Established in 2001 as the flag carrier of Kazakhstan, Air Astana has a growing maintenance operation servicing its in-house fleet and third parties alike. Keith Wardle, Air Astana’s vice president of
engineering and maintenance, discusses how it is cementing its MRO unit for its expanding fleet while growing line maintenance services for third parties.
What maintenance capabilities does Air Astana possess?
Air Astana has European Aviation Safety Agency Part 145 approval to perform maintenance up to and including A checks, plus some limited base maintenance activities on its own fleet of Airbus A320-family, Embraer 190 and Boeing 757-200 and 767-300 aircraft. We extend our approvals to customer aircraft and their engine types, plus we hold approval for customer aircraft on the Airbus A330, Boeing 737-700/800, Boeing 747-400 and Boeing 747-8. Soon we will add the Boeing 777F. To further support our fleet, we have a strong workshop capability that we use for aircraft batteries, wheels, brakes, galley equipment, oxygen cylinders, cargo nets, cabin seats, nondestructive testing and structures.
We pride ourselves on a high standard of service and high on-time performance, underpinned by a strong safety culture. We look for a supplier that can work with us to support our goals, while also seeking out quality at an affordable price.
Has Air Astana typically followed the model of outsourcing most of its maintenance, or have some things been kept or brought back in-house?
Our location in Central Asia has driven Air Astana to develop an independent maintenance capability rather than rely on minimal resources nearby. Holding EASA Part 145 approval, we do a large proportion of our own maintenance, except for C checks at the moment, with good workshop supporting capability and an internationally renowned Part 147 school to provide aircraft-type training for maintenance staff. As an example of our self-reliance, and rather unique in the industry, the maintenance department contains a large team of aircraft cleaners who not only perform external washing but also deep clean during maintenance and do transit cleaning of cabins between flights. There are synergies between maintenance and the cleaning department; working together so closely helps to maintain our cabins in great condition.
How has Air Astana looked to build these in-house maintenance capabilities?
We recently built and commissioned into operation a modern hangar and office facility at our second base in Astana. Primarily for line maintenance activities, we have also initiated a project to develop C check capability at the site. In preparation for this work, we have established a Part 66 training program for young mechanics, with our first class of 14 trainees underway.
Does Air Astana conduct any third-party maintenance work, or does it service mostly its own fleet?
Our main focus is, of course, our own fleet, but our reputation for experienced engineering staff and compliance with EASA regulations has made us the provider of choice for airlines seeking line maintenance support at Air Astana bases. In addition to local airlines, we have more than 20 contracts in place with well-known foreign operators.
Can you give some details about your facilities and how they operate?
Our main base for engineering and maintenance is at Almaty. Here we have a fully equipped two-bay hangar, each bay capable of housing a 757, with the majority of maintenance and engineering operational and support staff located here. In addition, we recently completed a new technical center in Astana, which combines a modern hangar and offices. The hangar can house a Boeing 787 or combination of other aircraft in our fleet. We also have a line station at Atyrau, with plans to open further line stations later this year due to fleet and route growth.
From a technical perspective, have the newly arrived A320neo and Embraer E190-E2 operated as expected, or have there been maintenance challenges?
The Embraer E2 painted in its rather distinctive snow leopard livery came into service in January and is so far performing well, with no real challenges. The A320neo generally has a very good technical dispatch reliability.
Which technologies is Air Astana investing in for its maintenance hangars?
We are tentatively looking toward Wi-Fi capabilities and tablet-based technology for maintenance integration with the TRAX technical records and planning system. Currently, the maintenance department uses a paper-based system but would like to move toward a paperless system. In addition, RFID technology is beginning to offer efficiencies that we would like to further explore.
How does Air Astana recruit technicians? Do you work with local technical colleges?
Air Astana recruits all maintenance staff locally, often from technical colleges. There are very few expats in engineering and maintenance and only in management positions that benefit from experience gained outside Kazakhstan.
What are the future aims of the Air Astana maintenance operation?
Safety is our No. 1 priority, and we will always continue to develop staff and procedures to maintain the highest levels of safety. The airline continues to grow steadily and profitably, and our aim is to drive efficiency through continual improvement while focusing on keeping costs down and fares low. We have a good technical dispatch reliability across the fleet, and we endeavor to maintain a leading on-time performance record.
Air Astana Fact File
HISTORY: Founded as the flag carrier of Kazakhstan in 2001; commenced operations in 2002. Operates scheduled, domestic and international services on 64 routes from its main hub, Almaty International Airport, and from secondary hub, Astana International Airport.
FLEET: 34 Boeing, Airbus and Embraer widebodies and narrowbodies. Introducing Airbus A321neo and Embraer 190-E2 aircraft. Expects delivery of its first Boeing 787-8 in 2021.
MAINTENANCE FACILITIES: Two-bay hangar at Almaty can accommodate two Boeing 757s. Astana technical center can house one Boeing 787 or a combination of other aircraft.