their symmetry. From a local perspective, there will be a quantum leap propelling us forward in efficiency and service towards aircraft and passenger handling on the 145 licence that goes together with the DC Aviation alignment.”
DCAF can now offer more complex services on the A320 family for example, where it had limited experience in the past. This would also apply to the Boeing family, “which opens many door for us”.
Ostheimer observes that DC Aviation has quite a number of VVIP customers in the Middle East, and “if they needed just a little touch-up or a repair in the cabin we would be able to do that at short notice and without the need to fly the aircraft to Germany”.
“For the present, we have limited scope for maintenance checks but we are looking to developing the scope and depth of the services on offer. If the market is there, we will be capable of serving it,” Kuhn concludes.
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