Kazakhstan’s national carrier Air Astana is considering a new provider of heavy maintenance for its fleet of Airbus narrowbodies under a plan to eventually conduct all maintenance in-house.
Air Astana currently sends all its Airbus A320-family aircraft to ATC Southend in the U.K. for heavy checks, but the carrier’s senior VP engineering group, John Wainwright, tells Aviation Week the carrier it is considering a Chinese maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider to lower costs.
Taeco in Xiamen recently completed a heavy check on one of Air Astana’s Boeing 767-300ERs, and the airline is pleased with the facility’s performance, says Wainwright, adding that more 767 heavy checks will be assigned to Taeco. According to the Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) fleet database, Air Astana operates two 767-300ERs and has four on order.
“It [the assignment of A320 maintenance] is not just about money. It’s very difficult for ATC to compete with the Chinese on manpower costs. But we are very happy with ATC in the U.K., and they have helped us over the years, for example, to train our engineers, so they could get licenses recognized by EASA [the European Aviation Safety Agency]. However, we have to consider all options,” says Wainwright, adding that in-house maintenance would also save on ferry costs and allow the partly state-owned carrier to create jobs.
Air Astana eventually wants to conducts its own C-checks on A320s and Embraer E-190s, and the carrier will require any new MRO contract to include A320 heavy maintenance training. While Air Astana will send its older Airbus aircraft to the new provider, it wants to be able to conduct its own C-checks by the time its newer narrowbodies require heavy maintenance, says Wainwright.
According to the AWIN fleet database, Air Astana operates two A321s that were built almost 13 years ago; seven A320s with an average age of 6.2 years and a four-year-old A319.
Air Astana also wants to conduct its own E-190 C-checks. The type was added to Air Astana’s fleet last year, a fifth E-Jet is expected to be delivered in the coming days and a sixth by the end of this month, says Wainwright. Three more E-190s will be added by February 2014, he adds.
In preparation for this new MRO capability, the airline’s maintenance and engineering department next year plans to increase its engineering workforce by 30%, says Wainwright.
The department also hopes to secure a long-term lease on a second hangar at Almaty Airport,and wants to open its first hanger at Astana Airport by 2017. Air Astana in 2017 is due to take delivery to the first of three Boeing 787-8s it has on order.
Wainwright concedes it will be difficult for Air Astana to retain maintenance staff in the future, but the airline is attempting to mitigate this by paying overseas tuition Aviation Academy of Almaty students in return for one- to seven-year commitments to work at the carrier. Students in the final two years of study also work for the airline part-time to obtain on the job training and practical experience.