Francois Chazelle, vice president at Airbus Corporate Jets, discusses the rapidly growing Asian market
What research did you do when designing the Phoenix cabin concept for the Asian market?
Airbus’ A318 Elite, ACJ and A320 Prestige have the largest and most comfortable cabins of any business jet, and we wanted to capitalise on this for the Asian corporate jet market, which is one of the fastest growing today.
We already knew that customers wanted to take into the air the comfort and space that they already enjoyed on the ground, so we asked some customers what sort of things Asian homes have that are central to both work and leisure.
We found that a round table was the focus of family life in a lot of Asian cultures, including China, especially at meal times. And a round table is also a good place for a business discussion because everyone has the same access to others at the table. Also, because we have the widest cabin of any corporate jet, we can have a good-sized table – as well as enough room for people to pass by the seated guests – which no one else can do.
We also knew that playing games is a passion in many countries, including China, where Mahjong is popular. Hence the circular table that converts to form a rectangular one, which is better for games.
How was the concept received at the recent Asian Aerospace show?
We had a lot of interest in the Phoenix concept at the show, as well as in the A318 Elite that we had on display, which allowed visitors to see the unequalled freedom of movement that our cabins offer, as well as their comfort and space.
Did Airbus win any orders at the show that you can disclose?
As the industry saying goes, ‘It’s the cabin that sells the aircraft’, so one of the best things we can do at an air show is to display our wider, taller and better cabin to potential customers. And we did have billionaires visiting our aircraft, which is great, because there’s a good chance that that will lead to orders – though they might never be announced.
What potential does this market hold?
Sales of aircraft are driven by economic growth and, with China forecasting an increase of about 7% a year and the country being a relatively new user of business jets, this is a hugely important market for us. We already have a good presence in China, with some 20 Airbus corporate jet sales to date, and we anticipate a market for about five of our aircraft a year.
What are the main challenges in this market?
For us as a manufacturer, a key challenge is making potential customers aware of the Airbus aircraft we have to offer, and the benefits that they can bring to their businesses in time savings, greater productivity and so on. For corporate jet operators, the challenge is in having good access to flight-plan approvals, take-off and landing slots, and airport facilities such as fixed-base operators.
What audits did TAECO pass to become an approved cabin outfitter?
We want to recommend to our customers cabin outfitters that will do a good job because we want them to be satisfied with their aircraft, and that means that the cabin needs to be good as well as the aircraft. In auditing an outfitter, we look at its ability to do a good job technically, of course, but also at other aspects, such as its ability to support the result and its financial stability.
Aircraft maintenance is often an important part of a cabin outfitter’s business because the customer will usually go back to the completion centre for any work on the interior, and will generally take advantage of this downtime to have things done to the aircraft. So TAECO starts from a good background, and after working with Airbus for three years, has produced a cabin mock-up of great quality [pictured above right].
Is Airbus actively searching for more new cabin outfitters in other ’emerging’ markets?
TAECO is the first Airbus-approved cabin outfitter in Asia-Pacific, which gives our customers more choice, and for those in China, a completion centre on the mainland that speaks the same language, has the same culture and is in the same time zone.
We now have eight Airbus-approved cabin outfitters spread throughout America, Asia and Europe, which gives our clients a lot of choice. We continue to monitor the market for further opportunities.