The availability and cost of skilled labor are the biggest challenges to Middle East MRO, according to CAVOK Vice President Robbie Bourke. This leads to a capacity challenge and the big question, “Can MROs develop themselves sufficiently to meet the growth?” Bourke asks.
Middle East fleets have grown from about 500 to 1,400 aircraft in the past decade, with widebodies representing a much larger portion of these fleets than in most other regions. And many widebodies are now getting toward ten to 12 years of age, ready for major maintenance, refurbishment and modification.
At the same time costs are high in the Middle East, and Southeast Asia has both lower costs and a reputation for quality. Still, Middle East low-cost carriers tend to get MRO done in their own region or perhaps stretch a little north toward Turkey. “There’s not much North African MRO, and the subcontinent of India is not strong,” Bourke notes. LCCs affiliated with major carriers may get maintenance done at these carriers’ facilities. Other go to MROs like JORAMCO.
Bourke does not think the recent moderation in oil prices is having much effect on traffic or prices yet. He believes it takes two or three quarters of price movement to affect demand.
The CAVOK consultant thinks the possibility of flight-hour programs raises interesting questions for Middle East MROs. Flight-hour programs are most attractive to airlines worried about unpredictable performance and maintenance costs of components. “Engine, airframe and line maintenance are much more predictable,” Bourke notes. Yet, except for in-house repairs for parent airlines, Middle East MROs generally do not offer much component repair. It would take a major expansion in their component capabilities and offers to support flight-hour programs for other airlines.
Historically, Middle East MROs have relied on recruiting workers from India and expats from the west. Bourke says they have to do a better job developing local talent. He believes as aircraft maintenance becomes more digital, this may revive the attractiveness of the field for younger workers.
The stakes are large. In addition to supporting their own fleets, Middle East MROs have a chance to attract carriers from Europe and North Africa. “Lots of European airlines fly to Southeast Asia to get maintenance now,” Bourke observes. “The challenge is to develop a reputation for cost, quality and convenience so they do not fly 12 hours to Asia, but four to six hours to the Middle East.”