It is generally not efficient to perform in-house airframe work on fleets of less than 50-60 aircraft. That leaves small carriers with two choices. Either outsource airframe and much other maintenance to an MRO provider, or do it in-house, but bring more aircraft inside to fully utilize staff, equipment and hangars. Both paths have been chosen.
For example, South Africa’s Comair operates a small, mixed fleet of 26 aircraft, 10 Boeing 737-400s, nine 737-800s and seven leased 737-800s. Spokesman Stephen Forbes says the carrier’s maintenance strategy is to outsource entirely. “Comair outsources 100% of all maintenance including Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization (CAMO) and engineering services,” Forbes explains. The carrier relies on South African Airways Technical Department for all its maintenance needs.
The next maintenance challenge Comair faces will be ensuring it is ready and has all the necessary partners to ensure the its new 737MAXs—scheduled to arrive in January 2019--will have a smooth entry into service. The airline wants its entire fleet to be 737-800s and 737MAX8s for higher seating capacity, lower operating cost and higher daily utilization. Forbes says Comair has no immediate plans for who its 737MAX partners will be, but it constantly reviews all its suppliers.
Spain’s Air Nostrum takes the other, insourcing, path. It operates a fleet of 45 CRJ200s, 900s and 1000s and ATR72s. The carrier provides line and base maintenance on these models, as well as repairs main batteries and wheels. Maintenance Manager Alfredo García Sorribes says Air Nostrum also offers other airlines the same services it does in-house: line and base maintenance on CRJs and ATR72s, and limited component repair.
Sorribes’s maintenance department employs 300 staff. They work on Air Nostrum aircraft about 80% of the time, and for other airlines 20% of the time. The Air Nostrum exec says there are no plans to add staff or facilities in the next five years. In any case, he has no problem in recruiting replacement staff in his local market of Valencia.
Location may have a lot to do with the different choices of Comair and Air Nostrum. Comair is at the southern tip of Africa, with a sparse population of nearby airlines. Air Nostrum is near the center of one of the largest aviation markets in the world, with plenty of potential customers flying common fleet types.