When it was spun out of the Romanian defense ministry in 1953, Aerostar was strictly a military MRO-focused company. It worked only on defense programs until the 1990s, when a decision was taken to develop capabilities in commercial aerospace MRO and manufacturing. Today, around three-quarters of the company’s revenues come from non-defense work. This transition has not been easy to achieve, and results from the company building its reputation as a trusted supplier come one job at a time.
“As far as civil MRO is concerned, it’s a real play on competition for each aircraft,” President and General Director Grigore Filip, tells Inside MRO through an interpreter. “We have earned the confidence of customers [through] quality and complying with delivery terms. We have good prices, but this is not the first issue.”
Half of Aerostar’s business now comes from manufacturing. The company is a subcontractor on Airbus, Bombardier, Boeing and Dassault platforms and supplies more than 50% of the shroud-box subassemblies for the Airbus A320 family. In 2016, the company received a Detail Parts Partner Award from the Airbus Group and the Premier Supplier Award from GKN Aerospace. Aerostar posted revenues of 356 million lei ($90 million) in 2016, with profits of 65 million lei, up 10% from 2015.
A tour of the company’s headquarters, on a site between a military facility and the airport at Bacau in the northeast of Romania, emphasizes the lengths Aerostar has gone to achieve its position. While the hangars dedicated to military MRO—the company is one of the last places in the world maintaining both airframe and engines on the MiG-21—utilize tools and methods from the Cold War era, the civil manufacturing areas feature state-of-the-art technologies. Staffing, too, is broadly split across the different parts of the business, as engineers with decades of experience in military MRO work on the MiGs, while the new processes on the commercial side are more often run by the company’s rapidly growing cadre of younger employees.
Among the latest investments is an automated anodizing and painting line, partly funded via European Union grants, which applies coatings to a range of 7,000 aluminum parts destined for Airbus subsidiary Premium Aerotech, in Germany, where they are incorporated into subassemblies, mainly for the Airbus A380. The facility was commissioned at the end of 2016, and in its first five months of operation had processed 450,000 components. The EU’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation means that the use of chromic acid in electroplating processes will be forbidden as of Sept. 21, so the new facility will use tartaric sulphuric acid, which has been selected by Airbus as its replacement for chromic acid.
There are two four-bay hangars at Bacau for civil MRO, one of them new, while the other was being emptied during Inside MRO’s visit ahead of having its floor resurfaced. Aerostar concentrates on the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families. Expansion is to take place starting in 2019 with the expected opening of a new MRO facility at Iasi, near the Moldovan border. The new facility will be similar in size and capacity to one of the Bacau hangars and will generate 150 new jobs. Aerostar’s overall head count is currently around 2,200; the company hired 450 staff in 2016.
“The market we have is around a 3-4-hr. flight from Bacau,” says Filip. “Iasi is less than 150 km [93 mi.] from here, so we will have access to the same market. Iasi is a big university center, and it’s a new airport, which has all the right conditions. For us it’s a new experience to set up a facility outside our own site, but the risk is lower because it is close.”
The decision to expand reflects Aerostar’s belief that there is more work in its regional marketplace that the company can win. Beyond extending its physical capacity, this means supplementing the approvals and certifications the company works under. As well as its European Aviation Safety Agency Part 145 approval, the company has achieved accreditation for work on aircraft registered in Bermuda, Morocco, Ghana, Turkey, Guernsey, Aruba and the United Arab Emirates. An application to the FAA is being processed.
“We’ve finished [the application, and] we’re waiting for the audit,” says Dragos Sfîrlea, MRO and upgrades division quality manager. “There are some [U.S.] operators that lease their aircraft, and they’re flying in Europe. These are the customers we want to attract.”