Analysis
Airline Insight airBaltic

Airline Insight: airBaltic

ATE&M talks to airBaltic’s senior vice-president of technical operations Andris Vaivads about maintenance activities at the Latvian flag carrier as it prepares to expand its fleet and take delivery of 13 CS300s.

What trends in MRO have you noticed in the Baltic region in the past year?

The Baltic region is reflecting many other parts of Europe and beyond. From an airBaltic perspective, business has been quite stable in the past year. But one thing I’ve noticed is that MROs in the region are becoming quite aggressive when it comes to getting new customers which makes for a competitive environment. Eastern Europe is a region full of MRO providers; within the space of around 600km there are three or four in Estonia, Lithuania and Russia.

What are some of the key elements of airBaltic’s maintenance strategy?

Our strategy is quite straight forward. We are geared to fully support the operations of airBaltic, which was the most punctual airline in the world last year [as calculated by OAG Aviation]. Our outstanding dispatch reliability is a key contributor to that. We try to do a lot of the base maintenance in winter, when there are fewer flights. Of course, we’re always trying to find the balance between maintenance and levels of spending. We run tenders for everything from C-checks and base maintenance to line maintenance and spare parts. We also strive to keep people with our company for as long as possible. Our technicians are knowledgeable, educated and skilled and we’re fortunate to have good retention levels.

What does airBaltic look for in an MRO partner — be it a supplier, logistics firm or service provider?

When choosing an MRO partner we are always driven by quality over price. At the moment we are working with two MROs, one to service our 737s and the other on our fleet of Q400s. We try to establish these relationships long-term, providing we are happy with the service. Our MRO partners also sometimes assist us onsite to complete bigger jobs, if they don’t have an available hangar slot in Estonia. Having that level of flexibility is also important to us.

What do you foresee as the next big challenge to airBaltic’s maintenance teams?

The delivery of new aircraft is the biggest challenge in the immediate future. In September next year we are going to start receiving the 13 CS300 we have on order. It’s a completely new aircraft and, of course, for the technicians it will present new challenges. New aircraft will more often than not have issues at the beginning of its life, and we’re targeting at keeping downtime to a minimum.

And what about upcoming opportunities?

In the future we plan to open a base maintenance hangar at Riga Airport, adding to our two existing ones. This is at the development stage at the moment, with no set date. I’ve seen the plans and it looks very exciting, and we’re now trying to push this project forward.

What software and technological investments has airBaltic made to help its MRO operations?

We’ve run an OASES system for around 10 years, and we’re constantly developing and updating this to cater for our needs. IT systems in aircraft maintenance constantly need improving. We’ve also reduced our paper manuals and gone digital in many aspects of our maintenance operations and instead use devices such as tablets. This means technicians can have access to the digital version of the manual and they can immediately call the stores to check if spare parts are available. Going back from the aircraft to the stores usually takes 10 minutes each way, so this saves time during the troubleshooting process.

What technologies will have the biggest impact on MRO in future?

There are a lot of composite materials emerging which means the elimination of corrosive materials. This will impact heavily on most aspects of our industry for years to come. Newer aircraft are being built with easier access for maintenance teams to inspect. Everything is driven by saving time in the maintenance and inspection processes.

How is airBaltic being proactive in attracting skilled labour to its maintenance teams?

From a people perspective things have generally been quite stable. We have a good influx of young people coming through from the local aviation college, who work for us for three years while they study and we give them practical job training. Once their course is complete, this means that they already have a few years’ experience. In addition to sourcing engineers locally, we have a number of staff from abroad. Is finding people difficult? Yes and no. In Latvia and the Baltic states, being an aircraft technician is a popular career option for young people. Every year the local aviation college has around 60 new graduates for us to choose from. But you need to have a good level of experience to get these jobs and getting that opportunity can sometimes be difficult. But studying and undertaking apprenticeships definitely aids this.

An in-depth look at the Eastern European MRO market will appear in ATEM 137.

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