Analysis
Airline Insight CJ Hueng

Airline Insight: China Airlines

CJ Huang, senior-vice president of engineering and maintenance at China Airlines, talks about the carrier's plans to capitalise on increased demand for MRO in the booming Asia-Pacific region.

What in-house MRO facilities does China Airlines have, in terms of hangar size, number of staff, and capabilities?

There are more than 2,300 employees working at China Airline maintenance unit “EMO” (Engineering Maintenance Organization) which has five hangars capable of housing multiple large wide-body aircraft.  Other than aircraft maintenance, we have a full scale component shop, engine shop, and an engine test cell with a rating up to 120,000 pounds of thrust. With these facilities and manpower, we can support China Airlines’ own fleet and third-party customers for aircraft heavy checks of Boeing (747/777/737) and Airbus (A300/A310/A320/A330/A340) fleet. Our Engine shop can offer repair and overhaul over a wide range of engines including PW4000, CFM56-7B, CFM56-5C4, CF6-80C2 and CF6-80E1 engines. Our in-house component shop can provide repair and overhaul of electrical equipment, instruments, pneudraulics systems, and wheel and brake systems. These capabilities have been certified by FAA, EASA, CAAC and CAA Taiwan.

With China Airlines celebrating its 55th year in service last year, what do you think have been the most significant changes in how you approach MRO over that time?

China Airline maintenance unit was founded together with the airlines simultaneously in 1959. At the beginning, our support covered our own fleet only. Along with the construction of the 3-bay hangar, making up a total of 5 hangar spaces and the engine shop in the late 90s, we became one of the advanced maintenance plants in Asia that could offer a comprehensive range of maintenance services to third-party businesses. To pave the way for the readiness of MRO business, we completed the organizational restructuring in 2009, splitting up our maintenance function into three main divisions: Maintenance, Engineering, and Quality Assurance. In addition, to accommodate China Airlines’ next generation fleet and to cope with the constantly growing demand of the aircraft maintenance market in the Asia Pacific region, China Airlines set up an independent maintenance company, "TAMECO" (Taiwan Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Co., Ltd.) in January this year. We plan to build a two bay hangar that will start operation in 2017. TAMECO will focus on providing airframe maintenance to our new fleet and third parties’ aircraft, including 777, 737, A320, and A350. With these changes and opportunities, we hope to extend our business scope into the international maintenance market.

What are some of the key elements of China Airlines current maintenance strategy?

Our strategy is to enhance efforts on aircraft heavy maintenance so as to deal with inevitable domination from OEM over engine/component aftersales market and the strong outsource demand from emerging low-cost carriers. With the full range of repair capability and superb engineering ability, our services cover from ordinary heavy checks to advanced composite repairs, cabin interior refurbishment, STC conversion, etc. Continually extending cooperation with major players is on our priority agenda as well. We have partnered with different airlines/OEM/MRO and set up specialized Joint Venture companies since 1995. Currently China Airlines is investing in an engine part repair shop, a landing gear overhaul shop, a component shop, and a line/base maintenance company in this region.

What do you foresee as the next big challenge for your airline’s maintenance teams?

As mentioned before, OEM stepping into aftersales maintenance market will limit most airlines/MRO’s endeavour to engine and component maintenance. This scenario is driving us to put more efforts on airframe maintenance. How to maintain our strengths at reasonable price of good quality with shorter turn-around time will be a big challenge.
That said, the delivery of new types of aircraft (777-300ER/A350) will be another big challenge for us. With the expansion of our fleet and the arrival of new aircraft, our engineering and maintenance teams are facing the challenges of managing new maintenance programs and adopting new and advanced maintenance measures for the new aircraft designs.   

What technologies have you invested in recent years to support your MRO teams?

The ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system integration program provided by Mxi Technologies was launched in 2012. We have successfully integrated the aircraft configuration management into maintenance programs, leading to optimum maintenance plans, which will increase dispatch reliabilities, and lower cancellation and delay frequencies.
Material and financial modules were also successfully implemented into ERP system early this year. We hope this integration can reach the goal of providing real time logistics support and thorough cost analyses so that we can keep on fostering continuous improvements in maintenance quality and efficiency.

What does China Airlines look for in an MRO partner?

Basically, when choosing an MRO partner, reliability and quality that can meet our expectations and conform to our quality procedures are listed as priorities. Certainly, reasonable prices and on-time deliveries are also important considerations. On the other hand, we are looking forward to becoming a part of the major supply chain which can offer work-share program to enhance the utilization of our facilities and to generate more income from the third party business.

And what are the greatest opportunities?

Taiwan, the home base of China Airlines, has long been considered as a traffic hub between North and South Asia, and a perfect gateway on the West Pacific Ring. Cross strait regular flights between China and Taiwan started in 2009 and now have reached 828 scheduled flights per week flying to 37 cities. Furthermore, Taiwan government values the importance of aviation industry and considers Taoyuan Aerotropolis one of the major state construction projects for the next decade. A new terminal, a new runway, and a specified maintenance zone are all listed as major features of this project.  

Much is talked about a “skills gap” with the MRO sector, how is China Airlines working to bridge this gap?

We are proceeding to operate a Part 147 training school later this year and currently cooperating with 11 colleges/universities in Taiwan. Young people who are recruited from these schools will spend their last semester in our facilities and work as apprentices. The learning hours they have earned can be counted toward part of their training requirements. This practice not only reduces training time, but also provides students with practical experiences. Once they complete their training, they are already one of us. We have developed an “Employee Performance Assessment System,” through which, competence assessment for each employee is assessed by “on the job” evaluation. The assessment includes the aspects of attitude, knowledge and skill. If a person fails the knowledge and skill assessment, the assessor will make recommendations for improvement. Then, based on the assessment result, recommendation can be something like additional training for knowledge improvement, on-the-job training for skill improvement or more related work experience under supervision.

See China Airlines’ James Chen speak on contracting trends at MRO Network’s Airline Engineering & Maintenance: China and East Asia in Hong Kong on September 9 and 10. Fore more information visit:
www.airlineengineering-cea.com

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