Azul started operating in 2008 with two Embraer 190s, connecting Viracopos to Salvador and Porto Alegre. Today, Azul is Brazil’s largest carrier in terms of daily departures—approximately 800 to 104 cities in Brazil. Azul also flies to Portugal; the U.S.; Argentina; Uruguay; and French Guiana. Nearing Azul’s 10th anniversary, Reuel Matos, general manager of operations and maintenance, addresses fleet planning and support as the airline continues to grow.
In only 10 years, Azul has grown into the largest domestic carrier in Brazil by number of departures and destinations and has expanded into international routes. What is the make-up of the fleet that has supported this growth?
Our active fleet includes 10 Embraer E190s and 60 E195s, plus 39 ATR 72-600s, with three more in Toulouse (at ATR), ready to start operations in Uruguay next year. We also have nine Airbus A320neos and plan to add five more in January 2018. Plus we operate six Airbus A330-243s. We have an agreement with Avolon to lease five A330-900neos, with entry into service starting in December 2018.
Are there additional technical capabilities Azul will have to establish to support the A330-900neos, even though Azul already operates the A330-200, or is there enough commonality between the two types?
Pilot training will not be a big deal due to similarities with the A330-200, but for maintenance, the major difference will be for the engine. Our A330-200 fleet is powered by the Rolls-Royce Trent 700. For the A330-900neo, it will be the Trent 7000. Airbus and Rolls-Royce will help with any differences training for technicians. Azul and Airbus began entry into service (EIS) meetings for the A330-900neo in January.
What advantages will the new A330-900neo provide to Azul’s operations? Greater range? Better fuel burn?
Both, especially fuel burn. Our A320neos, with CFM Leap-1A engines, have shown very good figures on fuel burn. We are very satisfied with the A320 neo’s performance—since their EIS with Azul in October 2016—and we expect the same on the A330-900neo with the Trent 7000.
Does the deal for the A330-900neo mean that Azul is focusing more on longer-haul international destinations, possibly in Europe?
Azul always evaluates the possibility of operating in new markets, but we don’t have plans to announce anything right now.
Are any other fleet changes being planned?
Yes. Starting in 2020, we will receive the first of 50 E195-E2s from Embraer, which will replace part of our present E190/195 fleet.
Where does Azul provide technical support on such a diverse fleet?
For our ATRs, C checks are carried out by Azul in our hangar in Belo Horizonte [Brazil] at the Pampulha Airport, while for the Embraer fleet, some C checks are also performed at Pampulha Airport. Other Embraer C checks are contracted to TAPME (TAP Maintenance & Engineering) in Porto Alegre. TAPME also handles all heavy A330 inspections in Rio de Janiero and will do the same on our A320neos when their first major airframe inspections come due. Depending on utilization, that will be in about 18 months.
Does Azul perform any of its own engine maintenance?
We perform mostly line support, since we have power-by-the-hour agreements with GE, Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney, which include hot section inspections.
Are any changes being planned for maintenance and technical support?
We plan to build a new hangar at Viracopos, to provide better support for the entire fleet—especially unplanned and major maintenance events like engine changes, aircraft inspections on jacks, structural repairs, large modifications, etc. The hangar, which is scheduled to open within the next 12-18 months, has been designed to accommodate one widebody the size of an Airbus A350 and, at the same time, as many as two to three narrowbody jets, and three to four ATRs or E-Jets.
With the new hangar, do you plan to bring heavy checks on your A320neos and A330-900neos in-house?
Azul is entertaining bringing A320 and the Embraer C checks in-house—when the new hangar is built. But this is just an idea so far.
Are there any new technologies you are adding to enhance Azul’s maintenance operations?
We started a health-monitoring process and maintenance-operations quality-assurance analysis to better help with anticipating failures, and it has shown good results so far. Also, we are implementing wireless quick access recorders in some aircraft to get a better and faster retrieval of data for analysis. We will keep exploring opportunities with health monitoring.
What are some of the unique challenges involved with maintaining such a diverse fleet of aircraft over such a huge geographical area?
Our large and complex network in Brazil imposes a challenge in terms of allocating spares and keeping minimum equipment list items under control. To help the logistics of people and material, we use two Pilatus PC-12 turboprops—not included in our OpSpecs—to deal with AOG situations—mainly in distant cities where no other airline flies.
Does Azul have a training program for its mechanics?
Yes, we have a training program approved by Agencia Nacional de Aviacion Civil (ANAC). Its content is mainly related to ramp and transit activities on the airframe and engine side, especially for line maintenance technicians. We also provide base maintenance training for our technicians dedicated to heavy checks. Recurrent training varies from two to three years.
We also offer some specialized training like borescope and other NDT inspections, engine run-up and IFE maintenance.
How many mechanics does Azul employ?
We have 1,418 technicians, including 1,220 for line, and 169 for hangar maintenance, plus another 29 technicians in our repair shops.
Does Azul in-source any maintenance work from other carriers? If yes, is that a growth opportunity for Azul?
We don’t do heavy checks or component repairs for third parties. In some cities, we provide line maintenance on E-Jets for other airlines, like Austral in Argentina. However, it is not in our strategy to deliver MRO services to other airlines.