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Freshbook Feature


An American Narrow-Body Success Story With A European Business Model.

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JCF: I know the Comlux Group is based in Switzerland but it is my understanding that most, if not all, actual completions occur there, where you are, in Indiana. Is that true? Can you please explain how this parent company hierarchy came about and functions today?


DD: Yes that is that is absolutely true. We are the completion center and innovation hub for Comlux, which was created in Switzerland in 2003. The origin of Comlux was in charter management and aircraft transaction, but it made sense that they would move from that realm into the completion realm as it completes the entire lifecycle of an aircraft project. We as a Group have the capability to identify the right product for the individual based on their mission needs, see it through the OEM and manage it, act as a customer rep, accept the aircraft, maintain the aircraft from a camo and an airworthiness standpoint, pilot the aircraft, and then the team brings the aircraft to us here in Indianapolis where we then complete the aircraft’s interior.


Beyond that, our service range allows for us to then possibly put the aircraft back under management and charter services allowing the owner an opportunity to leverage their asset when they're not using it, and if they need upgrades, they can come right back to us for that, which makes sense because we know the aircraft, right? Then, if and when they ever decide to sell the aircraft, we can identify their next aircraft and find the buyer for the existing one. In that way we start two circles of life – a comprehensive A to Z solution for our customer.


That's been our model, and it’s proven valuable for us and the customer.


JCF: Well it’s a very impressive model and yes it makes all the sense in the world from a customer perspective. The comprehensive menu of services is always there affording a sort of plug and play set of options that supports any and all stage throughout the AC’s life cycle. Hard to argue with a strategy like that. And maybe you’ve already explained that parent company hierarchy and everything, but can you touch on that again please?


DD: Yes, so at the Swiss corporate headquarters in Zurich- we like to say, we’ve got the very best of two worlds: Swiss precision and American ingenuity. Over here of course, we’re sort of workaholics (he laughs), possessing that certain kind of grit that this industry requires for complex schedule driven by completions etc. The dual integrated culture works very well for us.

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So with that, you're able to rotate through and keep all those elements stabilized along with the revenue generated. It's trying to not let your eyes get bigger than your stomach. I mean, you grab it and then what do you do with it? You're the dog that catches the car. We prefer to stay within the business plan we discussed.

JCF: Understood. I fully expected that to be a big component of your answer. I mean wide-bodies, for all the cachet they possess, can certainly throw a wrench in any center focused on narrow-body platforms. From a production perspective it makes complete sense in the world but it was interesting to get your answer on this. Moving on to another subject, I can see that Comlux is an authorized completion facility for both Boeing business jets and Airbus ACJ. That’s quite a dual feather to wear. Can you talk about that for a sec?


DD: The only one in the USA approved for both ACJ and BBJ.


JCF: Seriously? I wasn’t aware of that.


DD: Yes, and we’re very proud to have earned that status of course.

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JCF: Obviously. So on the same subject, it seems, and I could be wrong, there is a particular focus on the ACJ, specifically the A2A220 program. is that just my perception or is that program roster part of a strategic priority at the moment and why?


DD: It is 100% perception. We are not, in any way shape or form, strategically aligned to be Airbus centric. In fact, up until about 2020 we were doing one-for- one, Boeing, Airbus, Boeing, Airbus. it was only until 2020 that the market forces had simply produced more Airbus ACJs to bid on. This we don't control - but if they’re out there of course, we'd go after them.


Also on the Boeing side, it’s worth noting that we did the very first Max 8. We got the first STC on the Max 8. We're the only company in North America that has Max 8 experience. We know the nuances. We're very much a Boeing company in that respect because we're the only one on this side of the Atlantic that has a unique understanding of their most modern aircraft. Also, the vast majority of the of the narrow-body aircraft that operate in America are Boeing, so we will always be here to service those customers. The ACJ220 is obviously a big feather in our cap but we don't consider the TwoTwenty as competition against the BBJ. Another interesting point is there's this perception of a huge a gap, or a jump, between your Bombardier or Gulfstream to a BBJ or an A-319. But the reality is, we can essentially, within $10 million, put you in a completed ACJ220 for what you can buy the green BBJ. So we see it as two different market segments and independent of our being an Airbus service center. The aircraft is manufactured both in Canada and United States, so that just makes sense for us to partner in that regard.


JCF: Yes, I get it. I have long wondered why more customers don’t make that leap considering the narrow dollar gap. I would assume part of it is restricted access to smaller airports.


DD: Yes, but of course that is our primary line of business, what we call the unique VIP. Our three lines of business are: 1) unique VIP and we can never give that up because it allows us our ongoing innovation to continue. 2) our MRO division – heavy maintenance and upgrades, and 3) our refurbishing group. But within that, we make no differentiation between Boeing and Airbus.


JCF: Very good and thank you. Consider my perception adjusted :). And it will also clear up any similar misconceptions among our readers. That’s sometimes the value in these articles – to clear up misconceptions and get the back story. Ok, so moving on to cabin design, I wanted to ask you if you maintain a fully staffed internal design department. I didn’t immediately see that on your site but I have seen articles and posts suggesting there is. Maybe you can clear this one up as well?


DD: Well maybe I need to update my website then and or I can send you a link  - because yes, we have a very talented interior design team here with two people I really respect. I’m sure you’re familiar with Lauri Church, the Chief Interior Designer for Comlux. Then, there is Ashley Moulton who has been in the industry for many years. Both of these people have really high-level experience and what we've done is to leverage their designs and ideas on perhaps half of the interiors we've completed. But you can't possibly be successful without supporting third party designers as well of course. Obviously, we do that all the time and in that context, we provide the interface between that third party designer and our engineering staff. We have four full-time interior design staff members - who support our 60 engineers - so that's one for 15 which is pretty good. And with that kind of support, it ensures that… 1) they can facilitate an interpretation quickly that the engineers understand, and 2) be that important liaison with the third-party designer.


JCF: When you say 60 engineers, are you talking about 60 staff engineers – all within your facility? And may I assume that design and engineering have a close relationship?


DD: Yes, all in house. That doesn’t include any outsource specialists we might use from time to time – but it doesn’t make sense to keep a lightning strike specialist on my annual payroll, right? So, we bring those assets in only when required.


As for Design and Engineering’s closeness, they're all located in one large working area together, which make for a very cohesive, well integrated group. Then, we have our Head of Engineering in one office and the Chief Interior Designer in another.


JCF: Alright thank you. Again, glad to learn about something I wasn’t clear on. Alright, so having been a designer myself for some years, I know what a huge role engineering and certification play in these completions, especially the more complex ones. Can you maybe put a finer point on your engineering capabilities and how they work with design (and/or an outside designer) throughout the evolution of the design?


DD: Right now, we have the design and the engineering expertise for all disciplines. We have a complete Interiors Engineering team for all cabin furnishings, a Structures team, Mechanical Systems to do all your thermal fluids, Electrical to do all your certification, etc. It's organized with a Head of Engineering and then we apply a project dedicated engineer to every project. Then there are Lead Engineers and Principal Engineers. Our Lead Engineers are driving the project. Principal Engineers are determining a growth path through Engineering to ensure that they're checking across all projects to make sure we're staying consistent. Lead Engineers are driving individual disciplines - and then the Project Engineer orchestrates it all on any given project.


So again, it’s an organized methodology that encompasses a matrix type departmental system to make sure we stay consistent and on track for all disciplines. As far as when they get involved, literally day one. The Project Engineer is involved in the kickoff meeting – and even when we're even doing the bid proposal. They're usually present for what we call the initial technical coordination meeting (or ITCM). This is when we're reading the spec and the Project Engineer would be their preliminary design review audiences. Here, we're really sitting down with the initial set of elevations, solid models, the finer details etc. Working with the client in that case if it's held in our facility. We have a conference room in which we expect every lead to be in the room from Engineering to Design to Project Management. They remain there for their entire part of the PDR (Preliminary Design Review), the CDR (Critical Design Review), as well as the FDR (Final Design Review) whatever stage it's in, they are present. They don't just walk in and leave when they present their portion. We want them in there for the entire meeting because it's just too holistic of a process – we believe in teamwork through and through. Everything ties together or overlaps so you want everyone there to make sure nothing is missed.

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JCF: OK, Also drawing on my own prior experience, I know what critical junctures PDR and CDR represent. And even though we just touched on that briefly, can you please give us a little walkthrough of how these two important sets of customer meetings are conducted at Comlux and what techniques you utilize in successfully getting final customer sign off in a timely manner that keeps things moving along?


DD: Well as I said, if it's here at our facility in Indianapolis, everyone on our team attends in-person and it’s full-on in-depth reviews lasting perhaps three days for CDR and maybe a full week for PDR. But we’re quite flexible when our clients need us to come to them. We of course are willing to meet clients in their own country. And when we do that, we will send at least the Program Manager, the Project Engineer and the head for Interior Design. And no matter what time zone it happens to be in, our other team members attend online – to facilitate that, our team in Indy will get up and be online at 4:00 AM to support these client meeting overseas. Face-to-face or online, we show up.


Regardless of how or where the meeting are held, we will be presenting full rendering packages, the full elevation design packages with key dimensions and key finishes. We expect finish callouts to be complete and we expect to have all major suppliers to be selected. You’re not going to exit CDR without knowing your IFC/CMS, your thermal acoustic insulation etc., etc.  All these elements must be identified. Another thing we try to do to keep it efficient and keep the creative juices flowing is host everybody for meals right on site. We have a full Bistro kitchen area in the same area across from the conference room - and they can house 20-25 people. Generally speaking, it's difficult to find the best cuisines near airports, so rather than having to put everyone in a shuttle to go somewhere, we produce high-end food right here onsite. Everybody takes a nice break; we bring them in and then 30-40 minutes later we can be back to work. People love it and we can accommodate to cultural cuisines and dietary needs. It's a unique concept and I think a lot of people appreciate it.


JCF: It sounds wonderful, sign me up! OK, so I know it's difficult to nail any one thing down, but can you give us an idea of some of the more frequent challenges you run into that pose threats to your delivery schedules and what techniques you might employ in looking downstream to identify potential snags and deal with them before they become serious issues?

JCF Magazine would sincerely like to thank Mr. Dryer for his generous time in conducting the interview. It turned out to be a lot of fun and as I said at the top of the article, we certainly learned a thing or two about why Comlux has earned so much success over the last decade or so. They are a well oiled company with a vey holistic approach to business that not only informs their own success but is obviously very popular with their customers. I would also like to think Mr Jordan Smith, the company's Marketing and Communication Administrator, for his help in arranging the interview and coordinating peripheral media details.

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As an example, we quadrupled our internet bandwidth during the pandemic so we were able to easily complete work remotely.

DD: We've all faced a lot of challenges in the last few years which have brought some things to the surface which you wouldn’t have thought you'd have to be taking notice of. Moving forward, I think what we always must watch out for is that you don't know what you don't know.  When you're always starting with a blank sheet of paper it's always the first time and that's why we work to standardize as much as we can behind the scenes. Leave the unknown unknowns to what's truly relevant and important to the aesthetic of the client. The environment they want is not necessarily just what they see, it is also what they feel, touch, and hear. Everyone is really working now through a supply chain upheaval at a global scale. So we look at what we know…determining what is predictable to a certain extent. We're looking at commonly purchased items so that we can always be ready for that and ahead of time.


These are little things we're trying to do, to make sure we're ahead of the game. As an example, we quadrupled our internet bandwidth during the pandemic so we were able to easily complete work remotely. As a company, we were fully remote for six weeks, but we didn't shut down. We made it to where people that had to isolate but felt well enough to work - could log in and work safely and collaborate across many tasks. That wasn’t common until a few years ago, but we invested, knowing the directional turn we would see in the world we now live in today.


JCF: Alright, so coming back to your success in narrow body completions, can you maybe give us an idea or maybe a few of the key reasons for that success and how those strategies were adopted and deployed? I know we touched on some of it – but perhaps if you could just sum it up for our readers?


DD: Yes, I think it's a lot of what we mentioned but you know the core values for the Group which are innovation, quality, communication, teamwork, adaptability, safety, and integrity. Those beliefs and principles are what really drive Comlux. On top of that is the investment in the technology. Being a very technology-based company has helped tremendously in that regard – these I would say, are the key factors in our success.


JCF: Lastly, I'm struck by the rather large array of peripheral services that Comlux group offers to its customers. I see everything from the newly rolled out Comlux Tech, to aircraft management, operational services, your flagship charter services and so forth. Can you expand on these peripherals for our readers and give us a sense of how they work together for your customers?


DD: We covered some of the generalities the beginning, but to break it down further, there's really three major entities: There’s us, Comlux Completion, there’s Comlux Transaction, who takes care of our VIP aircraft sales and acquisitions at our headquarters in Zurich, made up of the main shareholders and the chairman of the board. Then there's Comlux Aviation, our sister company in which we have the aircraft management operations, camo services, and Comlux Tech which is led by CEO, Andrea Zanetto.


Comlux Tech is really meant to leverage all services of the Group. It's kind of an entry bridging point to say, look, we’re the technology center in United States. We've got engineering and we've got maintenance, but they've got European camo airworthiness, they've got the green aircraft representation support, they bring that together and if someone comes in and says, “You know what, I just need aircraft knowledge. I have a problem, and sometimes those problems are hard to define.” Whether they fit into pure technology, the completion side or pure operations, Comlux Tech is here to fix your problems. Be it technical, operational, managerial or whatever it happens to be - we'll find where it fits best in our organization. We have the knowledge to complete and integrate the whole life cycle of a VIP aircraft and its owner.


JCF: Ok, so the more I listen, the more I see how the rather unique business model has indeed defined much of your success. I get it and our readers will enjoy getting that insight. OK one more question if you will. I see your LinkedIn post fairly often and it provides some insight into the level of enthusiasm that you personally bring to the job. What is it that keeps Daron Dryer excited about Comlux and the truly rarefied product that you bring to your customers? Also I know your readers would love to hear a little about some of your key workforce departments - those uniquely talented folks that ultimately bring it all together.


DD: Well, you know if you look at those posts, a vast majority include people, right? I mean there's planes…we’re in the airplane business. But I like to highlight the people. I think the fact that I work for a company that allows constant innovation, working with a dedicated group of people is amazing. I mean the aviation industry, especially interior mods, takes a level of grit, thoroughness and pride that you have to be willing to exude before you're going to be successful. And I enjoy getting up and working side by side with those people to bring the innovations that exceed our clients’ expectations. At the end of the day, it's a pleasure to come work with these people. Technology and process…sure. We have them both, but in the end, whatever success we have is a direct product of our people

End Interview.

JCF Magazine would sincerely like to thank Mr. Dryer for his generous time in conducting the interview. It turned out to be a lot of fun and as I said at the top of the article, we certainly learned a thing or two about why Comlux has earned so much success over the last decade or so. They are a well oiled company with a vey holistic approach to business that not only informs their own success but is obviously very popular with their customers. I would also like to think Mr Jordan Smith, the company's Marketing and Communication Administrator, for his help in arranging the interview and coordinating peripheral media details.

Learn more about COMLUX by visiting:

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