While manufacturers have been going through a turbulent period since 2015, the interior completion industry has not been spared. This sector has been suffering the aftermath of a lack of aircraft fleet renewal, especially on large aircraft. The sky ahead however may be clear in the medium term thanks to a new trend: connectivity.
In the words of George Guynemer: face up to it. A number of manufacturers working in the cabin completion sector have suffered from a slowdown in their business, as stated by a sector professional specialized in very long range aircraft: “Today, interior completion centers are awaiting aircraft. Less than four years ago, these facilities had more work than they could handle and owners would have to wait several years for completion work on their aircraft.”
A TURBULENT MARKET
According to analysts, five major projects were halted during the 2015/2016 period due to lack of funding. At the same time, high-potential regions such as the Middle East and Russia are not investing in new aircraft. Only Asia proved to be an exception “since half of all pre-owned Boeing BBJs were sold in this region in 2016” stated the professional. Before adding: “these purchases did not result in major completion work”. Another impact related to an unstable economic environment, other phenomena have been raised according to specialists: “For cabin completions performed on aircraft directly after purchase (green), the trend follows the slowdown in new aircraft sales. The second factor is also related to the wait for the new version such as the BBJ Max 7 and the Neo version of the ACJ. These are not set to hit the market before 2019. These versions have cornered the market for sales of less recent aircraft such as the BBJ Max 8 that has seen its market share plummet with the arrival of the much more powerful Max 7. Accordingly, this waiting period produced an air pocket in completion work for this segment”. Less clear according to Annika Svore Wicklund, Director of Interior Design at Greenpoint Technologies who nevertheless believes that, “the interior completions market continues to be a challenge. Many of the narrowbody customers are anticipating the new Boeing MAX and Airbus NEO debuts”. Concerning the new versions at Boeing and Airbus, Arnaud Martin, Chief Operations Officer at Comlux states that this calm period: “will change very quickly as the deliveries to completions centers of the ACJ NEO and BBJ Max (the new business jet models of Airbus and Boeing) will start in the second half of 2018. In fact Airbus and Boeing have sold significant numbers of these aircraft in 2018/2019 and 2020 already and the slots in the completion centers will be filled quickly. We see a strong acceleration in the activity around this period ”. Aside from this impact, which should soon subside, professionals also indicate that the market has to adapt to the new maintenance procedures especially in terms of interior renovation work: “Maintenance intervals have increased due to a greater reliability of elements but also new processes to predict failures,” stated a manger. Before adding: “Take for example the BBJ, Boeing has expanded the interval between two ‘major checks’ from three years to four years This period, which was generally used to perform any renovation work, is now pushed back and therefore has an impact on the ‘completion’ activity. However, we need to realize that this trend that adapts the maintenance to operational equipments is a very good thing for operators and owners.”
Nevertheless, there remains continued investments in research and development for new cabin styles. While the entry into service in 2007 of the A380 gave renewed momentum to interior design, especially through first and business class, the arrival of new aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and the A350 did not have the same impact. While developed for commercial aviation, design renewal studies have in reality benefited from business aviation on numerous points such as the use of new materials and new technologies. At the same time, the general trend of customer renewal, and therefore their tastes, enabled certain manufacturers to innovate in the sector, like Embraer and its partnership with BMWDesignWorks during the entry into service of the Phenom family. Today, while cabin design remains an essential issue, its revolution may “be through simplified industrialization to give renewed momentum to this industry,” stated a market player. A challenge that has been fully understood by Sean Gillepsie, Executive Vice President of Flying Colors: “There’s also innovation in how completions and refurbishments are integrated. In March, we re-delivered the first ever aircraft to incorporate their pre-engineered components back to the owner. Inairvation manufactures the pre-engineered components for Bombardier Global Express, Challenger 300 and 604 models, as well as Gulfstream G450 and G550 aircraft types. We then design the interior and blend them with the look and feel. Clients benefit from reduced down-time and an efficient use of budget which is always attractive. The result is an as-new aircraft. We expect that with the current appetite for refurbishments it will be a popular choice in the next twelve months or so”. For Wieland Timm, Vice President of VIP sales and special mission aircraft for Lufthansa Technik, the interior revolution is not over: “I think the new definition and development of interior designs is a permanent process. It never stops. Also in the past our customers have always been looking for unique designs using new materials, technologies but also new design elements…” He added: “We expect the trend to continue: innovative solutions in terms of technical features, materials, and more flexible room design in the aircraft. The issue of health and wellness will also gain in importance. Our Welcome Home Concept shows the trends that will characterize the next few years – the world’s largest television, clouds in the sky on the cabin ceiling, freshly prepared and cooked food on board, and climate control in the cabin”. According to Arnaud Martin of Comlux, the future will also depend on, “Passenger comfort noise reduction in the cabin is one of the keys, and Comlux completions is the most advanced Completion center, having completely redesign OEM air distribution system to reduce by 5 Db minimum the overall cabin noise level. The use of OLED technology screens will also bring more entertainment attractiveness to the passenger. We will be one of the first to install this technology on the A330 we are currently modifying in Indianapolis”.
CONNECTIVITY: THE ESSENTIAL
With 15 completion centers around the world, the sector has what it takes to meet the needs of new completions. However reduced demand has paradoxically obliged certain companies to focus on the sustainability of their expertise by integrating into the commercial aviation market. A sector that on average sees two aircraft transactions every day. Enough to give a new outlook and shift the priorities of these companies which until now have exclusively focused their business on the VIP sector. In addition a new trend is emerging marked by the arrival of new technologies: the integration of on-board connectivity. This booming market is now a key part of the growth strategy for workshops specialized in this sector. For Mickael Skou Christensen, CEO of the EMEA zone (Europe, Middle East and Africa) for Satcom Direct, this sharp increase in demand is the result of: “The passenger [who] now wants to be connected in the air for internet, telephony, entertainment, in much the same way as he is on the ground.”
This development helped the US company “move from being just a communications supplier, which we were when we launched twenty years ago, to being a complete connectivity supplier”. For Greenpoint Technologies, connectivity is, “a personal preference for each Client. For example, Crystal AirCruisesTM 777-200LR will accommodate 84 guests. All 84 passengers will enjoy a superb entertainment experience with a personal 24” high definition monitor, the industry’s largest, and a separate interactive touch screen switch panel. Audio and On Demand programming will come to life on the large personal screens. Guests will also enjoy complementary high speed internet access throughout the cabin”. To better address this specific and perpetually innovative market, Arnaud Martin stated that Comlux maintains a close collaboration with, “all major satcom manufacturers and the OEM to always be ahead in proposing these products to our customers”. He added: “the new generation SATCOM KA Band is becoming a must for ALL new aircraft to come, bringing telephones, email, live TV and any other streaming possibilities.”
A BUSY YEAR IN SPITE OF IT ALL
While connectivity is essential for current projects, the biggest manufacturers in the sector are hedging their bets on a recovery, especially with the arrival of new aircraft such as the Boeing BBJ 787 and the Airbus ACJ350, as well as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350. Geographically, the market is currently developing in Asia as mentioned by Arnaud Martin of Comlux: “The US market is mainly for maintenance and cabin upgrades. Related to completions, our main market is OUTSIDE US, in China , Asia and Middle East mainly”. Indeed, 2016 proved to be a busy year for the group based in Indianapolis with the cabin completion of the first Sukhoi Superjet SBJ certified by EASA. Whereas 2017 is also set to be interesting, with the director of Comlux announcing current work on an A330 project to be delivered in 2018 as well as a BBJ for end 2017. But 2017 is set to be significant with the arrival halfway through the year of the first Boeing BBJ Max and Airbus Neo in its Indianapolis center. Whereas Flying Colors completed over 80 projects in 2016 in its two North American centers. For its part, Luftansa Technik “redelivered 3 narrowbodies and one widebody full VIP completions last year”. With this experience, GreenPoint Technologies delivered in 2016 the first interior for a BBJ 787-8 VIP and began work on a second 787-8 which was delivered to its owners at the beginning of 2017. Also in 2016, “Greenpoint inducted the Crystal AirCruisesTM Boeing 777-200LR for an interior completion. Greenpoint Design was also developing design schemes for an upcoming 787 program, which was contracted in early 2017 for a V-VIP 787-8 and 787-9.”
By Frédéric Vergnères
Copyright : Frédéric Vergnères