MR-SUNEXPRESS_Sun-Express-promo.jpg SunExpress

SunExpress On MRO Plans And MAX Deliveries

How German/Turkish joint venture airline SunExpress successfully handles MRO for its widely dispersed route network.

Printed headline: SunExpress


In October, it will be 30 years since SunExpress was launched as a 50/50 joint venture of Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa, initially focusing on leisure travel to Turkey from Germany. While Turkey remains a core market for the airline, it now serves 90 destinations in more than 30 countries in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. In 2019, for the second year in a row, SunExpress was cited as the safest passenger airline under the standards of the European Commission’s Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) program, which is administered by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The airline received a 0.00 finding rate—the highest in the SAFA data base. To understand how SunExpress is able to maintain its enviable safety record with a widely dispersed route network, Inside MRO contributing writer Paul Seidenman talked with Cemil Sayar, the airline’s technical director.

SunExpress—including SunExpress Germany—operates a fleet of 65 Boeing 737-800s. What is the average age of this fleet, and what is the breakdown of the fleet for the two operations?

The average age of the SunExpress Turkey fleet is approximately 11 years, whereas SunExpress Germany’s 737-800 fleet averages 14 years. The SunExpress Turkey fleet has 54 Boeing 737-800s, and the SunExpress Germany fleet has 11 737-800 aircraft. Apart from the Boeing aircraft, seven Airbus A330-200 are operated by SunExpress Germany. Additionally, 11 A320s operate for SunExpress Turkey under wet-lease agreements, and two A320s fly on behalf of SunExpress Germany under wet leases. A total of 85 aircraft are being operated by SunExpress Turkey and SunExpress Germany.

What is the average number of hours the aircraft fly yearly, and how many average daily flight cycles does that include?

The annual number of flight hours per aircraft is 4,000 on average for the SunExpress Turkey fleet, with an average of 4.4 daily cycles. For the SunExpress Germany fleet, the annual flight hours per aircraft is, on average, 3,200, with 2.8 daily flight cycles.

Does maintenance planning and management at SunExpress cover both SunExpress Turkey and SunExpress Germany?

SunExpress Germany has its own air operator certificate (AOC) and continuing airworthiness management organization (CAMO) in Germany, while SunExpress Turkey provides engineering services defined under the SCAMT (Sub-Contracting Continued Airworthiness Management Tasks) agreement.

Do the two operations—SunExpress Turkey and SunExpress Germany—use each other’s aircraft as needed?

Both companies may use each other’s aircraft and crews when necessary, provided that Germany’s LBA and Turkish DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) approve the wet-lease operations.

What maintenance capabilities does SunExpress have in-house?

The SunExpress Turkey Part 145 organization has line maintenance capabilities. In addition to this, we have shop capabilities including, but not limited to, carbon-brake repairs and overhauls, galley-insert repairs and nondestructive testing inspections.

Are any maintenance tasks outsourced?

Although we have an extensive level of maintenance experience on the 737-800 fleet, we outsource base maintenance events, engine overhauls, landing-gear overhauls and APU overhauls. We have several contracted service providers such as KLM Engine Services and Turkish Engine Center for CFM56-7B overhauls; Turkish Technic for landing gear overhauls and component maintenance services. We are currently running a tender for base maintenance services. We are also running a tender to select an engine maintenance provider for the 2020-25 period, due to the expiration terms of our agreements.

The leisure travel business is important for you. With that in mind, do you try to schedule major inspections mainly in the off-season?

We plan our base maintenance activities during the winter season to be able to provide more serviceable aircraft for revenue operations during the high season, which is April to November. We also use night stops very efficiently to perform line-level maintenance events. Our maintenance scheme prevents us from grounding aircraft for 1-2 days, which enables us to maximize aircraft availability.

Are any cabin upgrades being planned for the Boeing 737-800 fleet?

We have already started to implement a wireless inflight entertainment upgrade on both the SunExpress Turkey and SunExpress Germany fleets. A total of 35 aircraft modifications have been completed up to now. Remaining installations will start in the winter season, most likely in November 2019.

In 2015, you placed a major order with Boeing for 50 narrowbodies, including 18 737-800s and 32 737 MAX 8s—of which five were slated for delivery this year—and the rest by 2024. How has SunExpress planned for entry into service (EIS) for the 737-MAX 8?

We took delivery of 18 737-800s from 2015 through 2017.  We planned to start our 737 MAX deliveries in 2019. SunExpress currently has 32 firm Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft on order with an additional 10 737 MAX 8 options. Regarding our firm orders, we plan to take delivery of five aircraft each year and seven aircraft in 2024. SunExpress has extensive experience with the EIS of the 737-800; therefore, we will manage the 737 MAX delivery process through our own resources.

Did the grounding of the 737 MAX 8 alter your operational planning?

The grounding of the 737 MAX 8 caused us to postpone some procurement and training plans specific to the MAX fleet. At the same time, we had to make extraordinary efforts to obtain the required number of aircraft to secure our entire summer capacity. We are expecting the MAX to go back into service sooner or later. However, it goes without saying that this requires the undisputed proof of airworthiness of the model, granted by all relevant authorities. Our utmost priority at SunExpress is the safety of our passengers and our crews.

Has SunExpress estimated a reentry into service date for the 737 MAX 8?

No, but we are in very close contact with Boeing and waiting for FAA, EASA and Turkish DGCA approvals to release aircraft back to service.

Once that happens, do you have long-term contracts for maintenance on the 737 MAX 8 airframe and the
Leap 1B engine?

For base and engine maintenance activities, we have not chosen any maintenance service providers yet.

What changes to airframe and maintenance planning do you see for the 737 MAX 8, compared to the 737-800?

We will apply the 737-800 maintenance planning concept to the 737 MAX 8 as well.

Is the 737 MAX 8 order slated to expand the SunExpress fleet or replace any of the 737-800s?

We aim for the MAXs mainly to support fleet growth, but also for some 737-800 replacements.

You have wet-lease-in agreements on the A320 and Airbus A330s. Are they used mostly to provide additional lift during the heavy tourist travel season?

Correct. Due to increased demand during the high season, we use wet-lease-in aircraft to be able to meet the need.

Are those wet leases multi-year agreements or year-to-year, depending on your estimated needs?

Our wet leases are year-to-year agreements. In our business, the market does not leave you enough room to make wet-lease plans in the long run, which is why we prefer the option of estimating and evaluating the upcoming summer period requirements only a year in advance. In spite of all challenges due to the market fluctuations, we believe that we successfully manage to plan our capacity per demand by the help of wet-lease operations.

Is there anything else you would like to add that you think our readers might find of interest?

Yes. SunExpress will invest in a new aircraft hangar facility in Antalya, Turkey. The hangar facility, which is expected to be operational in the summer of 2021—depending on the authorization process—will have five bays for Boeing 737 aircraft. By establishing its own hangar, C level base maintenance activities for both SunExpress Turkey and SunExpress Germany fleets will be performed in-house by the SunExpress Maintenance Organization. Having a hangar facility will also provide new opportunities such as increased back-shop and component-workshop capabilities.

We also have several ongoing digitalization projects such as paperless maintenance and electronic technical logbooks. 

SunExpress Fact File

History: Founded in 1989 as a 50/50 joint venture of Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa.

Since 2011, has operated as two companies—SunExpress Turkey and SunExpress Germany—under separate AOCs, but under the SunExpress brand and reporting to a single CEO.

Headquarters: SunExpress Turkey—Antalya, Turkey;
SunExpress Germany—Frankfurt.

Markets: 90 destinations in 30 countries in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Employees: As of Aug. 1,

Fleet: As of Aug. 1, 85 Aircraft

• SunExpress Turkey:
54 Boeing 737-800s
11 Airbus A320s (wet-leased).

• SunExpress Germany:
11 Boeing 737-800s
2 Airbus A320s (wet-leased)
7 leased Airbus A330-200s.

• On order: 32 Boeing 737 MAX 8s (firm); 10 on option. Planned deliveries 2019-24: 32 MAX 8s, pending return to service.

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