Ahmad Zamany, Copa Airlines vice president of technical operations Copa Airlines Photo

Copa Plans To Insource More MRO, Prepares For 737 MAX

Copa Airlines has ambitious plans for MRO, including installing Maintenix and in-sourcing more of its own maintenance.

Printed headline: Copa Airlines 


Ahmad Zamany, Copa Airlines vice president of technical operations, discusses how the airline plans to bring more work in-house and is implementing a new IT platform as it prepares for Boeing 737 MAX 9s.

Copa is implementing Mxi Technologies’ Maintenix system. How is it going?

We have two systems presently. One is for our Embraer fleet, and we piggyback on United Airlines’ Spectre for our Boeing 737NG fleet. The contract with United was implemented many years ago, when we were a smaller airline. When we bought the Embraer fleet, about 12 years ago, we decided to handle that ourselves. We’ve done well with it. So we have all the confidence in the world that we are ready to take over the United piece as well, and we have trained our people accordingly.

Deciding on Mxi was a tough decision because there are a lot of good systems available worldwide. We looked at quite a few of them. We down-selected to three. Mxi ended up the leading provider, mainly because I left it to the end-users, our internal experts, to vote. So it was a very democratic choice. And of course, the financial decision, negotiations, the terms of the agreement drove us to this decision, as well.

When will you start implementing it?

We started implementing it last July, and by this July we’ll have the Embraer fleet completed. By September or October, we’ll have the NG fleet transferred to this new system.

Copa Airlines Photo

Ahmad Zamany, Copa Airlines vice president of technical operations 
Credit: Copa Airlines

At the MRO Latin America conference, you mentioned that Copa will be making some in-house technical changes. What will they be?

When I joined the company in 2010; after looking at everything across the board and seeing what our potentials were, I wrote a program for what our plans should be. One of the things that I put on the table was the possibility of bringing some testing, or up to C checks, in-house. Before that, 100% was outsourced out of Panama to different MROs. So we put a team together and studied the packages and necessary tooling. I sent people to MROs to look and learn, and of course I’ve personally had the experience doing it in the past.

We started with two checks in 2011, then six in 2012 and nine after that. Then, went to a full line. We only have one hangar, with one bay, and we’re doing 18-19 of our checks nose-to-tail. The team has done a great job of continually becoming more efficient and applying lean techniques. About two years ago, we decided to bring in the heaviest of our heavy checks. Since we started doing a full line in-house, we have increased the hours we do in-house by approximately 30%. Right now, we perform about 160,000 manhours in a year.

About four years ago, we started looking at the possibility of an expansion. We’ve gone from 52 airplanes in 2010 to about 100 airplanes a year in the last three years. Our growth has been very rapid. We then leveled it off, but now we have grown from within. We’re actually fitting our business plan much better than we did two or three years ago.

The new hangar land was occupied by our air force in Panama, but we were able to talk to them. It took a little while. In January, we had the ground-breaking of the facility’s expansion. I’m very proud of the job that the team has done to get us to this point.

The new hangar will accommodate three airplanes as big as a 737 MAX 9 at the same time. We will start an additional line by September 2018. Then we’ll start a second line, hopefully, a year or two after that, as needed.

How much is Copa investing in this?

The investment is around $15 million.

You’ve been a very vocal proponent of parts manufacturer approval (PMA)—including using them in leased aircraft.

A big reason PMAs aren’t included more in leased aircraft is due to the airlines. Many do not accept PMAs, and so the marketability of the airplane for the lessor becomes questionable. That is one of the reasons you don’t see the lessors accepting the PMA with open arms. Also, there is other pressure in the industry and campaigning that goes against it.

We’ve been able to negotiate, put language into the lease agreements for certain parts such as interiors, and if you can classify them, a lot of leasing companies have actually been accommodating.

At the end of the day, if you have an airplane for 10 years, you might as well use the PMA. When you’re returning the airplane, you can always bring it back to the OEM part.

Which interior PMA parts does Copa use?

We do interior parts and other things such as seals and filters. That program started when I joined in 2010. In 2011, we started qualifying parts. We have a very robust program and processes on how we get parts approved. You have to have a good, strong engineering staff in order to approve them. At the end of the day, history proves that the PMA parts are not worse than the OEM’s, and many times they are even better. And there are very few airworthiness directives against them. Our PMA parts are a very small percentage of the whole materials business. But the savings help. We have very low profit margins and every penny counts.

Will Copa be making any fleet changes?

We leveled it off for the last couple of years, which was a great opportunity for us to become even more efficient. We will be growing by about 15% or so by 2021-22, depending on what the market presents to us.

Copa Airlines Concept

Copa Airlines broke ground for its new hangar in Panama Jan. 19.
Credit: Copa Airlines

Are you expecting to make any fleet modifications?

Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), we have no choice. We have to go to TCAS 7.1 by December of 2019, based on the Panamanian regulations that we operate under. And 2020 is ADS-B “Out.” A number of airplanes that we already have include TCAS 7.1 out of the factory. There is some modification we have to do, and we’re planning way ahead to put the process together.

We started the TCAS 7.1 modification on the new airplanes first, leaving the older airplanes to the end because I’m not sure I want to do it on airplanes we’re going to part with.

Are there any other mods going on?

We look at these things every day. We have a very good team of product marketing people, engineering, and two or three executives that have periodic meetings to look at different things. There isn’t a provider out there we haven’t looked at.

When the time comes, we will be configuring our next set of airplanes, the 737 MAX, which will start coming in August of 2018. We have done a lot of the configuration. I can’t share it, especially the cockpit and avionics yet, but we look at Wi-Fi and different inflight entertainment systems almost weekly.

Other than airframe, what does Copa perform in-house versus outsourcing?

We have no plan to bring things like engines in-house. Economical viability is what drives this. We have to be able to keep the line going continuously. We have to be efficient.

We do certain components, such as coffee makers and a lot of the interior repairs and a lot of the seat repairs, oxygen bottles, first-aid kits and stuff like that, in-house.

But as far as getting into the complicated avionics components, hydraulics, pneumatics or fuel components, you have to do it very carefully because of the investment: If we can’t do it right, we’re not going to do it.

Some of this equipment is expensive. The return on investment might take too long. Probably 90% of components go out, and we have pretty decent contracts that we have put together. We’re approaching it with good suppliers that we’ve partnered with the last 5-6 years.

Who are your primary vendors?

Copa’s major suppliers are Boeing, CFM, Honeywell, Embraer, UTAS and Rockwell Collins. All of our engine contracts are with GE. There are many others, but we’ve actually reduced the numbers.

Copa started an ultra-low-cost carrier. Are you involved in that?

Wingo started Dec. 1, under our sister company, Copa Colombia. It doesn’t feed our operations, but we provide 100% maintenance support to Wingo.

I configured the airplanes with my engineering hat—and of course, with my engineering staff. We were in charge of getting the airplanes ready because of the different configurations. Believe it or not, we were able to reconfigure them in a 4-5-month period.

The first configuration we outsourced because we don’t have a 145 FAR certification for the heavy in Panama yet. We can get it, but the time hasn’t been right for us to go after it. We will probably pursue it after we get our new hangar. So we did the first one outside to get the STC, and the rest happened in-house.

What are you doing to get ready for the MAX?

We’re 95% of the way there. We pretty much know what the airplane is going to look like. What it’s going to have, inside and out. We’re well ahead of schedule on having it ready.

The training is all scheduled for this year, but we had the training planned and ready before the end of last year. We have to work on the recommended spare-parts list and see what parts and what tools we need to bring in-house.

Anything else going on?

Our concentration is on the 737 MAX. Wingo was a good project—a huge project for us last year. But this year, our concentration is on advancing the hangar, getting the MAX finished, and implementing Mxi. That is a lot of exciting stuff, because right after the Mxi implementation, we will be going into maintenance program escalations. That is another challenge. Our plates are full, but we’re enjoying it.

Tell me more about the maintenance program escalation.

There are possibilities to escalate and extend the A checks and ultimately C checks. We’re waiting for Mxi to be implemented, so we can take advantage of escalating those checks to longer intervals. Right now, we are working with United for the 737s. So we can only escalate if they’re escalating. Our maintenance programs are very close.

United is writing the maintenance program. We piggyback on them about 90-95%. Once we bring that in-house, we can accelerate the escalation process.

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