Italians are known for their class and it doesn't stop at clothes and shoes. MARCELLA NETHERSOLE speaks to Lucio Iacobucci, CEO of Iacobucci HF Electronics, which manufactures and supplies electrical galley inserts to both business aircraft and the air transport sector with that added touch of class.
For Lucio Iacobucci it all started with a cup of coffee on an Alitalia flight from LA to Rome in 1993.
“After requesting an espresso I was served a regular cup of coffee,” says Iacobucci. “I’m Italian; an espresso is a proper coffee to us. It tastes completely different to regular coffee, which is too light. It bothered me that just because I was on an aircraft I couldn’t be served with something that you can get anywhere else, especially as I was on an Italian carrier. I really thought about it when I got home and decided to set up my own branch of the family-run company.”
The Iacobucci Group was launched by Lucio’s father. His brother Angelo runs the galley systems business and, in 1994 Iacobucci HF (High-Fly) Electronics was born, with Lucio at the helm.
With the help of Lufthansa, two technicians and a couple of professional coffee tasters, the first espresso machine made its debut on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Hong Kong.
“ Until then the espresso machine was never used on board making espresso and cappuccino at the same time. It was a simple idea in a world market – except on aircraft. Straight after this development, Singapore Airlines and Alitalia believed in the project and used the machine in its first-class section. After a couple of years we grew very fast,” says Iacobucci.
T oday the company, which is based in Ferentino, about an hour from Rome, has a range of espresso and cappuccino makers as well as other beverage makers. “The wonderful thing besides being ahead in design, look and quality, is that they are easy for flight staff to use. With the espresso and cappuccino maker you just lightly touch a button and both start brewing at the same time, within moments you have an authentic Italian cup of coffee.”
Iacobucci’s team of designers cater for all aircraft and airlines, all of which have different requirements. Iacobucci explains: “ In the late 90s there was no standard for aircraft galley equipment, so we were forced to develop up to 27 different models of espresso machines. Singapore had a weight problem, so we had to make it lighter and smaller. Lufthansa had to be taller and deeper. Now it is standardised quicker.”
Low-cost airlines are also installing the machines to their galleys but not at a cheaper price. “Our product is a first class product you wouldn’t think would be of interest to them but, actually, low-cost airlines sell espresso and cappuccino as it’s a good source of revenue. Some airlines charge up to €5 ($7) an espresso,” says Iacobucci.
Can the company foresee any problems in the current market?
“New aircraft from Airbus and Boeing have been postponed and commercial airlines have deliveries pushed back to 2010 and 2011. At the other end the market, general aviation has been growing for us quite a lot. I would say that market has been very positive and we have fulfilled quite a few orders that were pushed out in the commercial aviation business. We did not experience cancellations but we have seen a reduction in the commercial aviation business of around 10%.
“In my eyes, given the world economic crisis, I can predict we are still going to grow as a company. We are also working on changing our designs to make them more low-cost. We are introducing new materials for all our products, carbonn fibre, and light resistant materials. Plus lower cost of ownership is an important factor, through the standardisation. We are always looking at ways to improve on cost and design. When we first started, an espresso machine weighed 17kg, today its 8kg, what a big difference.”
The company has a range of Middle Eastern customers including Emirates, Qatar, Etihad and Saudi Airlines. It has repair stations all over the globe, with a major facility in Dubai working alongside Emirates.
“We have a lot of business in the Gulf; Emirates is our biggest customer in this region and we also accommodate its A380. I would say it’s the most important region for Iacobuccci worldwide because the customers there want quality products. They are demanding but in a good way.
“Demands like this drives our need for innovation, research and development. Never stop innovation, research and development, because there is never an end, and there never will be in the Gulf region.”
The Italian company is bringing more equipment to the airlines and the bigger business jets. For example, it has designed the trash compactor, which reduces the number of waste trolleys on board and reduces the galley space used for waste. “This can add maybe two or three more economy seats, so more passenger revenue for the airline,” says Iacobucci.
Another recent product, for installation on private jets, is a water tank that is fitted with the coffee machine and uses bottled water. “You can have the best machine and coffee but if the water isn’t good you have a bad taste. Plus, of course, it is safe clean water, great for customers travelling in the poorer countries.”
Iacobucci and his team are constantly looking for new ideas, so what is his vision for the company in five years?
“Try to move towards maximum flexibility,” he says. “As of today you have many different inserts in a galley in order to offer passengers what they like and want, particularly in First Class. Passengers are looking to have what they have at any corner or high street around the world, such as fantastic coffee, fresh pasta, crispy bread, champagne at the right temperature. In the future galleys will be multifunctional. They should be able to fulfil any possible need in the shortest possible time but with the highest quality.
“We will continue to be innovative in quality, technology and design, plus we are flexible. Our products are simply made, user-friendly, lightweight and cost-effective and, importantly, the product delivered is of high quality.
“At the end of the day, we can develop the most complicated espresso machine but if the machine is not capable of delivering good quality espresso, then what is the point? Our espresso on board a flight is like any you can get at an Italian café, and I’m proud of that. It certainly makes my flights more enjoyable now.”