Etihad, Airbus Make Play For A380 Third-Party Work

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Etihad Airways Engineering and Airbus was signed this week to develop a new maintenance service provision for the A380 in Abu Dhabi from 2017.

In a move targeting third-party operators of the aircraft, the cooperation will offer maintenance, engineering and upgrade services for the Airbus superjumbo from the UAE, with consumable and expendable parts provided by Satair, Airbus’ inventory management subsidiary. According to the aircraft manufacturer, the A380 services will be particularly helpful to carriers already possessing in-house MRO capabilities looking to offload some heavy checks and upgrades to third parties.

While the long-term future of the A380 program has been questioned by some, following Airbus’ decision to reduce production to just one aircraft per month from 2018, the future of its burgeoning aftermarket repair segment looks to be a bright one.

MRO demand in the region for the A380 is projected to be strong in areas such as airframe, component and upgrades. Predictably, engine work is expected to account for the lion’s share of customer maintenance spend. 

According to Aviation Week’s 2017 Fleet & MRO Forecast, MRO spend on one of its engine options – the Engine Alliance’s GP7000, is expected to more than double from $324m in 2017 to a peak of $716m in 2023. The Rolls-Royce Trent 900 option is predicted to also grow at a vast rate – growing from next year’s $189m annual MRO spend to a yearly $681m in 2023.

A growing number of the aircraft – which entered into service with Singapore Airlines in 2007 - are entering the first D-check phase, something I witnessed firsthand at Air France-KLM’s maintenance operation in Paris this summer. 

And while the future of the long-term future of the A380 program may be unclear, nearly 200 of the aircraft are currently in-service – a figure that could yet potentially double in the next 10 years should orders and commitments be fulfilled.

Taking demand factors into consideration, the decision by Etihad and Airbus to offer services to third-party customers was not only a shrewd one but also somewhat inevitable – given the maintenance division’s technical expertise with the aircraft through its airline parent group.

Etihad currently operates a fleet of eight A380s, with orders in place for an additional two with 15 options, and its engineering division recently completed its first A380 heavy maintenance C-check for the carrier.

With both the OEM Airbus and MRO Etihad looking to offer a more comprehensive solution for intensive, heavy maintenance work on the A380, similar offerings in the not too distant wouldn’t be surprising. 

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