ALTAIR: Managing VIP projects


Choosing an aircraft and fitting the right interior can be surprisingly stressful. Christian Castang, founder and executive director of ALTAIR, and Jean Sémiramoth, COO, specialise in helping make it easy for an exclusive group of VIPs, royal families and heads of state.

Christian Castang, AltairChoosing an aircraft and fitting the right interior can be surprisingly stressful. Christian Castang (left), founder and executive director of ALTAIR, and Jean Sémiramoth (below), COO, specialise in helping make it easy for an exclusive group of VIPs, royal families and heads of state.

“We offer a very exclusive, sophisticated service and we purposely limit the number of projects we manage,” says Castang. “The principle of the company is the opposite of volume.”

He says the company’s 12 person team typically works on just three to five transactions a year with projects often lasting several months or even years. Although they specialise in airliners converted to VVIP bizliners they also advise on smaller jets.

“Whilst we have got involved at every stage of a transaction, ideally we meet people as early on as possible, discuss their needs and look at new-versus-used aircraft options,” says Castang. “Once they have decided on a model we can then inspect the aircraft – if the pre-owned option is chosen, negotiate the purchase contract and, if needed, find financing. Furthermore, we can manage the aircraft registration and refurbishment, or outfitting, as required.”

Although ALTAIR will not reveal client names, one aircraft that they are associated with is an Airbus ACJ320 for the Emirate of Fujairah, one of the seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates. ALTAIR spent two years on this project and managed it through the entire aircraft purchase, from definition of the right aircraft type to delivery upon completion. Part of their job was to select the appropriate partners to work with. Studio E-motion, a French interior designer, and AMAC Aerospace (who at that time was a new entrant to the completion business and this was their ‘launch’ project) jointly completed the aircraft interior.

This ACJ320 is fitted with 48 seats, bedroom and shower. It also has a full cabin entertainment system, including audio and video on-demand, wireless LAN and satellite communications.

“Heads of state are literally flying the flag of their country so it is important that they get a suitable aircraft,” says Sémiramoth. “The secret is to go for something elegant that will also hold value and where the subtle feel of luxury will be expressed through the perfection of all details, rather than through a flashy interior.”

He adds that the Middle East head of state aircraft came in on budget which is important as full VVIP conversions for the likes of ACJ320s or BBJ3s can cost up to $35 million, although Sémiramoth says it is possible to keep the budget to around $10 million if a corporate, rather than full VVIP, interior is requested. Costs for larger widebody aircraft can be much higher. An A330 VIP conversion can be around $120 million with a 747-8I between $200 million and $250 million. Castang comments that such prices currently commonly seen in the (small) outfitting market place, may well decrease in the future.

ALTAIR says that there are ways of keeping spend down.  By selecting the right aircraft and an experienced designer, major structural changes – such as when toilets are moved – can be avoided and this can be significant.

As well as staying in-budget, Castang says they take completion time just as seriously. AMAC took nine months to modify the aircraft – coming in on forecast – but delays of up to two years have been known for some aircraft interiors with other completion centres.

Jean Semiramoth, Altair“We are very passionate about projects coming in on time, on budget and to the satisfaction of the client,” says Castang, “and it frustrates us to see other projects failing, just because they don’t get the attention of a professional manager.”

He says they worked on one project for a head of state in 2007 which they managed to complete in just six months. ALTAIR have advised on different types of aircraft ranging from Hawker 4000’s to airliners. Their clients are typically in Europe, Africa, South America, CIS countries and the Middle East and they essentially rely on referrals from existing customers, banks and industry contacts. “The clients come and buy from us, rather than us actively selling our services” says Sémiramoth.

Castang has been involved in aviation since 1987 when he created the aviation division of the Louis-Dreyfus Bank, which became the subsidiary of the Brussels-Lambert Bank (BBL) Group: BBL Aviation, of which he was managing director. He then launched Altaïr & Compagnie, first in a partnership with Compagnie Financière Edmond de Rothschild, then with Bureau Veritas – to form Bureau Veritas Aviation Asset Management. It is now a stand-alone company.  Sémiramoth worked at Airbus and then Bureau Veritas. Both also advise commercial aircraft leasing companies and banks.

ALTAIR is also keen to help clients after delivery and when they are looking for extra aircraft. They are happy to give advice to their customers on another of the most stressful parts of aircraft ownership – disposing of an existing aircraft, as they currently do for banks and heads of state.