After over two decades, Canadian low-fare carrier WestJet has more than 120 jets and is still growing strongly. MRO managers must soon decide how much maintenance they will do in-house on a new model. They are also concerned about the growing OEM role in the aftermarket.
WestJet’s maintenance strategy aims to achieve high reliability and high quality, while also optimizing costs, explains John Kelly, vice president of technical operations. “In addition we are optimizing the maintenance program to reduce costs and increase aircraft utilization.”
The carrier outsources all C checks and maintenance of components, engine maintenance excluding quick engine changes, APUs and landing gear. In-house staff do line maintenance, including daily checks, phase checks and B checks in Canada, while international line maintenance is outsourced. “Our phase and B checks are not performed outside of Canada,” Kelly notes. WestJet uses flight-hour maintenance agreements for many components, as well as tires, wheels and brakes. Some components are still on time-and-material terms.
Kelly says extensive outsourcing is used due to the costs of the infrastructure necessary to perform work in-house. In all, the airline plans to employ 680 maintenance and engineering staff in 2018. But WestJet has aggressive growth plans for both domestic and international fleets, which in turn will drive both manpower and facilities growth. In summer 2017, it began construction on a widebody hangar at headquarters in Calgary. The hangar will occupy 125,000 square feet, accommodate WestJet’s new Boeing 787-9s and stand eight stories tall.
Kelly has no plans to change his maintenance strategy for his narrowbody or 767 fleets. But WestJet will start taking delivery of 787-9s in January of 2019. “We are in the midst of defining our maintenance strategy for the new aircraft type,” Kelly says.
He feels his airline is not experiencing any challenges in recruiting maintenance staff at this time. “WestJet’s reputation as one of the top Canadian brands and most admired corporate cultures mean that we have a low turnover rate and are on the receiving end of many applications when jobs are posted.”
But he is confronting other challenges, “many of the usual suspects.” These include managing big data and finding ways to take advantage of emerging technologies such as predictive maintenance, advanced analytics and machine learning. Training for emerging technologies, including composite repair and advanced avionics is another challenges. Finally, Kelly worries about consolidation and lack of competition in MRO as OEMs enter the aftermarket.
Kelly says he has not experienced any upward pressure on aftermarket pricing so far. “We are seeing, however, changes in contract agreements and the status quo. Specifically, the cancellation or non-renewal of licensing agreements.” These agreements have allowed component and part manufacturers to sell their products directly to airlines and MROs, saving both time and costs. “Without these agreements in place, airlines and MROs are forced to buy the same parts from the OEMs,” Kelly notes. “These types of actions, coupled with OEM announcements that they intend to play a bigger role in the aftermarket space are a growing concern.”