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Saturday, September 1, 2001

The Ultimate in Cabin Completions

Lufthansa Technik has long outfitted executive aircraft with state-of-the-art cabin systems. Probably less known is that it has a growing product line in this area, as well.

David Jensen

Every field has its "ultimate." In automobiles, Rolls-Royce offers the ultimate in luxury. Mount Everest is the ultimate challenge for mountain climbers.

The ultimate in executive air travel would be converted widebodies like the Boeing 747, 777 and Airbus 340, along with the slightly more commonplace Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) and Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ), converted from narrowbody aircraft. Lufthansa Technik AG has been outfitting air-transport-size aircraft for the executive jet market for more than 20 years–at first for customers from the oil-rich Mideast.

Today the company’s customer base has expanded to include international corporations and government agencies, as well as the beneficiaries of brimming oil fields. It has won factory authorizations to work on BBJs, ACJs and, beginning in 2003, Fairchild Dornier Envoy 7s (corporate variants of 728 jetliners). Plus it has negotiated a unique, bilateral certification arrangement. So Lufthansa Technik could be tagged the ultimate in corporate jet completions. The company refers to the BBJs, ACJs and Envoy 7s as its XXL class of executive jet, while the converted widebodies are designated as VIP-class aircraft.

Why the Ultimate?

Contributing to this ultimate status is the largest-in-history corporate completion contract, which Lufthansa Technik gained in October 2000 from a joint venture of Boeing and Executive Jet, called Boeing NetJets. The contract calls for the installation of executive interiors in 11 new BBJs, beginning this year, with options for 20 more BBJ executive interiors between 2003 and 2008. Configured to quite comfortably accommodate 20 passengers, these aircraft will include an in-flight entertainment (IFE) package produced by IEC International Ltd., in the UK, and Airshow Inc., in Kirkland, Wash., plus plasma video displays developed by Lufthansa Technik.

Contributing also to Lufthansa Technik’s ultimate status would be sister company Lufthansa German Airlines’ decision to become the first international customer for the Connexion by Boeing high-speed airborne Internet and e-mail service. To evaluate this service during a three-month trial period next year, Lufthansa Technik is about to outfit a B747-400 with, among other items, a phased-array antenna to link with Ku-band satellites for on-board Internet and e-mail connection. The installation, in a program Lufthansa Technik calls "FlyNet," is scheduled to be complete by early 2002. Assuming favorable results from the trial, the company will equip 80 more long-range Lufthansa aircraft with the system.

Initially, the aircraft’s passengers will have limited use of Connexion’s Internet and e-mail service, i.e., only while the B747 flies over European or North American land masses. But in the September/October timeframe, Connexion by Boeing plans to have satellite coverage for the service over the Atlantic as well. And, according to Henry Starke, an engineer with Lufthansa Technik, Connexion by Boeing will be an option offered to his company’s executive aircraft customers.

The Internet/e-mail package will be one among a growing number of options offered. Through years of satisfying customers with discriminating preferences in cabin amenities, Lufthansa Technik has developed either autonomously or jointly with specialized manufacturers a line-up of products for cabin communications and entertainment, as well as for aircraft security.

From Old to New

The company’s executive aircraft completion activity resides in two large dedicated hangars at Hamburg’s Fuhlsbuttel International Airport in Germany. The hangars, which are Fuhlsbuttel’s oldest, were built in the 1950s to accommodate Lufthansa German Airlines’ relaunch in 1955. (The airline, now based in Frankfurt, was first launched in 1926 as Luft Hansa AG. Its operation was interrupted by World War II.) The hangars adjoin well-equipped back shops where woodworking and upholstery are done, and include full-size cabin mockups for the BBJ and ACJ.

In 2000 Lufthansa Technik invested some $2.12 million (2.5 million euros) in its workshops, part of an $8.4-million (10-million-euro) investment made since 1998. Much of the recent investment was to enhance the company’s internal testing of electronic equipment. The company also grew its staff for executive aircraft completions by 25% last year and now employs 123 persons, including 12 engineers devoted to cabin electronics.

The completion facilities also house a demonstration room and testing room for cabin communications and entertainment systems. The glassed-in demonstration room, located near the BBJ and ACJ cabin mockups, offers comfortable seating to watch and listen to Lufthansa Technik’s available IFE equipment: screens, speakers and projection units. It also is where customers can view three-dimensional renderings of interior configurations created by computer-aided design (CAD).

Next to the demonstration room and across a wide hallway from the two cabin mockups, Lufthansa Technik has a testing room. Here the entire cabin entertainment/communication system for a VIP-class aircraft, or systems for two XXL-class aircraft, can be set up and run prior to installation in the aircraft. In this room Lufthansa engineers make sure the complete system is in working order. The room also offers customers the opportunity to preview the system, to make sure it fulfills buyer requirements.

Lufthansa Product Line

Of course, customers who can afford these aircraft can demand any certifiable IFE equipment they desire, and many, according to Senior Engineer Andrew Muirhead, want to duplicate the sound and video equipment they have in their homes. Lufthansa Technik’s growing line-up of approved equipment meets the quality and technology levels that customers demand. As such, the company encourages customers to purchase these items, in part, by showing in its demo room both a certified system and a high-quality, non-certified system–for example, speakers–to demonstrate that no difference exists in the quality of the aircraft system.

"We have quite an array of items," says Starke of Lufthansa Technik’s available IFE equipment. "We have a product line established, with proven, out-in-the-field results."

For instance, Lufthansa Technik has collaborated with ELAC, in Kiel, Germany, to develop new flat-panel speakers, which it expects to have certified by late 2001. These unique speakers can be integrated into various furnishings or parts of the cabin: walls, pictures, displays, etc. The two companies have even succeeded in having the sound project from a viewing screen: Place your hand on the screen, and you can feel the vibration from the sound.

Instead of the piston diaphragm movement of conventional speakers, the ELAC/Lufthansa flat-panel speakers have a diaphragm that vibrates randomly across a surface. They take up less space and can be made to be virtually invisible to persons entering the cabin compartment.

The sound from these speakers is the result of controlled actuation of a flat panel of metal, glass or plastic. The speakers are light, provide near-linear frequency characteristics, and have low distortion.

"We want to show that we can stay ahead of the market in terms of installing new technology," says Muirhead, referencing the flat-panel speakers as an example.

Big-Screen TV

Along with the speakers, Lufthansa Technik offers various-size viewing screens in the demonstration room, including Lufthansa’s own 42-inch-diagonal XXL Screen 42. This plasma display screen provides progressive-scanning image processing, a software enhancement that improves clarity by supplanting the process of scanning the image in intervals–i.e., building the image, as do consumer televisions–with one that continually shows the entire image at once.

The 3.3-by-2-foot (1-by-0.6-m) screen weighs 84 pounds (38 kg) and is just 3.4 inches (85 mm) in depth. It consists of layers of glass overlaid by a layer of military glass, which complies with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements that glass in aircraft not easily shatter. The plasma screen was introduced at the 1999 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show and was first installed for a customer in July 2000. More than 10 aircraft installations are now in service.

Some Lufthansa products are transparent to VIP customers–for example, a new cooling system for cabin electronics. It is a self-contained unit that produces cool air like a drink cooler. Lufthansa Technik officials say a current, sensitive patent application precludes disclosing further details of the system. However, Muirhead said it is already installed in two BBJs and an executive B777. The company, of course, will also install the conventional convection cooling system, using cabin air, if the customer chooses.

Lufthansa Technik also has developed, together with KID Systems (an Airbus subsidiary), a childproof, 110-volt electrical outlet to plug in laptops. "The socket provides the ultimate in electrical safety" says Muirhead. It has been installed in Lufthansa Airlines’ first- and business-class seats, in two BBJs, and in airlines operating worldwide.

And Lufthansa Technik has produced an ARINC 628-interface card that utilizes the ARINC 485 protocols for control of cabin electronic equipment.

When the B747-400 rolls into the hangar for installation of the Connexion by Boeing package, Lufthansa Technik will add its first Internet and e-mail capability. But it won’t be the first installation of the dual phased-array, Ku-band antenna developed by Connexion by Boeing. The company installed that package last year in an A340 for executive use. However, in this case, the antenna system is used solely for live TV.

Similarly, for on-board communications via satellite, Lufthansa Technik offers as an option a package that includes Honeywell’s AIS-1000 airborne information service and the MCS3000, 6000 or 7000 satcom systems, served by the Inmarsat constellation. The AIS-1000 OneView system brings to the cabin more than 50 channels of live TV news, sports, weather and business information. These are digital signals from a direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service. The MCS satcom systems provide continuous voice and data communications in either the Aero H, H+ or I environments.

The satcom package includes a radome designed by EMS Technologies for the BBJ’s vertical fin–comparable to ones designed for Gulfstream, Bombardier and Dassault bizjets–that was certified this spring. Standard in the radome are the EMS high-gain, AMT-50 satcom antenna and the Honeywell/EMS, DBA-1150 DBS antenna. However, both could be substituted for other antennas.

The radome weighs 29 pounds (13.2 kg). The VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Radio Range) antenna currently located on the BBJ’s vertical fin is replaced by a new antenna, mounted on the side of the new satcom radome. Lufthansa Technik is considering the same EMS/Honeywell package for Airbus aircraft.

A LAN for CAIN

Lufthansa Technik also installed an on-board wireless local area network (LAN) for trials, which have been successfully completed. The network, Rockwell Collins’ I2S (Integrated Information System), is on four air-transport A320s operated by Condor Flugdienst, Lufthansa’s charter affiliate. Called the Condor Aircraft Integrated Network, or CAIN, the system was used initially for trials, to test a data link between an aircraft-based intranet to airline terminal area databases. The I2S allows such data as maintenance diagnostics, nav databases, flight plans and graphical weather information to be exchanged quickly over a low-power microwave airport gate link, which has been installed at Palma de Mallorca airport in Spain and at Berlin Schonefeld and Leipzip-Halle airports in Germany.

One-of-a-Kind Agreement

Lufthansa Technik’s ability to develop and install highly sophisticated and sometimes one-of-a-kind cabin systems for its VIP customers is supported by a unique bilateral agreement in which the company gains dual certification. The agreement took the German and U.S. authorities more than a year to secure, but it was worth it and is the only such agreement established in the world. Now Lufthansa Technik’s new installations receive simultaneous approval from Germany’s Luftfahrt Bundesamt (LBA) and the FAA.

"We have our own Design Organization Approval," says Muirhead, referring to a designation similar to the FAA’s Designated Alteration Station (DAS) approval.

A Strong Market

Lufthansa Technik has tapped a strong market in fitting out large executive jets. This year, it will have completed four XXL jets and one VIP aircraft, a B747. Last year, it delivered three BBJs, two ACJs and the world’s first B777 with a VIP cabin interior.

The company has established a production line for VIP aircraft and four production lines for the XXL-class aircraft. According to Muirhead, completing a VIP aircraft takes about a year’s time; XXL-class completions require approximately four to six months, depending on complexity. The company receives most of the BBJs and ACJs as green aircraft. Some work, such as upholstery and furniture making, is contracted out to specialized companies, but Muirhead says, "70% to 80% of the completion work is done in-house."

In 2002 Lufthansa plans to complete seven executive aircraft. In June of the following year, it plans to commence completion of the first Fairchild Dornier Envoy 7, with delivery in early 2004.

A growing completion business plus a growing line of cabin electronic systems–quite appropriate for the ultimate in executive aircraft completion work.

Aircraft Security

When you have a multimillion-dollar means of transportation, you want to protect it. Lufthansa Technik has thought of that concern for its executive aircraft customers and therefore offers a system developed together with AD Aerospace in Manchester, England. Called the Defender, the system comprises at least four video microcameras and an antenna mounted on the aircraft’s fuselage, plus a processor and digital recording system installed near the cameras. A customer can choose to have eight or even 12 cameras installed if he or she chooses, and though their primary use is for security while the aircraft is on the ground, the cameras also can show and record imagery while in flight.

Using video motion detection (VMD) programmed into the system, the Defender’s microcameras, pointing in four directions for 360� coverage, can detect the slightest activity near the aircraft. Any threatening motion is recorded digitally on a hard disk, and it triggers actions programmed in by the user. The system can be customized, for example, to make sure that a rabbit or small piece of debris blown by the wind doesn’t create an unnecessary alert. The data picked up by the monitoring system can be transmitted at a rate of 56 kilobits/sec via a wireless local area network (LAN) to a laptop located within a 985-foot (300-m) range. A low-power transmitter using spread spectrum technology sends the signals to the laptop, precluding any interference.

For an alert to a possible intrusion, the remote laptop can be programmed to trigger the dial-up of a mobile or regular phone number. If, say, the pilots are alerted while away from the airport, they can respond by booting up a laptop and accessing the Internet to view the recorded intrusion.

Lufthansa Technik has installed the Defender on two BBJs and the Boeing 777 it completed for a VIP customer last year.

The Larger Picture

Large and impressive as Lufthansa Technik’s executive aircraft completions facilities are, they represent a small percentage of the company’s business. Most work in the Lufthansa Technik’s six hangars and 77 other buildings at Hamburg’s Fuhlsbuttel International Airport is major overhaul and maintenance on some 600 aircraft, most airliners operated by Lufthansa German Airlines and some 300 other carriers. Lufthansa Technik, which has been a separate business from Lufthansa German Airlines since 1995, occupies 750,000 m2 of land at Fuhlsbuttel. That’s in addition to major facilities in Frankfurt, Ireland, Asia and the United States, in Tulsa, Okla. Lufthansa Technik once rented the Hamburg facilities it occupies, but purchased them from the city of Hamburg last year.

Lufthansa Technik took in $1.9 million (2.3 billion euros) in sales in 2000, according to company chairman August W. Henningsen, and its earnings doubled, reaching $31.2 million (37.1 million euros).

The company’s Avionics and Electrical Systems Department (A&ES) carries out the aircraft electronics work. Its duties include all electrical work on the executive aircraft Lufthansa Technik completes; that represents 30% of its activity. Another 30% represents work on Lufthansa aircraft, leaving the remaining 40% on aircraft operated by other airlines.

Most of Lufthansa Technik’s work on executive aircraft is in the cabin area. "Cockpits in the BBJs and ACJs are pretty much factory-fitted," says Wolfgang Martens, Lufthansa Technik’s senior engineer-flight deck systems. "However, we often have to update the cockpits in [often pre-owned] VIP aircraft to comply with standards."

For example, the company just completed installing in a VIP B747 Classic an Astronautics electronic flight instrument system, a CMC Electronics flight management system, an Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), and a Honeywell Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System. It also modified the traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) to display traffic on the new electronic horizontal situation indicator. This is Lufthansa Technik’s second such cockpit upgrade on a B747.

Lufthansa Technik’s avionics facilities comprise 11 avionics shops, which employ more than 150 engineers. (Lufthansa Technik employs nearly 11,000 persons; counting subsidiaries and affiliates, that figure about doubles.) The department has test equipment for virtually all avionics systems installed in airliners, and its engineers can repair systems down to the component (capacitor or resistor) level.

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