In June 2017, London Heathrow broke with traditional and publicly outed the worst offending airlines of noise and pollution at the airport. Embarrassingly, El Al came in 50 out of 50, behind Kuwait Airways, Middle East Airlines and Pakistan International Airlines.
A recent order for 16 Dreamliners has allowed the airline to begin replacing its worst-offending aircraft, such as the 747s and 767s, which will have fully phased out those older model types by 2020. That will take the average age of its widebodies from 18 years, in September 2017, to 6.7. Its narrowbodies have more life in them, with a current average age of 10 years. Those aircraft not immediately due for retirement are being given an internal overhaul of their cabins and IFE.
Yosef Barazani, vice president maintenance and engineering at El Al, has been leading that process. Speaking with Aviation Week, he says the work has been “challenging”.
“Last year was a very significant year for us as we needed to appropriately prepare for the new 787-900 fleet, starting with the first aircraft delivery in August 2017. Currently, we’ve inducted four, and are scheduled to induct three more by the end of 2018.
“Prior to [their delivery],” he explains, “we needed to compete all required maintenance support tooling, plus ground-support equipment modified with customized no-touch policy electronic systems to minimize airframe damage to the composite material of the 787s.”
That also required the repair station to gain a 787-appropriate rating from the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel and the FAA for both line and heavy maintenance, which meant training 90 qualified technicians and engineers.
Fortunately, the division had just completed the transition from its older KETER maintenance software to the newer AMOS system, which Barazani says really helped the process. “That successfully went alive, with no significant discrepancies, at the beginning of March 2017,” he says, “We also managed to do that, while doing routine line and heavy maintenance tasks, without a stoppage.”
Going forward, the division still has to introduce another seven -900s into the fleet by 2020, and it continues to prepare for future 787 heavy maintenance. It also has to receive EASA-components rating for hydraulics and engine accessories to support its component services program agreement with Lufthansa Technik.
The upgrades to the cabins of the older aircraft are ongoing, which involve modifying the 777 fleet with Internet access and a streaming IFE system, both from ViaSat, and replacing the passenger seat furnishings. Once those are finished, Barazani explains, the division will then start on doing the same for the 737-900 fleet.
One installation most MRO suppliers do not need to worry about is an anti-missile system. El Al is one of the only airlines in the world that installs such technology on commercial aircraft. It first did so after shoulder-mounted surface-to-air rockets narrowly avoided one of its charter aircraft in Mombasa, Kenya, in late 2002, and now all its aircraft have them installed as standard. The latest system, at an estimated cost of $1 million per aircraft, is Elbit Systems’ C-Music, the commercial version of its military SkyShield, and this needs to be installed on each new Dreamliner before it enters service.
Despite the modernization investment, Barazani recognizes there is always more that can be done. “We’ll continue train more technicians to support the growing 787 fleet,” he says, “but I’d really like is to increase training in new technologies to allow the division to receive more EASA ratings in components and heavy maintenance.”