Specialising in Airbus and Boeing VIP completions, Comlux has adapted its business model so many times, it is a chameleon of private aviation.
Comlux Aviation is an all-encompassing private aviation brand and one of the few companies that can handle an aircraft from “cradle to grave,” as David Edinger, president and CEO of Comlux America, puts it.
By this, Edinger means that Comlux can arrange the delivery and acceptance of an aircraft – either green (unfurnished) or outfitted – at short notice, it can design and build an aircraft’s interior, arrange crew and catering, make the aircraft available for charter and take responsibility for maintenance and CAMO.
Founded in Zurich in 2003 as an aircraft management company and charter operator, Comlux added its first VIP corporate airliner – an Airbus ACJ319 – to its fleet in 2004 and another in 2005.
Comlux The Aviation Group
Comlux The Aviation Group, as it exists today, began to take shape in 2007 and now includes a VIP airline with 15 aircraft available for charter, Air Operator’s Certificates in Malta and Aruba and a collection of sales offices stretching from Bahrain to Hong Kong.
Edinger says the company is able to benefit through the cooperation and occasional overlap of its different departments, while maintaining the “Swiss quality” of its spiritual home and continued headquarters.
“We had a Head of State client recently that brought their aircraft in for maintenance,” says Edinger. “We chartered an aircraft for them to use in the meantime and it now looks like they’re going to buy it. We’ll also refurbish it and take care of maintenance.”
In the US, Comlux is split into two main parts. Comlux Aviation Services offers maintenance and refurbishments across a range of business jets, whilst Comlux America handles completions for green narrowbody airliners and increasingly, for widebody models. Last year, Comlux America delivered three outfitted aircraft and it expects the same total for 2014.
At the heart of Comlux America is an ultra-modern, purpose-built facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is the first centre in the world to include every part of the aircraft completions chain under one roof.
At the time of speaking, one ACJ and one BBJ are undergoing maintenance as two ACJs and another BBJ sit inside of Comlux’s completion facility. “I built the hangar to handle four completions at the same time,” says Edinger.
Depending on the type, it takes 12-16 months to fit a green aircraft – delivered straight from the manufacturer’s assembly line – with a fresh interior and all the state-of-the-art features that a Comlux client demands.
Business and pleasure
Comlux tends works with heads-of-state and corporations, but mainly with high-net-worth individuals, who use their aircraft for a mix of business and personal use.
“They’ve had smaller business jets and now they’re moving up the food chain,” says Edinger. “They want room for the kids and grandparents.”
These aircraft are typically used to fly small families, who like to ability to fill up the aircraft on special occasions. Before joining Comlux, Edinger says he also worked on two completions projects for basketball teams.
Most corporate airliner owners will configure their aircraft for a maximum of 17 passengers as a way of avoiding more stringent charter restrictions. Edinger says that around half of Comlux’s clients elect to make their aircraft available for third party charter in order to recoup some of the operating costs.
In terms of regions, the company gets most of its business from the Middle East, China, Russia and increasingly, India.
Airbus vs Boeing
Edinger says the aircraft which enter Comlux’s completions centre are split evenly between Airbus Corporate Jets and Boeing Business Jets.
Comlux America is one of eight outfitters in the world to have been audited by Airbus and is also part of Boeing’s global network of 17 authorised completions centres. To pass the auditing process, a completion centre must show that it meets the manufacturer’s meticulous standards for cleanliness and can provide 24/7 support if it receives a phone call from a client.
“I used to work for Airbus,” says Edinger, as he recalls with amusement the arrival of Airbus’ auditors to Indiana. “I knew the answers to the test questions. It normally takes two or three visits, but we did it in one.”
Edinger explains that whereas Boeing will simply recommend Comlux to its customers, Airbus takes a more hands-on approach to completion projects. “When Airbus recommends us, what there are doing is a turn-key,” he says. “They have a project management team; someone comes every six weeks.”
Narrow-body deliveries slow down
Although being an Airbus-audited facility boosts Comlux’s credentials considerably, Edingers admits that the company has never actually won a turn-key completion contract from the European manufacturer.
“We started this business at the same time that the bottom fell out,” says Edinger, who goes on to link the decline in business jet deliveries with the notoriety that surrounded the CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler flying to the Washington bankruptcy courts on their private jets in 2008. “It became really difficult. Corporations stopped flying their business jets and it got really tight,” Edinger adds. “We changed our business model immediately and brought in our first A320.”
Now, Edinger says the narrow-body segment is starting to feel the crunch, as business jets become socially acceptable again. “Airbus and Boeing have really slowed down on their deliveries,” he says.
Once again, Comlux has had to adapt its business model and it is now focusing on older ACJs and BBJs with maintenance inspections looming. Conveniently, these aircraft also tend to be owned by high-net-worth individuals and corporations who now desire the same modern luxuries that they would expect at home, like Wi-Fi, streaming video and live television – although the latter option can be extremely expensive.
Edinger also talks about features such as slouching divans and individual tables which deploy into one, all of which add a personalised touch to the aircraft interior.
“Everybody wants the quietest cabin,” says Edinger. “They all want something different.”