China’s Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Co. (Gameco) is moving closer to starting a major expansion project that will boost its capacity and allow it to handle more third-party work.
The MRO operator, which is majority-owned by China Southern Airlines, has gained board approval to build its Phase 3 hangar complex. Groundbreaking on the site should occur sometime this year, Gameco General Manager Norbert Marx told Aviation Week at the recent Asia MRO League conference in Cheongju, South Korea. The company hopes to begin operations in the Phase 3 hangar in 2020.
However, some important steps still remain before construction can start, says Marx. Various approvals are required from relevant authorities, covering everything from firefighting and safety to environmental issues. Initial talks with these authorities had already been held before the board sign-off was received. The project must also go through a public bidding process.
Marx says Gameco has plenty of experience in moving construction projects through the approval process, having completed its Phase 2 development in November 2013. In that case it took just two years to advance from groundbreaking to operational status.
The Phase 3 hangar complex will be located at Gameco’s main base at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. It will encompass more than 90,000 m2 (97,000 ft.2), with six widebody aircraft bays accommodating four tail-in positions and two nose-in. The building will also house workshops and offices.
Gameco’s current facilities can handle 18-20 aircraft at one time for heavy maintenance, depending on the mix of aircraft types. The new hangar is primarily intended for widebody aircraft, although narrowbody aircraft can be accommodated if necessary, Marx says.
Two of the four tail docks will be able to handle Airbus A380s. The company already has one complete dock for A380s, and can also fit one A380 at a time in its paint facility. Airbus named Gameco a “center of excellence” for A380 maintenance in November.
While China Southern is Gameco’s largest customer, about 30% of its work is for other airlines. The MRO company intends to increase its third-party business, although its China Southern workload is also rising due to the carrier’s rapid fleet expansion.
The China Southern Group is set to take delivery of more than 60 aircraft a year, Marx says. The group already has more than 550 Boeing and Airbus narrowbody aircraft in its total fleet of about 700. It also operates a broad range of widebody types.
Although China Southern does have some maintenance bases in its network, Gameco is its primary provider. It conducts all of the carrier’s widebody heavy maintenance, and most of its narrowbody work. Gameco currently provides maintenance for about 50 other airlines and leasing companies. For primary customers such as Asiana Airlines or FedEx it handles a steady amount of heavy maintenance, while for some others it just provides line maintenance or occasional heavy work.
Because of the diverse fleets of China Southern and its other customers, Gameco works on all of the Boeing aircraft types. It handles almost all of the Airbus types as well, even including older models such as A300s and A310s for FedEx. Gameco does not work on A340s, however. It also does not yet handle A350s, although Marx says the company is sure to add A350 capability “as soon as there is enough demand for us.”
Marx says China Southern is supportive of Gameco’s ambition to seek more outside work. However, he notes that it could be difficult to raise the proportion of third-party maintenance because it would have to increase that faster than China Southern’s growth.
Gameco has the flexibility to use China Southern’s own maintenance facilities when necessary, which is particularly useful until the third hangar is finished. For example, Gameco can send staff to perform China Southern maintenance at one of the airline’s facilities, freeing up space in Guangzhou for third-party customers.
Aside from the new hangar, two other construction projects are likely to begin this year, says Marx. These are a new composite repair center and component maintenance center. The company’s current component center is at the old Guangzhou airport site, and its replacement will be constructed closer to the new airport. This will allow it to be developed as a “state-of-the art” facility, and will offer more cooperation opportunities with OEMs, says Marx.
Gameco already conducts composite repair, but a planned new facility will broaden its capability in this area as well. It will include features such as an autoclave, for example.
While planning for these projects, the company has been building a major new landing gear facility and is now bringing it into operation in a phased approach. The first part of this facility has been opened, although Gameco is still subcontracting out some of its landing gear work such as plating, Marx says.