Elmar Lutter, CEO of Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico, talks to James Pozzi about the new facility and how it will impact on the MRO sector in the Caribbean.
Why was the decision made to set up in Puerto Rico?
There were three main reasons for the decision:
• Location (on U.S. soil in line with most prospective U.S. customers’ preferences, rule of law, speed of implementation, within launching customers’ network)
• Talent pool (Puertoricans are well educated and used to work in an developed manufacturing economy, and offer the prospect of a large pool of aircraft mechanics both from current workers, mainly employed on the mainland, as from future entrants)
• Support (Puertorican and federal government along with the community have supported the project in an outstanding way, for example by creating a 2nd technical school in PR under the University of Puerto Rico, AAIPR in Aguadilla which opened in September and will get Part-147 approval by January 2016)
You are initially starting out on A320s but will eventually move onto servicing 737s. Will this be a smooth transition?
Yes. All our current mechanics have received practical training on the job in Europe and Asia in Lufthansa Technik’s existing base maintenance facilities for at least 6 months. Many of them have already been trained on the B737 in parallel. When we move closer to starting the B737 line, we will revisit the training needs and may send additional mechanics to our European facilities. I addition, as in the A320 case, we will send over team leaders and senior mechanics from Europe for stints between 6 months and 2 years to train the local leaders.
Do you foresee an expansion of your maintenance services at the facility in time?
We are very happy in Puerto Rico so far but it is too early to think about future expansion. We will constantly reassess the criteria stated above which brought us to Puerto Rico in the first place.
You have welcomed Spirit and JetBlue as some of your first launch customers. Are you anticipating any non-US airlines working with Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico?
Yes. We are looking at Latin American airlines as well. Avianca Brazil uses Lufthansa Technik Budapest this year, so Puerto Rico would be closer obviously, just as an example. Puerto Rico can be reached from all major South American cities by one A320 flight.
What will be some of the benefits for the local economy?
The local economy benefits significantly directly and indirectly. Of all the positive effects the emerging pool of aircraft mechanics plays the biggest role in developing the aviation industry further by attracting further players, and also by offering opportunities to these mechanics to work in the mainland aviation industry which in our assessment will see a shortage of skilled labour in our industry soon. Puerto Rico has always been strong in educating engineers. With the emerging pool of mechanics not only MROs but also other industries relying on skilled manual labour would now find equally favourable conditions on the island.
Have you seen any challenges in recruited local skilled labour?
We are training many of the mechanics more or less from scratch and there is no shortage in talented applicants. On the senior level we are at the moment relying on Puertoricans willing to come back to the island until our own trainees climb up the ladder.
Are you anticipating increasing your workforce numbers over time and expanding your services?
We are ramping up to 400 by 2017. Future expansion will be decided in 2016 at the earliest. As for services, no, we don’t foresee that at this point in time.