FRANKFURT—Many MRO providers have shied away from VIP completions in the past, concerned about the complexity involved and skills needed. But lately, several companies have determined that this potentially lucrative sector will prove worth the effort.
Ameco Beijing,and are prominent examples of MRO specialists now in the process of entering or growing in the sector. All face long-established competitors such as or Jet Aviation, which have held quasi-monopolies in this niche market.
SR Technics has just completed its first aircraft, anwidebody for a Middle Eastern government. The company declines to identify the customer or aircraft, citing privacy agreements. “We have studied the case over one or two years and came to the conclusion that there is a market for us,” says SR Technics President Andre Wall. The company is following a five-year business plan meant to move its VIP completions activity into the “premier league,” as Wall puts it.
The company is currently taking one aircraft at a time. The second aircraft will enter the shop in May. “We want to fully dedicate ourselves to one customer,” Wall explains. “There are always last-minute changes that require a lot of attention. We don't want to move around people between jobs.”
VIP completions currently comprise about 5% of SR Technics' revenues. The company has dedicated one hangar in Zurich, which includes a customer lounge, to this segment. The original plan was to start with a narrowbody aircraft to avoid the scale of work needed in a widebody, but that agenda was scrapped when the opportunity arose to undertake a widebody completion immediately.
ST Aerospace San Antonio's new VIP modifications business, Aeria Luxury Interiors, is also targeting customers outside of its home market. “I think the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the euro makes it attractive to have the work done in the U.S.,” says Ron Soret, general manager of completions shop in Texas.
Soret notes that the business unit will leverage ST Aerospace's global network for customers. “With the market headed the way it is, we could have 50% of our customers coming from the Asia-Pacific region this year,” says Soret, who also sees the Middle East as a prime target. Aeria will focus on VIP versions of Airbus andnarrowbodies and widebodies.
One of ST Aerospace San Antonio's hangars spans 100,000 sq. ft. and this is being refurbished specifically to handle VIP conversions. The first customer for the hangar, which is due to open May 1, is pending, says Soret, adding that two potential clients have short-listed Aeria.
Over the years, Soret has worked for several companies involved in VIP aircraft. Prior to joining ST Aerospace San Antonio, he was president of King Aerospace Commercial Corp., a Ardmore, Okla.-based company that completes VIP interiors on large aircraft such as Boeing Business Jets (BBJ).
Ameco Beijing, theand Technik joint venture, also plans to expand its VIP capabilities. It says it is “pushing forward its business jet completion and modification services in the direction of full capabilities and full product range.”
The company has focused on work for its shareholder, Air China, and some government and special-mission aircraft. But it wants to add VIP customers to the mix. Ameco Beijing has done cabin modifications for, and Airbus .
Separately, Abu Dhabi's Royal Jet has selected Sabena Technics to upgrade one of its six BBJs. The work will include cabin refurbishment, painting and an upgrade of the inflight entertainment system, satellite communications, WiFi and global mobile systems. Work on the 12-year-old BBJ will be done in Bordeaux, France. Sabena Technics CEO Christophe Bernardini says he is confident that “this first collaboration will set the pace for future projects.”