The unmatched array of airports and airlines serving the British capital has ensured a vibrant aftermarket, in which every airline business model is accommodated.
Very few cities in the world boast as many airports as London. Three of the six international gateways serving the British capital each handle more than 20 million passengers per year, while the largest, Heathrow, is the second-busiest in the world for international traffic.
Altogether, London airports processed more than 160 million passengers in 2016, almost 30 million more than all of New York’s airports. Nearly every major long-haul carrier in the world flies to at least one of London’s airports, as does almost every established short- and medium-haul carrier in Europe. That adds up to a huge MRO requirement, especially for line maintenance and aircraft-on-ground (AOG) services.
What makes London particularly intriguing is the diverse operator models to which its airports cater. While Heathrow’s high fees and slot constraints mean that it is a base almost exclusively for full-service airlines, Stansted and Luton are almost solely used by low-cost carriers (LCC). Gatwick, meanwhile, has a mix of the two, and includes long-haul, low-cost operators such as Norwegian and Westjet, while centrally located London City is a hub for regional airlines.
Europe’s two largest budget airlines, Ryanair and EasyJet, both have their main bases in London. British airline EasyJet is headquartered at Luton, while Irish carrier Ryanair is the dominant airline at Stansted.
Standard LCC procedure—which Ryanair and EasyJet have been at the forefront of refining—calls for a no-frills airline to outsource everything but its core operations, with maintenance often deemed a non-core activity. However, at a certain fleet size the equation changes, and airlines may want more control over their maintenance to ensure improved aircraft availability.
Ryanair operates more than 300 Boeing 737NGs and has almost 200 more on order, so it has shifted some support activities in-house. However, Ryanair’s principal maintenance facilities are in Scotland, Lithuania and Poland, not London. EasyJet, on the other hand, does have MRO facilities in London.
Alongside almost 100 aircraft based at London’s Luton, Gatwick and Southend airports, EasyJet has a two-bay hangar and a team of Part 145-qualified engineers at Luton, as well as a two-bay hangar at Gatwick. Even so, aside from some light base maintenance in Luton, it still outsources most of its MRO.
“Approximately 35% of the current fleet is based in London and we use lots of companies, such as Lufthansa Technic, Storm Aviation and SR Technics in the London area, with many more across Europe,” says an EasyJet representative.
EasyJet is so committed to outsourcing that even in its own Gatwick hangar, which covers 5,400 m2 (58,000 ft.2), Lufthansa Technic (LHT) performs the MRO work under a five-year contract due to expire in 2021. This sees LHT provide two inputs each night and AOG support as required. LHT also has a contract to provide 100 base maintenance checks for the carrier’s A320-family fleet from the German company’s Malta facility.
Other suppliers to EasyJet at Gatwick include components specialist AJ Walter (AJW). Under a deal running until 2020, AJW is responsible for EasyJet’s component repair and overhaul, supply of consumables and management of the airline’s spares inventory.
For AJW, the contract marked something of a turning point as it focused on AJW supporting EasyJet’s existing inventory rather than providing that inventory itself. Thus the company’s logistics and repair management capabilities, which were previously ancillary to its core inventory offering, assumed new importance as direct revenue streams.
Access to Third-Party Work
Headquartered at Luton Airport to the north of London, Monarch Aircraft Engineering (MAE) operates two heavy maintenance lines and a line maintenance station, as well as another line maintenance facility at Gatwick Airport.
Gatwick served 53 airlines and 43 million passengers in 2016, while Luton—a base for low-cost carriers—handled 13 million. While the majority of MAE’s work is for its parent, Monarch Airlines, a significant chunk is for third-party customers for both line and heavy maintenance.
“On the line at both Gatwick and Luton, we perform technical handling for operational aircraft on stand during turnarounds. We also provide line maintenance during dayshift and nightshift for based aircraft,” says David Doherty, head of commercial for Monarch Aircraft Engineering.
MAE’s heavy maintenance capability at Luton includes D Checks as well as modifications and structural repairs. While its Birmingham hangar has a slightly more extensive set of heavy check capabilities, from Luton the company is still able to service Boeing 737, 757, 767 and Airbus A300, A310, A330 and A320-family aircraft.
The MRO provider also responds to about 100 AOG incidents each year, with common causes being bird impacts, lightning strikes and fluid leaks. Engineers from SMART, Monarch’s dedicated AOG team, are on call around the clock.
Parts to support AOG services, line and heavy maintenance are sourced from on-site stores and a central warehouse in Luton, including more than 50,000 consumable and rotable spares to support Boeing and Airbus aircraft.
MAE is also part of Boeing’s Global Fleet Care (formerly known as Goldcare) maintenance network, under which it can offer base maintenance for the 787 from its hangar in Birmingham and line maintenance from many airports including Stansted and Gatwick, which “is a good location for our current customer base and type of aircraft we are approved to maintain,” says Doherty.
The final element to MAE’s London-based capabilities is a component repair center in Luton. Here components such as thrust reversers and nose cowls are repaired and overhauled, while inspection and repairs for issues related to composite material damage, delamination and erosion are also performed.
With such a wide product offering, MAE does not need to draw on the services of other MRO providers around London, although Doherty does see a need for more aircraft washing facilities and engine-test areas at the city’s airports.
Like Luton, London Stansted Airport, northeast of the city, mainly caters to low-cost carriers. It is the biggest base for Ryanair, Europe’s leading LCC, which has more than 40 aircraft at the airport and flew about 20 million of the 24 million passengers who used Stansted in 2016.
Line maintenance provider Storm Aviation is based at Stansted, where it has access to three narrowbody bays within the airport’s Diamond Hangar, an 8,720-m2 facility used by commercial airlines and private jet operators.
Within the hangar, Storm can perform A and B check-type work for A320 and 757 aircraft to supplement its core line maintenance capability. The company, which was acquired by Lithuanian MRO FL Technics in 2011, also has line stations at Heathrow, Gatwick and Southend airports. Its customers include Emirates, Lufthansa and EasyJet.
“The scope of work differs from carrier to carrier, but will range from night-stop checks and daytime on-call AOG maintenance support, right through to the performance of Line A checks requiring several engineers or more over a given night shift,” says Ian Jones, head of sales for Storm Aviation.
Jones adds that Storm typically deals with more than 60 AOG events each year, with a common cause being impacts from ground equipment. He adds that when spare parts are needed, Storm’s customer airlines usually provide them from their own inventories, although Storm has access to rotable and consumer parts via its parent, FL Technics.
For certain services, such as composite repairs and nondestructive testing, Storm has to reach out to third-party MRO providers, which it generally has access to in the London area. However, Jones does observe that “Gatwick has needed another hangar facility to serve long- and short-haul carriers for some time.” EasyJet has made a similar observation.
He also points out that the cost of line maintenance tends to be higher at Heathrow, in line with a reputation for steep airside fees at the London hub, which operates more or less continually at full capacity.
“There is certainly an expectation by staff working at Heathrow that the market commands a slightly higher salary because of the Heathrow hassle factor. Additionally, airside real estate in the London area generally is, of course, more expensive when compared to other regional airports,” says Jones.
The largest and most capable MRO provider in the London area is, unsurprisingly, BA Engineering—the technical arm of British Airways. While the MRO provider declined to be interviewed for this article, we have previously reported that BA Engineering has pursued various synergies with Iberia Maintenance, the Spanish MRO provider with which it has shared a common parent in International Airlines Group since 2011.
BA Engineering’s main base is at Heathrow, while it also has a maintenance facility at Gatwick as well as several other locations. The company offers nose-to-tail maintenance services for most aircraft types, and its line maintenance capabilities at Heathrow and Gatwick cover almost every type of Boeing and Airbus aircraft.