Sylvain Mariat of ACJC, on designing a concept super-first class cabin for commercial airlines
A number of factors are coming together to create something of a squeeze on new orders in the completions market over the next few years. Apart from disappointingly low global growth, which is likely to show up in lower and slower deliveries for new jets in the mid-range and large-cabin sectors, there is the usual pause that tends to follow the announcement of new models from Airbus and Boeing.
Green deliveries of ACJs and BBJs have been hugely important to the leading completions houses and anything that slows up orders of new green jets will show up as a thinning of the pipeline of future work for these businesses. Since the sector is arguably already substantially overcrowded, this is going to make for some tough trading conditions. It is also likely to mean that operators and owners will be able to get some keen prices on cabin refurbishment work as studios look to plug gaps in their forward pipeline.
On top of this, the continued Chinese crackdown on corruption has virtually halted all new orders from what was anticipated to be a thriving market for new aircraft with a 6000+ nautical mile range. The Middle East market still has legs, but even there, the fact that the price of oil is down in the mid-US$30-a-barrel range, is generating complicated and largely unpredictable ramifications.
Airbus is set to deliver the first ACJ320neo in the fourth quarter of 2018 to Acropolis Aviation, based in Farnborough. Deliveries to completions houses of ACJ320neos should then pick up in 2019. Airbus also has the ACJ319neo following hard on the heels of the 320, which, again should bring considerable new business and much relief to the completions sector. In January this year Airbus announced that K5 Aviation has ordered an ACJ319neo, for delivery in the second quarter of 2019.
Both aircraft have much to make them desirable to owners and operators. The additional room under the wing in the neo design allows Airbus to give owners a choice between two leading new engine designs, namely the CFM International LEAP-1A, and Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G.
Both engines have a substantially larger diameter, offering much higher bypass ratios than the engines on the current A320s and A319s. The turbofan engines include new technologies providing improved aerodynamic flows, advanced technologies and higher pressure ratios. The lower fuel burn this creates, along with lower levels of engine noise and emissions, means more range. The ACJ319neo has a range of 6,700nm with eight passengers, while the ACJ320neo can cover 6,000 nm with 28 passengers. By way of contrast, today a commercial A320 has a range of 3,500nm. Airbus says that its ACJ320neo will burn 12% less fuel than the BBJ MAX 8.
This is, of course, not just a function of the engines. There is always a trade-off to be made between range and luggage capacity. Commercial airlines need the central hold space for baggage, which limits the range. Comparing like with like, today’s generation of ACJ320s have a range of around 4,500nm. An ACJ319neo configured for a normal mission with eight passengers will have five centrally mounted fuel tanks, giving it that extended 6,700nm reach.
Boeing’s BBJ 737 Max 8 was announced in 2014 and had its first flight on 29 January this year, with deliveries scheduled for 2017. It has the CFM International LEAP-1B engines and Advanced Technology winglets and will offer slightly more range and a 4% improvement in fuel burn over the ACJ320neo, according to Boeing. The range is put at 6,325nm and will have the same cabin size as the current BBJ 2. There are three models, based on Boeing’s 737 MAX 7, MAX 8 and MAX 9. In 2015 Boeing announced that it had received four firm orders for the BBJ 737 MAX 9, which, together with the launch order for the 737 MAX 8 announced a year earlier, puts its order book at five BBJ 737 MAX aircraft.
Both Boeing and Airbus have had an enthusiastic response from major commercial airlines for the new, more fuel-efficient, lower operating cost models and one can expect both companies to be giving priority to ramping up production to meet these orders. However, they have been sensitive in the past to the need to divert some production time to satisfy demand for the business jet market as well, so it is an open question how the supply/demand balance will work out once deliveries of the commercial and business jet models start in earnest. What is certain is that if orders for ACJs and BBJs start to achieve some volume, it will be a huge boost for the completions market.
Airbus’s own 100% owned subsidiary, Airbus Corporate Jet Centre (ACJC), which specialises exclusively in VVIP and Head of State completions of ACJs, has not been immune to the drying up of green completions orders. However, as Sylvain Mariat, Head of the Creative Design Studio at ACJC notes, although its pipeline for new orders is temporarily depleted, his team is busy producing concept designs for the latest among some commercial carriers – namely the move into providing ultra-luxurious cabins for VVIPs.
The jumbo A380 has provided both Etihad and Singapore Airlines with the chance to really move first class up several notches. Etihad generated a lot of headlines with its offering, dubbed ‘The Residence’, while Singapore Airlines has private cabins and double beds for couples in its Airline Suites, with sliding doors and window blinds that allow for complete privacy. As Mariat points out, this is a new phenomenon for commercial airlines.
“We have the capacity to offer airlines top quality design and engineering skills to transform the luxury first class cabin concept and take it to new heights,” he says. ACJC has designed a concept cabin that it is now actively marketing to several commercial airlines.
“We believe there is a lot of mileage in this idea of a super-first class cabin. In the market today there are some five to 10 commercial carriers that have very ambitious plans for a super-first class offering for their VIP passengers, senior corporate executives and high net worth individuals,” he comments.
Mariat says that he really enjoyed the experience of designing a cabin for a single-aisle aircraft. “It is a totally different proposition to a widebody design, but both are very exciting for a designer. Our lightweight cabin design was for a real customer. He called me on his first flight and said he felt as if he were travelling on a widebody jet. That was a great compliment for myself and the team here at ACJC,” he comments.
In addition to the concept work, ACJC has been kept busy doing refurbishment work on aircraft. “We delivered a government aircraft that involved a very large refresh, including new seating and upholsteries. We had to pull out a lot of the existing monuments and fittings and since we did not do the original fitting out, finding everything that we needed was tough. But the customer was very satisfied,” he concludes.