Operating a fleet of nearly 300 aircraft makes EasyJet one of Europe’s largest low-cost airlines. Gary Smith, head of engineering at the UK-based carrier, tells how it has prepared for the arrival of new-generation Airbus narrowbodies and why it has chosen some of its MRO partners.
What are some key elements of EasyJet’s maintenance strategy?
Since our inception, EasyJet’s maintenance strategy has tended to be quite heavily outsourced, so from a supplier perspective, we naturally look to get the best value. As time goes on, we are becoming more sophisticated at knowing best values as we gain experience as an airline. Obviously, cost is a big factor, but it’s also about performance, reliability and flexibility. Each element of our maintenance strategy has a different requirement. For instance, line maintenance is mostly about using the human element effectively, from efficiency to culture. Whereas, for engine maintenance, a lot of the cost is driven by parts, so it’s a completely different environment. The airline has to strike the best arrangements it can in regard to component supply.
EasyJet’s fleet is seeing additions with Airbus A320neos entering service last year and the A321neo expected this summer, adding to the existing A319-100s and A320-200s. How is the carrier preparing for these fleet changes from a maintenance perspective?
I’ve managed entry into service of the 186-seat A320-200s, along with the A320neo and A321neo, and found that the secret to doing this effectively is in planning and preparation across the whole business. While a large portion of this lies in engineering and maintenance activity, it’s about also engaging the right stakeholders business-wise. A lot of it also comes down to the specific aircraft type. A new A320neo has the same number of seats and cabin configuration similar to a classic version. Conversely, the A321neo is a much bigger aircraft in seat count, so there is a lot more work across the business in terms of ground operations—managing aircraft on the ground and at airports—and having the right tooling and getting technicians the relevant training. Another big investment lies in spare parts, as some of the new aircraft are powered by new engine systems.
What is the breakdown of maintenance work carried out in-house and outsourced?
I’d estimate around 90% of the value of EasyJet’s maintenance is outsourced. However, we are in-sourcing more maintenance gradually and are evaluating mixed policies around partnering arrangements similar to the one we’ve had in place at London Gatwick Airport with Lufthansa Technik since 2016, covering light base maintenance and aircraft-on-ground hangar support.
The Lufthansa Technik partnership added to existing ones with the AJW Group for component management and a long-standing association with SR Technics. What does EasyJet look for in a maintenance partner?
Having the right cultural alignment between the parties is very important: the right way of working and the correct dynamic across the business. The sheer size of our fleet, which soon will surpass 300 aircraft, is in itself a significant demand for a supplier, so it is essential they have the right capacity and capabilities in place. Operating a smaller or very mixed fleet presents a different type of scenario to operating the volume of aircraft we do. Components will account for around 40,000 transactions per year, and that’s excluding consumables. While cost is also an important factor, the service itself is also at the forefront. Working with parts is a different nature from line maintenance, which in turn is different from engine MRO. We’ve tried to make EasyJet flexible and agile enough to choose the best supplier for each segment.
The 2017-18 winter maintenance season has ended. How successfully do you feel this was managed?
It was certainly very busy but ultimately successful. There was a high volume of routine C checks for aircraft in the six- and 12-year stages. We also carried out a lot of air operator certificate (AOC) conversions, following our establishment of an Austrian AOC firm in July 2017. This meant converting a lot of aircraft, despite the work representing a relatively small input. To date, EasyJet already has 100 aircraft on the AOC [stemming from Brexit], making us the biggest operator in Austria. The winter months also saw a lot of modification work along with high numbers of end-of-lease work in the form of redeliveries of A319s leaving the fleet.
EasyJet signed up for Airbus’ Skywise data analytics solution in March. Why was the decision made and what benefits is EasyJet looking to gain from data analytics?
Generally speaking, using a data analytics platform was the right thing to do. Being able to use technology to predict when an aircraft is about to go wrong in some way is a compelling argument in itself. From a safety and product reliability perspective and seeing ourselves as a customer-focused airline, our aim is to get passengers from A to B in an efficient manner. A platform like Skywise allows us to turn the unscheduled into the scheduled and plan our operations more carefully. These benefits also extend airline-wide, and while they can’t immediately be quantified, they are effective in terms of reducing disruptions and other areas such as the cost of passenger compensation that we have to bear. Naturally, we are always looking to reduce these issues.
The airline is known for technological innovations within its maintenance division, ranging from the aforementioned big data to exploring using drones for inspection work. Which technologies are capturing your attention?
Drones aren’t yet to be established with a lot of development ongoing, but there certainly are more companies creating products in that space. We never start these projects with the intention of keeping them to ourselves; we do it with the intention of helping to push the industry forward. Recently, we’ve been working on the all-electric aircraft with Wright Electric. Again, as with drones and data analytics, we aren’t planning to work exclusively on this and will collaborate with anybody to push this forward for the wider industry. We see that as a technology that will come in time—moving from “could happen” one day to almost certainly “will happen one day.” We’ve rolled out more mobility solutions for technicians on the shop floor and the airline crews. A lot of this is enabled by a more connected aircraft, so as an engineering team, we are heavily involved in determining how we best do that. We also are still working on projects involving 3D screening and electric aircraft taxis. What started as innovation projects a few years ago have now entered into the phase of making them a reality.
What are some of the future aims for EasyJet’s maintenance division?
As mentioned, EasyJet is getting ever more sophisticated, taking into account the data and experience we possess and the aircraft we operate. We’re working on really leveraging these benefits. I don’t see anything too dramatic happening in our supply chain, however. There are challenges around maintenance capacity and sourcing the right kind of technical people of all age groups into the business, and these challenges will continue to be an important focus.
EasyJet Fact File
Fleet size: EasyJet operates a mixed fleet of 193 Airbus A320-family classic and Neo aircraft. The first A320neo of the 100-aircraft order entered the fleet last summer, with the rest due by 2022. The first of 30 A321neos are expected to enter service this summer.
Hangars: The airline operates two base maintenance hangars in the UK: at London Gatwick and London Luton airports. It also runs line stations at London Luton and Liverpool airports.
Capabilities: EasyJet holds Part M approval for continued airworthiness management, with almost all of its activity in this area in-sourced. “We outsource a couple of things around records, documentation management and engine health-monitoring, but the majority of this is also done in-house,” Smith says. EasyJet also holds Part 21 approval, allowing it to design its own modifications in-house, and Part 145 certification at its Gatwick and Liverpool sites.