F/LIST CEO Katharina List-Nagl talks about the origins, present and future direction of the VViP completions specialist
Q: Can you tell us a bit about how F/LIST got started?
A: The company was formed as a small carpentry firm by my grandfather in 1950, with just seven employees. My father joined the company as a carpenter in 1962 and I am now the third generation. Our route in to business aviation was somewhat tangential. In the 1980s we began doing work outfitting major hotels across Europe. It was a good line of business for us and we expanded a lot, with good orders across Eastern Europe and Germany.
At one point we were called in to equip the Louis Jacobs Hotel in Hamburg. There was a famous guest there, called Peter Deilmann. He owned a shipyard and built the MS Deutschland. He was really impressed with the interior work going on in the hotel and asked who was responsible. The management told him: Company List from Austria. So he asked us if we were interested in furnishing a cruise ship. We said yes, of course, but we had very little idea of the enormous scale involved in fitting out a multi-deck cruise ship.
So it was an expensive entry into the ship business for us and a steep learning curve. On subsequent orders we soon found that we were coming up against a large number of competitors in the cruise ship space, and that it was a space where a philosophy of commodity pricing ruled. So we shifted and specialised instead in the yachting world. We started this in the late 1990s, and we were responsible for furnishing the world’s first true super-yacht of 150 metres and more. We developed a lot of products that were both luxurious and price competitive for the interior of the yacht and for the exterior.
Q: At what point did you become centrally involved in all this?
A: Actually, I never had a chance not to be deeply involved. I used to accompany my father when I was just seven on his trips round Europe buying veneers. What we were looking for, once we got involved with seagoing vessels, was material that would be more weather resistant and that could handle exposure to wind, rain and salt spray without swelling. We found we had to develop our own product. This was a kind of foam. We decided that because the product we developed was very light weight by comparison with plywood, and yet wore very well and was very durable, that we had a great product, as well as great craft skills, that would be good for the business aviation industry. Weight is very critical in business aviation so we had a great story to tell.
Q: So how did you make the transition to business aviation?
A: We have had considerable success in the sector but the initial introduction was not easy. We took the product to FACC, a big composite manufacturer for the aviation industry in Austria. They deliver products for Airbus, Boeing, for example, and for Bombardier and Embraer. Initially, despite our high hopes, they were not interested. Our complete lack of any track record in business aviation and the fact that we were unknown to them made them show us the door. But we went back for a second time in 2004 and told them the story yet again and this time they listened. FACC had won contracts for the Learjet 40 and 45 and now they were interested. Shortly thereafter we delivered components for the internal cabins for both aircraft. This was followed by a contract to provide an interior completion for the Challenger 300 in 2006, and then we began completions work on a number of Challenger 300s. FACC remains a very important partner of ours today.
What makes F/LIST special is that we pride ourselves on being excellent craftsmen. We have a very high level of skill and all our employees are very experienced in their trades and specialisms. This allows us to reproduce aesthetic qualities perfectly and to get a project completed first time, every time. We are never satisfied with what we have just done. We are always trying to finish a project more efficiently, more aesthetically, so that each project is better than the one before it. We are always hungry. We are not on the design side, in a way that Howard Guy, for example, our partner on the Aerion AS2 Supersonic Jet, is a designer. Our strength is our ability to work with innovative materials to create the interior that the designer visualises.
One of the latest things we developed, which shows the quality of our craftsmanship, is that we can do 3D curves in veneer. People try to finish flat veneer services with edges of wood or other material. We have developed a way of producing a sharply curved veneer finish that has a great deal of aesthetic appeal. By itself it is not such a great thing, but it shows the level of skill that F/LIST has.
We also deliver heated stone flooring solutions that are ultra-thin. We make them so that they are certifiable for aircraft usage.
We have also had a very long standing relationship with Lufthansa Technik. The INAIRVATION Partnership brings together Lufthansa Technik, DesignQ, Schott and F/LIST. The idea was to integrate the cabin furniture with the cabin electronics as a one-stop shop for the whole aircraft cabin. The idea is that you just deal with a single company, INAIRVATION, for the whole cabin completions project. We get the raw data from the OEM, then we work to integrate the furniture and the cabin electronics together as a composite whole. Right now though, there are not a lot of new completions projects. So instead, we are targeting the after-market particularly. We are producing kits that make it easy for owners and operators to upgrade their cabins including IFE with pre-engineered modules, creating minimum down-time.
Q: The INAIRVATION Partnership won the design and completions contract for Aerion’s AS2 Supersonic Jet, which now looks odds on to become a reality thanks to backing from Airbus. That must be a great win for you?
A: It is true that we have the Aerion contract and DesignQ has finished the concept design. But at the moment Aerion are taking some time out to evaluate and make their choice of engines. We have completed the concept work but we cannot go further right now. It is a fantastic, high-profile project to be involved with though, and we look forward to being involved with the actual completions when the jet goes into production at some future date.