Rob Ballantyne

Fast 5: WestJet Prepares for Boeing 737 MAX and New Destinations

Rob Ballantyne, WestJet’s manager, maintenance control and international maintenance talked with Lee Ann Shay on the sidelines of Aviation Week Network’s MRO Europe Conference in London on Oct. 5. Because the Canadian carrier is expanding its international routes and fleet, he wanted to speak with European line maintenance providers.

What European line maintenance vendors are you looking for?

I can’t say where we’re expanding our operations, but with the introduction of our Boeing 737 MAXs, those aircraft will allow to us fly to new routes. When we introduce the 787, you can guarantee that we’ll expand. We’ve already announced that we have requested permission to fly to China. Now we’re waiting to hear from the Chinese government whether we get that approval. For our European focus, I expect us to be visiting numerous countries in the near future.

From a maintenance perspective, how are you preparing for the 737 MAXs and 787s?

We’re in a big push to get the MAX training done for our line engineers. It has been a challenge with the certification of the aircraft not only through the FAA but also through Transport Canada. Both regulatory bodies had their ideas of how things should go. Being the first operator in Canada, we’ve had some challenges that are brought on because we are outside the United States. We’re in the midst of finishing that off. We just received our first aircraft on Friday, Sept. 29, so we had a push right before then to get MEL (minimum equipment list) books and technical training courses not only don--but approved by our regulatory authorities. Our training department has been very busy. To add to that, marketing has been very nice to us and has allowed us to keep the airplanes within Canada for the first little while, but in the spring we’ll start operating the MAXs into some of our America destinations. So I’ve been working with our training department to get different courses set up for our transport vendors, as well. We’ve been looking at the differences between a full endorsement course, a differences course and a familiarization and servicing course.

This sounds like a very dynamic time and one that requires a lot of balancing. What are your biggest headaches?

It depends on what time of day it is. As far as maintenance control is concerned, it’s the safe operation of all of our fleet. Safety can’t take a back seat no matter what. Some of the interesting comments at MRO Europe’s Conference were about just-in-time performance and Big Data, which are great, but if we have an incident, all that gets thrown out the window. We need to be able to stop, take a safety time out and fix this properly the first time and not push for an operation. Because we’ve introduced the 767s, because we’ve introduced operations into Europe and because these aircraft are widebodies, which are new to us, the widebody fleet has taken a focus.

Why?

If a widebody breaks, it gets a lot of attention. When a narrowbody breaks, you still need to be efficient, but we’ve got 120 of them, so it’s a small percentage, compared to four widebodies. So when one widebody breaks, it takes out 25% of our fleet.

WestJet just received its first two 737 MAX—Sept. 29 and 30. When do they go into revenue service?

They should go into revenue service in November, but given that we’ve had some regulatory delays—we had to do some component installations and what have you to satisfy Transport Canada and to get the Canadian certification—I’m not certain. We also have to get our flight crews and maintenance all qualified and comfortable with the aircraft, and we don’t want to rush it into operation.

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