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Small Planet Big Outsourcer Now, But That Could Change

MRO strategy for a two-hemisphere low-cost carrier.

Young airlines usually rely heavily on outsourced maintenance, partly because they do not have the scale to support in-house operations. The scale factor is even more important when an eight-year-old 27-aircraft airline like Small Planet has home bases spread 5,000 miles away from each other, in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The carrier’s essential MRO objectives are first, to keep aircraft airworthy and serviceable as required by maintenance data and regulatory authorities. Second, “to maintain the minimum number of deferred defects on the aircraft and to ensure maximum technical dispatch reliability,” explains Vidmantas Pleta, head of the airline’s CAMO department.

Small Planet Airlines does not have in-house maintenance organization approval in the European Union. All MRO activities now are contracted from outsource maintenance organizations. Its main partners for line maintenance are Nayak Aircraft Services in Netherlands and Germany, German Aircraft Maintenance, LS Technics in Poland, FL Technics in Lithuania and Aerocandia Aviation Services in Greece. For heavy airframe checks, the airline outsources to a company at Sharjah airport.

Engine outsourcing depends on slot availability, but is mainly done with MTU Hanover, SR Technics, Aero Norway, Pratt & Whitney’s Shanghai Engine Centre and Turkish Engine Center, the joint venture of Pratt and Turkish Technic.

Pleta says the great majority of component maintenance is covered by flight-hour agreements. But with the most expensive components like engines, landing gear and auxiliary power units, he is always looking for a specific maintenance organization to repair the component.

Small Planet does its own line maintenance only in one Asian market, Cambodia, where it has approvals for line maintenance.

Maintenance execution thus differs between the European and Asian markets. “The main continuing airworthiness activities are managed in Vilnius, where our headquarters are located,” Pleta explains. “The main difference is that our Cambodian Air Operator Certificate has local maintenance organization approval, whereas in the EU we do not have approval for our own line maintenance.” In cases where Small Planet aircraft registered in the EU go to Asia, the airline works with a local EASA part-145 approved maintenance organization or asks one of its European providers to open line maintenance stations in Asia specifically for Small Planet.

The outsourced approach has kept headcounts very low. With 25 Airbus A20-family aircraft flying in Europe and now two in Cambodia, Small Planet has only 40 people working on continuing airworthiness management and maintenance. But that may not last forever. Asked if the maintenance strategy may change in the next five years, Pleta says, “aviation faces continuous changes and improvements, so I would say, why not?”

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