Among the largest MRO operators in the fast-growing Indian market, Air India Engineering Services has ambitious plans to grow its third-party services. Its CEO, H.R. Jagannath, details how it intends to grow its capabilities and gain new regulatory approvals.
What are some of the key elements of Air India’s MRO strategy?
We want to become an MRO leader in India and our neighboring countries. To achieve this, Air India is running MRO facilities across the country in all regions: Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Trivandrum and Nagpur. We are planning to set up line maintenance facilities in airports in regions such as the Middle East and countries like Sri Lanka. Partnerships are also important—we have signed a memorandum of understanding with Singapore Airlines Engineering Co. for line and cabin maintenance. We’ve leveraged each other’s strengths in areas where both parties haven’t captured business before such as line maintenance for the Airbus A350 and A380 aircraft in India. Investments are also being made in other areas such as a landing gear overhaul facility for A320-family aircraft.
Air India opened a new MRO facility in 2015 in Hyderabad for in-house fleet work. It said eventually it hoped to offer third-party services. How has this progressed?
Approval has been obtained from the Indian regulator (DGCA) for A320-family aircraft, which will enable the Hyderabad facility to conduct major checks. In addition to this, approval to carry out C checks on the ATR 72 also has been obtained, with the Hyderabad facility becoming an Embraer authorized service center. With such significant growth in the number of ATR 72 aircraft coming into Indian fleets, we should be able to cater to the maintenance needs of operators of this aircraft type. Right now, we are negotiating with Pratt & Whitney Canada to gain support for developing a complete overhaul facility for the PW100 engines powering the ATR 72.
How is the other recently opened facility in Nagpur progressing?
As of October 2017, C and D checks on Boeing 777 aircraft, C checks on Boeing 737s and up to 4A checks on A320s are being carried out at Nagpur. In the near future, engine MRO services for the GE90 and GEnx are anticipated, and our engine correlation test certificate has been obtained. The center’s test facility is also being upgraded for the GEnx-1B, and the correlation test run will be completed by December 2017. Very soon, we will have capability for complete overhauls and testing of both the GE90 and GEnx-1B.
What does Air India look for when selecting partners such as a logistics provider or another MRO to work with?
Factors we consider include their approvals, a strong customer base, repair capability related to components, the financial health of the company in terms of turnover, net worth and profit-sharing and, of course, ensuring everything weighs up for the relationship to prove mutually beneficial.
What is the breakdown of in-house and third-party MRO work?
The amount of third-party work at Air India Engineering Services was hardly 2% just four years ago. Since then, this has grown to 15-18% in 2017. Increasing the amount of third-party work has been a key objective, from obtaining approvals to even setting up an independent marketing team with the intention of acquiring more third-party business. Various agreements have been signed in recent years with domestic airlines such as Jet Airways, SpiceJet, Vistara Airlines and Air Asia to provide line and major maintenance for their aircraft. Our goal in the next five years is for a 50-50 split between in-house and third-party MRO work.
India has one of the world’s largest populations of young people. How is Air India attracting young technical talent to work in the airline maintenance division?
Air India Engineering Services is hiring engineering graduates and providing them with type training on various Airbus and Boeing aircraft. This is so the younger generation acquires necessary aviation experience before the aging skilled manpower retires. We are also looking to aviation training schools and other colleges to hire new technicians. This provides us with technicians possessing the right mix of required classroom and on-the-job training. For in-house training, we also run six CAR-147 (civil aviation requirements) approved maintenance training organizations (MTO) throughout India. Efforts are also being made to obtain European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and FAA 147 certifications for all the MTOs so that training can be provided for foreign students at a lower cost.
What new technologies and IT software is the airline’s MRO operation investing in?
For around five years, we’ve had a cooperation with Ramco, which provides us with a complete IT solution for the maintenance setup of the MRO and the airline. Ramco’s software oversees our entire inventory control, from the ordering of parts to recording the hours and cycles of aircraft, engines and components. We’re open to other software, including solutions by engine manufacturers, to help us set up engine diagnostics for better health monitoring.
Demand for aircraft in India over the next 20 years is expected to grow. Where do you see the real opportunities for Air India to succeed as a provider of MRO services?
As the number of aircraft in India increases, so will the demand for airframe maintenance along with components, engines and APUs. Looking outside the Air India fleet, obtaining both FAA and EASA approvals in addition to DGCA approvals for all our maintenance activities will be key in increasing our third-party work. In addition to these certifications, joint ventures and licensing agreements with OEMs and vendors will be important so we can have continuous support in the form of technical literature, tools, equipment and initial training. We will also continuously upgrade the capabilities of our engine and component shops so as to cater for the changing needs of the market. Similarly, upgrading our airframe capabilities in the fields of structural repairs, composite repairs, cabin repairs and landing gear overhauls will be key to grabbing the opportunities emanating from the increased number of aircraft operating in India. An essential prerequisite for all these capability enhancements will be access to skills; thus, the training of manpower in technical areas is another opportunity for growth in our revenues, and for reducing costs.
Air India Fact File
History: Air India, the national carrier, was founded in 1932 and commenced operations in 1946. Headquartered in New Delhi, the airline operates a fleet of 114 aircraft traveling to 89 worldwide destinations in total. Its maintenance division, Air India Engineering Services, was formed in 2004.
Facilities: Air India Engineering Services runs six facilities at India’s major airport hubs in Delhi, Mumbai, Nagpur, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram. In addition, it runs line maintenance facilities at 71 Indian stations. As a one-stop engineering shop, its services include heavy maintenance, line maintenance, engine and APU overhaul, component overhaul, landing gear repair and overhaul and maintenance technician training.
In-House and Third-party Work: Along with covering the maintenance needs of the Air India fleet, the MRO also hosts a large number of third-party customers, which have included Jet Airways, SpiceJet, Vistara Airlines and Air Asia. As of 2017, 15-18% of Air India Engineering Services’ work is being done for third parties.