TAECO launches VIP widebody completions business at Gaoqi International Airport
The specialist heavy maintenance and aero engineering company TAECO, based at Gaoqi International Airport in Xiamen, southern China, has secured the first order for its new multi-million dollar VVIP completions business. As CEO Steve Chadwick explains, the company was also appointed Asia’s first completions centre for business jets by Airbus and subsequently by Boeing. In part this has to do with TAECO’s pedigree in the aviation sector, which goes back some 60 years, together with the strength in depth of its resources. The company has the backing of the HAECO aviation company and ultimately of its parent company, the multi-billion pound Swire Group. The award is also Airbus’s and Boeing’s recognition of the fact that TAECO is very serious about becoming a major player in the Chinese completions market.
TAECO has a tremendous wealth of talent, expertise and facilities to draw on. The company has six double-bay, widebody hangars at Gaoqi and is accustomed to doing cabin upgrades or refurbishments for commercial airlines, including Cathay Pacific, one of its major shareholders. It has carried out some cabin upgrades or refurbishments so far on over 200 aircraft inputs, but the move into the VVIP completions space take things to a new level. Until TAECO moved into the game, wealthy owners of new Airbus and Boeing business jets had to appoint completions centres on the other side of the world, in the US or Europe.
“People in the business aviation sector may not be aware of the success story of TAECO. We are part of the HAECO Group which itself is part of the multi-billion pound Swire Group,” Chadwick says. Based in Hong Kong, HAECO is the long-term maintenance provider to sister company Cathay Pacific. In the 1990s when Cathay Pacific was taking off in a major way, finding sufficient real estate to do aircraft maintenance in Hong Kong was tricky.So in 1993 the company planned to develop capability in Xiamen, and moved to Gaoqi International Airport where work started on the large amount of hangar space that heavy maintenance requires. By 1996 it was ready to begin operations in its first hangar. Since then the facility has grown to six hangars in total, capable of accommodating up to 12 large cabin, widebodied commercial jet aircraft. As Chadwick explains, initially the completions business is piggybacking on the maintenance business. The group originally handled large amounts of heavy maintenance for the commercial airline Cathay Pacific. Today about 30-40% of its work continues to come from Cathy Pacific and, to a limited extent, from private jets.
“We provide engineering support covering the breadth of maintenance services. Moving from there to developing a VVIP cabin completions business was a major step but we already had most of the engineering and other skills that we required in-house. The base skill set is the same but you are applying them in new and innovative ways,” Chadwick says.
The VVIP completions team was recruited wholly from local people, who were trained up in the skills required by Airbus and by other world class organisations, including an industrial designs team who are now skilled in 3D modelling and rendering, so that clients can do a ‘fly through’ and see exactly how their design choices will look in the virtual cabin. “The 3D walk-through is impressive in terms of the quality of the visuals. The team put together a mock-up of an Airbus interior. The in-house manufacturing capability, back shop capability and the relationship with globally reputable vendors on VIP cabin business allows TAECO to install high-class products on the cabin. Chadwick says. The customer is invariably a high net worth individual who is buying the plane in his own right and not as a corporate jet.
“We are in this for the long haul. We strongly believe there is huge potential in the business aviation market in China. Our focus here is very much on the high end large jet, the Boeing BBJs and the Airbus 320 series ACJs. We will be keeping a close watch on the market and adapt ourselves accordingly,” he adds.
Because Chadwick’s team are able to use space in one of TAECO’s six double-bay, widebody hangars for the VVIP completions work there is plenty of room to grow the business. “The facility is sized for about five simultaneous lines, but it will be a few years before we can expect to get anything approaching that volume of work. The challenge with completions is that each project is very front-end loaded as far as demands on engineering skills are concerned, and thereafter there is a long installation period. So you have to align your engineering capacity and resources with your order book. This is not a market where you can disappoint the customer, so we will be very cautious about not overloading ourselves. We are definitely still in the build out phase of the completions business, but we are confident that we have the people, the skills and the resources that are going to allow us to deliver and to be China’s premier completion centre,” he concludes.