CORPORATE jets such as the Airbus ACJ318, ACJ319, ACJ320 and ACJ321 are a relatively new business for the company - though it has been building VIP wide-bodies since the mid-1980s.
“We decided to go ahead with a corporate jet version o f the Airbus ACJ319 in 1997, just a year after the A319 airliner entered service,” says Francois Chazelle, Vice President, Corporate Jets, Airbus.
“Until then, we did not have an aircraft small enough to compete with the largest offerings from established manufacturers such Bombardier and Gulfstream.
“We have the widest and tallest cabin of any business jet,” says Chazelle, “so we are offering something that is much better than traditional business jets.”
What’s really interesting is that while Airbus has a much better cabin in its corporate jets, it is similar in size in length and wingspan, giving customers more on the inside for a similar external footprint,” says Chazelle.
What you can offer customers on board is key in the large corporate jet market because, as the saying goes, “it’s the cabin that sells the aircraft”.
The reason that the cabin is so important is that customers want to take into the air the kind of comfort and space that they already have on the ground in their home or office.
Customers are looking for a practical arrangement on board – somewhere to sit, to work, to eat, to socialise, to wash and to sleep. Which is why most business jets feature office, lounge and bedroom areas, rather than exotic items such as saunas or Jacuzzis, which are impractical in an aircraft.
So what are the benefits of a corporate jet, and can it really make economic sense to fly one?
One of the most important benefits of corporate jets is that they allow the leaders of companies and countries to accomplish more in a given time. “We have a customer in India that says their Airbus corporate jet gives them an eight-day week,” points out Chazelle.
Then there is the ability to fly when you want to, rather than when an airline schedule says that you can. Other benefits include being able to bypass queues at airports, ensuring confidentiality in business dealings, and having the ability to visit several company sites in a day – including those that may not have scheduled air service.
The ability to work on board is another key advantage. This could include inviting a business partner aboard for a discussion while you fly, finalising the details of a multi-million dollar deal with the rest of your team, or just catching up with work and staying in touch with the office through the latest communications technology.
In terms of the value that corporate jets bring to a company, the benefits can be huge. It is no exaggeration to say that a company’s private jet may help its executives to win deals worth billions of dollars. In fact studies in the US show that large companies that use corporate jets achieve better profitability and growth in value than those that do not.
Airbus corporate jets are well placed to satisfy the needs of all three main market sectors – companies, billionaires and Governments – because they comprise a complete family at the top end of the market.
What Airbus does is to start with the world’s most modern airliner family, and then make corporate jets out of them – by installing private cabins customised to suit customer wishes and, in the case of the Airbus ACJ318, ACJ319, ACJ320 and ACJ321, by giving them additional features, such as extra fuel tanks for intercontinental range.
The result is that Airbus delivers the comfort and space that customers want, in the size of aircraft that they need,” says Chazelle.
If the main need is to fly a handful of people within Asia, for example, an Airbus ACJ318 with seating for 19 and the range to fly nonstop to most cities in the region may satisfy the requirement.
Bu if a Government wanting to fly a delegation of 100 people, comprising leaders, advisors, industrialists and media , and if you want the range to fly them “nonstop to the world” then it would need a wide-body aircraft – and Airbus can provide that.
So how should a customer go about choosing a corporate jet, and is it better to rent or to buy one?
“Begin by thinking carefully about how you will use the aircraft,” advises Chazelle, “and ask yourself how many people you want to carry, what sort of routes you want to fly, and how often you will be travelling”.
“This will guide you toward the size and range of aircraft that you need and, if you envisage flying more than about 300 hours a year, buying your own aircraft may make sense,” he adds.
If you are a customer that is new to aviation, one way to get a good idea of what’s available is to visit an airshow, where you can see and experience for yourself the kinds of cabins on offer.
Another way to experience what corporate jets have to offer is to charter one for a trip. Around 15 companies offer Airbus corporate jets for VVIP charters, highlighting their appeal to travellers at the premium end of the market.
So what is the market like for corporate jets in Asia, and India in particular?
“Well, Asia is the world’s fastest developing market in terms of GDP, with countries such as China officially growing at 7 per cent a year and, in reality, more like 10 per cent annually. China is also a relatively new market for business jets and, with well over a billion people and far flung borders, it is also a very large one.
India is also a promising market, and one in which Airbus sees good potential for its corporate jets,” says Chazelle, adding that economic growth is the main driver of air travel for both airlines and business jets, so Asia-Pacific is a very important market for Airbus corporate jets today.
Figures vary from year to year, so it’s hard to be precise about the market, which has been challenging for all manufacturers in the last couple of years, he adds.
“We think that there’s the potential for 5-10 Airbus corporate jet sales a year in Asia-Pacific, which is a market that consistently shows signs of vitality for us” says Chazelle.
Airbus corporate jets have a strong presence in Asia-Pacific, with some 30 sales in the region to date, including aircraft in India.
Airbus is primarily an airliner manufacturer – it has sold more large airliners than anyone else for most of the past decade – so what is the value of corporate jet sales to the company?
“Corporate jet sales are always going to be small compared to Airbus’ airliner business,” says Chazelle, “but customers want us to be in this market, we have great products, and we make a worthwhile contribution to the company’s bottom line”.
In 2010, for example, Airbus delivered 15 corporate jets, which represented US$1.5 billion dollars worth of business.
“We do see our corporate jet business growing from the 170 or so orders that we have today,” says Chazelle, “which is one of the main reasons why we have channelled this activity into a new business unit.”
“This new business unit - operational since the start of this year - brings together commercial, programme and support functions for corporate jets within Airbus, and will also make us more responsive to our customers and operators,” says Chazelle.
“Airbus aircraft are designed to be highly reliable in the demanding airline environment, where an airliner such as the A319 may fly seven, eight or even nine sectors a day”, points out Chazelle. “That reliability pays dividends in the corporate jet market, where customers fly a lot less,” he adds.
“Of course customers need support as well as reliability and, with more than 450 customers and operators, Airbus has a comprehensive worldwide network of technical assistance, spares and training. Airbus also recognises that the corporate jet operators have different needs, so they get access to special services, as well as the worldwide support network,” Chazelle says.
“We’ve come a long way since we delivered our first corporate jet,” says Chazelle, “and even further since we began delivering Airbus ACJ318s, ACJ319s, ACJ320s and ACJ321s.”
“But the world’s a big place, and we still see room for growth. Who knows, one day Airbus corporate jets may be almost as well known as their airline counterparts,” concludes Chazelle.