High-end models fare well in down charter market
The cream has risen to the top and has not gone sour is how Comlux would characterize today’s charter market, which is to say that demand for high-end, airliner-class aircraft has held up well in relation to the marked downturn still being suffered by operators of smaller jets. This explains why the Swiss-based group has come to Orlando (Booth No. 4293) with its latest Airbus bizliner, a newly delivered A318 Elite model that is now operating alongside another A318 and a pair of Airbus Corporate Jetliners.
The Elite, which can be viewed on the NBAA static display, features a new-look interior distinguished by a dome-profiled ceiling that gives a greater feeling of spaciousness and, quite literally, more headroom. The aircraft was completed at the Airbus Corporate Jet Centre in Toulouse, in which Comlux is a joint venture partner with the European airframer.
“This is the only part of the charter market that is doing well these days. We expect to introduce one or two more Airbuses between now and 2010,” Comlux chief executive Richard Gaona told NBAA Convention News. “Demand has dropped by 40 percent in the category below Airbus and Boeing aircraft, and some people are offering aircraft with free positioning to compete for what business there is.”
Gaona acknowledged that some aircraft owners are feeling financial pressure, having counted on charter income to offset their own operating costs. “We are completely open with our customers and try to combine our efforts to get through this crisis in ways such as reducing the overall number of pilots and spreading them across the fleet on a part-time basis,” he said.
Bombardier’s business aircraft are the other main component of the Comlux fleet. The company now operates half a dozen members of the Global Express family, including two 5000s, two XRSs and a pair of the original Global Express models. Two more Globals are to be added to the fleet by the end of this year, joining four Challenger 605s and two 850s.
Comlux prefers to focus its efforts on just a couple of manufacturers’ products, but it also manages a Dassault Falcon 2000 and a Hawker Beechcraft Hawker 850 on behalf of existing clients. The scale of its operation and fairly high degree of fleet commonality mean that clients can benefit from factors such as the company’s 180-minute ETOPS clearance and Part 129 authorization, allowing flights into the U.S. without the normal bureaucratic clearance process.
Recently, the operator was forced to reshuffle its operating structure when the European Aviation Safety Agency placed Kazakhstan, where Comlux holds a local aircraft operators certificate (AOC) through its Comlux KZ subsidiary, on a blacklist due to concerns over the effectiveness of the country’s regulatory regime. The company has transferred aircraft operated purely for private owners to the Aruban registry and will likely switch its Kazakh-based charter aircraft to the European Union registry of Malta, where the company already has several jets under a new AOC.
Despite the market downturn, Gaona still believes that the Comlux strategy of combining completions capability in tandem with aircraft operations is paying off. “This allows us to be involved at every stage with a client–from helping with an aircraft acquisition, to having it completed for them and then operating it,” he explained.
Comlux has no plans to enter the domestic U.S. charter market but it is most definitely active in completions on this side of the Atlantic. It is investing around $3.4 million in expanding its Comlux Completions USA facility in Indianapolis, which is set to start performing ACJ completions from February 2010. The operation has also branched out into providing maintenance for Bombardier, having been appointed earlier this year as an authorized AOG/line maintenance center for the Learjet, Challenger and Global products.