Like all other maintenance, repair and overhaul organizations, Etihad Engineering (Stand 1110) suffered from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the uncertainty caused by flight restrictions and widespread blockages made planning difficult. of practically anything. But rather than wait and rely on its cash-rich shareholder, the government of Abu Dhabi, to back it up until the skies reopened, Etihad Engineering quickly realigned its strategy to keep its staff and hangars busy. , explained David Doherty, head of the company. of sales MRO sales.
The aircraft hangars at Etihad Engineering’s 500,000 m² facility cover approximately 66,000 m², including 10,000 m² of aircraft painting facilities and a custom-designed hangar that can accommodate up to three Airbus A380s simultaneously. The company previously maintained Etihad Airways’ fleet of 10 A380s, but all 10 planes remain in long-term storage.
“We took a fresh look at how we could support our customers, deliver value and maintain our revenue streams. The key to it all was to be proactive and flexible, ”Doherty told AIN. “Instead of seeing planes on the ground as a problem, we have helped our customers capitalize on this rare downtime by upgrading their fleets,” he said, noting that while some airlines were delaying maintenance of routine, others advanced it.
Etihad Engineering has adapted its activity to the Covid-19 environment by significantly increasing its long-term aircraft parking capacity. At the height of the coronavirus crisis, planes occupied the majority of parking spaces in its 140,000 m² aircraft parking area adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport. For its internal customer, Etihad Airways, the MRO provider performed a complete cabin refresh on all parked passenger planes, including interior details, seat repairs and a full in-flight entertainment system sweep. All planes arriving to park at Etihad Engineering have undergone preservation maintenance to ensure they remain in good working order as per the manufacturer’s guidelines.
In addition, each aircraft arriving at the facility for parking or maintenance undergoes a thorough cleaning process – lasting about four hours for a narrow-body aircraft and eight hours for a larger aircraft – for example. the disinfection team before the start of work.
The company has also improved its health and safety protocols by investing in thermal cameras, performing regular PCR tests and launching an on-site vaccination program. “This has allowed us not only to protect our people, but also to honor our commitments and deliver aircraft to customers around the world,” Doherty noted. “Despite all the challenges, we managed to deliver over 300 aircraft in 2020, thanks to good planning and crisis management, rigorous cost control and adaptation to changing market needs. ”
Outside of its usual aircraft maintenance work, Etihad Engineering has invested in its own on-site face mask production facility which has produced more than 5 million masks to date, not only for its own staff but also for its customers.
Its state-of-the-art 3D printing facility has produced reusable and lightweight face shields for distribution to frontline healthcare providers in the UAE. Etihad Aviation Group’s MRO division first received approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for 3D printing with filament technology in 2017 and became the world’s first MRO airline to certify, print and fly 3D printed cabin parts. In 2019, it received EASA approval for 3D printing using powder bed fusion technology to design, produce and certify additively manufactured parts for aircraft cabins.
Etihad Engineering will have to re-apply its ability to adapt to a changed environment during the Covid pandemic in the post-Covid era, Doherty said. “The market has undergone a transformation, as has our approach and strategy to respond to it,” he said. “As the restrictions ease, we want to understand what airlines are really looking for, and we’re trying to be as flexible and competitive as possible to do that. Our ability to understand and adapt to changing market needs means that our services are in high demand – we have worked hard during the pandemic and have been successful in attracting new clients. ”
Building more sheds and increasing capacity is one way to grow, but “it limits us in the same revenue stream,” Doherty noted. “New growth avenues” the company has begun to explore include servicing large components in partnership with OEMs and forming strategic partnerships with other industry players. Examples of such partnerships include the recent agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries to establish two passenger-to-cargo conversion lines for the “Big Twin” 777-300ERSF at MRO’s facilities in Abu Dhabi. Another example, a multi-year cooperation agreement signed in 2019 with the main Argentinian aircraft manufacturer, Fabrica Argentina de Aviones (FAdeA) – established narrow-body aircraft maintenance services for South American airlines in the FAdeA hangars in Cordoba. The partnership capitalizes on FAdeA’s facilities and workforce, combined with Etihad Engineering’s MRO expertise and strong customer presence in Latin America.
Upgrade to the new normal
Since its inception in 2003, Etihad Engineering has developed a wide range of capabilities and services including heavy maintenance, advanced composite repair, cabin overhaul, livery painting and component repair on all major Airbus and Boeing commercial aircraft. It serves third-party customers as well as Etihad Airways, although work for the latter is gradually declining as an airline restructuring process slows down fleet growth. The scaling exercise, from a super-connector airline with global ambitions and stakes in multiple airlines to a midsize point-to-point carrier, began before Covid-19 disrupted air travel. At the end of the first half of this year, Etihad Airways’ fleet consisted of 64 aircraft, up from 103 in the first half of last year, although the airline has grounded most of those due to Covid.
Doherty expressed optimism about the recovery of the MRO market in the Middle East. “In my opinion, there will likely be an increase in demand for MRO services as more aircraft are brought back into service, with routes open locally and internationally. Airlines will be eager to serve the initial surge in passenger traffic, ”he said. Still, he warned that “over time there will be a reduction in the size of airline fleets both regionally and globally.” As airlines retire older planes, it could mean less work for MRO players, he noted. “I think in a few years things will stabilize and the MROs that prepared for this well will pass,” Doherty concluded.