There is a small slice of German-owned industry tucked away in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called BizJet International Sales and Support, Inc. As a member of the Lufthansa Technik Group, this US based facility offers a broad spectrum of services, including VIP interior completions, engine overhaul and maintenance and FBO services. BizJet adheres to all the high standards of production we expect from the German giant, but has its own story to tell as a diverse and growing business. Jo Murray speaks to Brian Barber, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, BizJet International Sales & Support Inc.
Established in 1986 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, BizJet has not always fallen under the umbrella of the Lufthansa Technik Group. The German company’s ownership came much later in 2000. The Tulsa Company had always – and still does – focus mainly on business aviation rather than the commercial airline sector. So what was Lufthansa Technik seeking to achieve through this US acquisition? Barber responds: “This was mostly about gaining market share in the private business sector, which also includes completions.” Of course, the US offers one of the most dynamic business aviation markets, so a US acquisition, such as BizJet, provided a perfect fit.
Today, there are three business segments to BizJet, the first of which is engine MRO. “The engine MRO side of the business, which caters to three engine types: the Rolls-Royce Spey Mk511-6, Tay Mk611-8 and Tay Mk620/650. The addition of the Tay Mk620/650 for the Lufthansa operated or an affiliated airline is very exciting to us which allows us to embark on the commercial airline sector. The engine part of the business has grown at a steady pace and over the last seven years, BizJet has gained more market share each year,” Barber says.
The second segment encompasses VIP jet refurbishment, full completions and MRO for narrow body aircraft. “Our capabilities include the Boeing 737 BBJs and Airbus ACJs – which is the A318 Elite, A318, A319 and A320 family,” says Barber. When asked whether the completions side of the business satisfies purely US market demand, he responds: “We initially started with US customers, but our customer base now expands to markets all over the world.”
Barber explains that, on the completions side, there is a very coordinated sales team approach between BizJet and Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. The reason for this approach was due to Hamburg forecasting capacity restraints at the height of the market. “Thus, in 2008, BizJet entering the completions business provided additional production capacity,” says Barber. “We have worked with the Hamburg sales team on many projects and it’s a winning combination to have them on our side.”
With Airbus as its partner, Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg and BizJet, they can offer a cleverly packaged A318 completions project called the Elite. This interior completion can take place at both facilities, but the majority of them have taken place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Offering an innovative concept, with a generally standardised VIP cabin configuration, allows an accelerated completion turn time with the advantage of a lower cost solution,” says Barber. “Airbus has done an outstanding job of offering this to their customers and we are very proud to be their completion partner of choice for the Elites.”
Barber explains that, in the world of VIP jet completions, BizJet offers the same services in Tulsa as its parent company in Hamburg. “Although we can utilise the strengths and resources of Hamburg, we pride ourselves in becoming a fully stand alone operation,” he confirms. “We have our own engineering, design teams, production and certification experts dedicated to our facility here in Tulsa. As a member of the Lufthansa Group, we also have access to a globe-spanning support network if needed.”
Recently a third completion line has been opened and BizJet now has three airplanes in the hangers. Barber explains that there are plans in place to continue to grow, and to this end, they are still hiring. “We’ve doubled the workforce for completions this past year and with this bring responsibilities in terms of training and development. This hiring effort is to support new business for continued expansion of the VIP completion segment.”
“We are very careful to grow the business at a rate that we can support,” he says, adding that BizJet refuses to over-commit. “Our growth plans have been slower than many of the other completion centres but we have made a decision to only take on what we can commit to and complete. Our philosophy is only to commit to what we are confident we can deliver. Because of this, we have turned away business that we could not support.”
Barber points out that when you ramp up from one production line to three in a year, there is a lot of growth to manage. In fact, there is a fourth production line waiting in the wings and Barber expects that facility to be up and running by the end of 2012.
The final part of the BizJet service segment is the full-service FBO facility located in Tulsa – perhaps a surprising addition to the business portfolio, but the rationale for operating an FBO is a sound one. Barber explains: “Because Tulsa is right in the middle of the US, we see a lot of customers who are flying from east coast to west coast that need to stop for fuel. We offer all the amenities for passengers and pilots including a comfortable lounge, conference rooms and concierge services.”
The combination of the three service areas delivers an interesting market portfolio. Barber talks in terms of turn-time achievements on the engine front that are met through keeping the operation lean and customer service levels high. He says that success on the completions segment is delivered through carefully consulting with the client, thoroughly understanding the expectations and not over committing or over selling the product.
In the end, he says, it is a question of value. “We value our integrity and providing world-class completions, technical services, and trend-setting product innovations and most importantly, delivering what the customer expects. This is how we do business!”