After seven years subcontracting the maintenance of its nacelles to a third party, Aircelle has decided that the time is right for it to set up shop in the US. The move, Richard Nevill VP of Aircelle’s customer support and services division explained in an interview with Talking Point, has been inspired by the introduction of the next generation of Airbus aircraft.
“If you look at the current mainline aircraft that we have operating, there’s far more activity in Asia and the Middle East than there is in the US, and until recently we’ve been able to handle demand through a subcontractor,” he said. “With the advent of the A320neo and A330neo we felt that this arrangement in the US was no longer appropriate.”
To meet anticipated demand for A320neo and A330neo MRO, Aircelle has bought the nacelle repair division of its subcontractor Applied Composites Engineering (ACE), and created a new company, Aircelle Services Americas. And while future aircraft may be the key source of income in the future, the OEM also has its sights set on supporting the current fleet…
The Safran subsidiary is in the process of fitting out its new 1,579m2 facility in Indianapolis with the equipment it needs to support all of the nacelles it manufactures – with the exception of the A380 which has no operators in the US – and is set to quadruple the size of its workforce over the next three years (from seven to 28).
“We have an existing customer base which is based on the range of nacelles that we currently support in the US – largely those for regional and business jets – and we’re in the process of moving the tools and jigs across to support lager commercial aircraft,” confirmed Nevill. “We will soon have A320 CFM56 capability in house, as well as Trent 700, supporting the A330.”
The new facility also gives Aircelle the opportunity to focus on some of its niche markets. The world’s only A318 operator, for example, is based in Latin America, and Mexico’s Interjet has the second largest fleet of Sukoi Superjets.
“Some of those fleets are quite small and it makes no sense to be sending nacelles back to Europe for maintenance. And with SSJ100 there’s no European fleet and so we’re moving the tooling across to make sure that we can support Interjet,” said Nevill. “For these niche support applications it makes sense to both the customer and ourselves to have the tooling in the US.”
Looking ahead, Nevill confirms that he sees long-term service contracts as playing a key role in the nacelle MRO market moving forward.
“We’ve done a number of contracts on a long-term service basis and the interest in them is growing,” he said. “We would be aiming to put long-term contracts in place with all the major customers in the US to schedule the workload for the new facility.”
However, he acknowledges that operators might not be looking to secure an MRO contract only for the nacelles and confirms that Aircelle is willing to work with other MRO providers.
“As a nacelle manufacturer we cannot offer an aircraft nose-to-tail MRO deal, but if a customer wants that type of agreement we’ll work with the established MROs in the industry to help them provide the best solution,” he said.
With aftermarket facilities and JVs offering support in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, it was only a matter of time – or perhaps timing – before Aircelle closed the gap in the Americas. The OEM certainly has ambitious plans for its new company and the nacelle MRO market in the region.