WRITER: Nicolas Shammas
Lufthansa Technik, one of the world’s largest aeroplane maintenance, repair and overhaul providers, just announced the signing of a private completion contract for the brand new Boeing 747-8. Bespoke probes the company’s chief interior architect, Michael Reichenecker.
Since efficiency of space is so important in jet design, does it take a very specific type of interior designer to be successful in this field?
Of course designers build up a certain knowledge base in specific areas. I’d say what you need is a strong ability to understand interiors and decipher what clients are actually looking for. We have very high profile clients who are looking for something very particular so it’s important to discern what it is they require and for us to be able to transform their ideas into an aesthetically pleasing and viable environment.
Given your new Boeing 747-8 completion contract I would like to ask you how this aircraft compares to an Airbus A380. These are of course the top products from both manufacturers, so how do they fare as private aeroplanes?
Well, the A380 is a new product with much more space. It has two floors of almost equal surface area and the fact the stairs are located at the back presents some interesting variation possibilities with a lot of privacy. The 747-8, on the other hand, is the latest offering from a very reliable, existing family – the 747. It has a long history in terms of certification requirements, but it also has a very interesting area in its mid-section that allows for incredibly high ceilings. From a designer’s perspective, having almost 3-metres of internal height presents some truly exciting options. Generally speaking, I would say both have advantages and disadvantages so at the end of the day, it really comes down to the individual requirements of the customer.
How many private projects has Lufthansa Technik undertaken?
In terms of completed projects, there have been 55 narrow-bodies [Airbus A318, Boeing BBJ etc.] and 26 wide-bodies [Airbus A340, Boeing 747 etc.]. There are some interesting wide-bodied aircraft currently in development including the A380, Boeing 787 and the 747-8.
How many of those projects have been for Arab clients?
The Middle East is a traditional VIP market, and as such, throughout Lufthansa’s history, the Arab client has been an important one. On the other hand, we are seeing new markets like the Far East and Russia becoming more and more significant.
How many aircrafts have you yourself worked on?
At Lufthansa Technik I have worked on six or seven, five of which have been completed.
How long does it typically take to go from drawing board to delivery of an aircraft?
This depends on the level of complexity, but you could say that wide-bodies take from three to four years and narrow bodies can take as little as five to six months, if you opt for the standardised program we have with Airbus for the A318 Elite.
Before you embark on a project, and before you allow your creative juices to flow, do you try to establish a relationship with your customer in order to understand their needs?
Definitely. The most important concern is to understand the client’s requirements. For example, we always initially ask what designs he likes, whether it’s a hotel, a boat or even objets d’arts, as this will provide insight into what he is looking for. In fact, this is a key strength of ours – we really do listen to the customer and we then translate those ideas into his dream aeroplane.
What are some of the constraints to conceiving a dream aircraft?
Certification. But this comes down to the requirements of the client. Besides the designs he likes, we would need to see how he plans on using the aircraft. Is it purely for private use or will there be some commercial usage? Will it be for fun or business? How many people does he plan on taking with him? How much luggage? Will there be meeting rooms, bedrooms, and if so, how many? Any showers? This is all covered in that first meeting.
So if a client required that he carry his car on board, this can done?
Yes. It would certainly have an impact on storage areas, so we’d need to think how to design around it.
What have been some of your more memorable challenges?
We once had a client who wanted a wall of gold. Of course, we didn’t use real gold but there were a lot of complexities in getting it to look authentic. Then there was a client who brought a feng shui expert to advise on layouts, which was very interesting. And we also had a client who wanted to travel with his horse. Given that the horse weighed several hundred kilos and that he wanted to have only its back legs tied down, it was a challenge to certify the security of the aircraft. Certainly, nothing is impossible, but work that requires extensive recertification means spending a lot of money and sometimes that is the restriction.
In regards to the 747-8, could you tell us a little more about the specifics of its design?
Unfortunately, we cannot give you details of the actual aircraft because projects of this nature are extremely confidential. What we can show you is two different 747-8 design proposals that demonstrate what can be done. One is a more classical interior; you can see this in the master bedroom. It has more traditionally laid-out features, but it creatively uses all the given space on board. The other proposal emphasises a unique area specific to the 747-8, in the midsection of the aircraft, just behind the stairs where the second floor ends and where the height is at its maximum. We have made this a sitting room and in it, you will see these huge arches that convey a tent-like feeling. Customers have been unanimously surprised by this space and how unusual it is for an aircraft.
Is this something you are particularly proud of?
Yes absolutely. It was designed and developed by our department and it is something we are keen to promote. Why? Because you could never see such a thing in a commercial 747 with its lowered ceilings, further exacerbated by the presence of overhead bins. Once revealed however, these raised ceilings are really impressive and we emphasised this height with a large arch that gives us possibilities of using light features to further accentuate these unique forms.
Are there any rules when it comes to the positioning business areas and bedrooms etc.?
You can’t really generalise as it depends on the client but with the engines at the back, the front of the aeroplane is always quieter.
In terms of sound insulation and vibration suppression, do you ever engineer over and beyond that which is done by the manufacturer?
Yes there is a huge improvement as Lufthansa is a leader in this field. A VIP aeroplane is incomparably quieter than a commercial airliner.
Does a VIP aeroplane fly further given it carries less passengers?
Actually, I would say that most of the time a VIP aeroplane will be running with more weight than an airliner due to its thick interior walls, doors and so on.
What is the total cost of a finished 747-8?
It all depends on the level of elegance and the final specifications but it would be over 100 million USD, [this excludes the price of the aeroplane, which costs almost 300 million USD].
They say you spend about 10 per cent of the purchase value of a yacht every year in the way of maintenance and expenses. How do aeroplanes fare?
This depends on the use of the aircraft: where it is being used, in what conditions, if the owner is making a lot of short trips, and so on. You see, a substantial portion of the costs come from engine maintenance and of course wide-body aircraft engines are designed for long haul flights, so if you use them for short trips then the costs will evidently increase.
Must Arab clients fly their jets back to Germany to perform maintenance and servicing through Lufthansa Technik?
We offer VIP maintenance with a hangar here in Hamburg but if a customer doesn’t have the time to send his aeroplane then, depending on the complexity of the maintenance work required, we can go to the customer directly and do the work there, as long as the necessary infrastructure is in place.
Finally, how has the global financial downturn affected your business?
What we have seen over the last two years is that the bigger the aircraft, the less it has been impacted by a recessive economy.