Printed headline: Avoiding Summer Travel Disruptions
In the summer months, typically from June to August, airlines in Europe find themselves tested more than at any other time of the year. Trying to maximize a profitable period of higher fares and seat utilization, carriers will operate their fleets to full capacity, often bringing in additional aircraft on short-term lease agreements to alleviate demand pressures.
Naturally, operating a heavy schedule while minimizing delays and cancellations places great demands on an airline’s maintenance operations, particularly in line services. This is the case for Latvian carrier AirBaltic, which will typically ramp up its MRO services during the summer period. “It is the busiest time during the year for line maintenance due to limited spare aircraft and high utilization,” says Andris Vaivads, senior vice president for technical operations at AirBaltic.
While the carrier outsources some work, including base maintenance agreements with Lithuanian MRO neighbor FL Technics, it has also sought to ramp up its own technical department in recent years, partly to cope with the busy summer months. Vaivads now says it carries out both line maintenance and A checks on its entire fleet, consisting of Airbus A220, Boeing 737 and Bombardier Q400 aircraft. This year, it plans to continue that base maintenance during the summer and introduce C checks on its Airbus aircraft, which it plans to perform during the winter months.
For most of the year, the airline operates a single line station in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. However, in the summer months, it runs two additional centers at locations in Munich and Bucharest, Romania. Another European airline group, Anglo-German TUI Aviation, which operates five leisure airlines in the UK, Belgium, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany, has a larger-scale maintenance operation with 40 line stations consisting of 26 TUI Part 145 bases and 14 third-party MROs, along with another established base at Marrakech in Morocco. In summer, it limits its maintenance work to A checks, with all heavy checks carried out during the less busy winter period.
Marco Ciomperlik, chief operations officer at TUI Aviation, says its maintenance schedule is predetermined long in advance, taking multiple considerations into account. “The summer maintenance schedule is planned a year in advance in conjunction with the aviation planning teams, taking into account flying programs, expected block hours and individual station capability,” Ciomperlik says.
“Limited ground time due to operational needs . . . is especially a challenge in the summer, as is the rotation of the aircraft to align them with maintenance bases,” he says. Complex flying patterns based on our leisure business model make this task more difficult in the event of any program disruption.”
Relying on in-house MRO during the peak summer period, TUI brings in a “limited amount” of contracted manpower to cover some bases where there is a seasonal increase in based aircraft, Ciomperlik says. Like TUI, AirBaltic also calls in temporary staff in summer to fill any workforce gaps but hopes this will eventually become a thing of the past. “Our goal for the future is to use only our own manpower,” Vaivads says. Even so, staffing remains a big challenge during the summer months. “Overall, there is a limited number of qualified professionals available in the job market,” Vaivads adds.
Increasingly, new technology is also playing a key role in maintenance planning activities. Tailored maintenance software solutions have long been on the market, with AirBaltic using Commsoft’s OASES for its maintenance planning. Recently, it has started to explore predictive maintenance, installing analytical software on its A220 fleet.
TUI is also looking at new ways of minimizing disruptions, an important concern during the summer months. “Aside from the use of our operational standard systems such as the integrated disposition planning and statistics product and AMOS, we are focusing more and more on applications which support the decision-making process in terms of timing, in case of disruptions and unit-cost optimization,” TUI’s Ciomperlik says.
He says that TUI is also using Boeing’s aircraft health-monitoring system and GE Aviation’s engine-performance forecasting technology. The carrier has recently started to investigate aircraft life-cycle management offerings to better plan its fleet maintenance, Ciomperlik adds.