Air Berlin evaluates GoldCare for 787 MRO

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Air Berlin has yet to decide whether to support its planned Boeing 787 fleet through its in-house maintenance operation, Air Berlin Technik, or subscribe to Boeing's GoldCare programme.

The German carrier currently carries out airframe and certain component repair and overhaul for its Boeing 737, Airbus A320-family and A330 aircraft at its facilities in Dusseldorf and Munich.

However, it is unsure whether the ordered fleet of 18 787s will warrant the build-up of new capabilities for the type, according to Tobias Hundhausen, vice-president business development.

This would depend on how much third-party custom could be attracted to ensure a sufficient, continuous workflow for the MRO facilities and staff, he added.

Late last year the airline began studying how the aircraft will be introduced into the fleet after the first delivery in 2014. Initially it has opted to conduct its own line maintenance up to A checks.

A key question for Air Berlin is how the mostly carbon fibre airframe can be repaired. Air Berlin Technik has composite workshops but their capabilities are limited, according to Hundhausen.

With the move to composites as the primary airframe construction material he expects more large-scale repairs to be required, which will need to be done in the hangar. It will have to make composite repairs more frequently than at present, he added. While he is confident that small-scale damage can be fixed with pre-fabricated repair kits, he is unsure how to deal with large-scale damage.

"This is an area where we still have [an] information deficit, where we depend on the manufacturer's expertise and which we need to clarify in the coming months," he said.

An additional challenge will be to ensure availability of the required repair capabilities throughout its destination network. While it would be no problem to find specialist technicians, tools, facilities and materials - which might have expiry dates and need to be stored in climate-controlled conditions - at main hubs, this could become an issue in remote destinations with limited technical facilities, he said.

Air Berlin is considering different component support strategies, including a potential subscription to Boeing's GoldCare programme.

The airline is using Lufthansa Technik's component pool for its current fleet, but Hundhausen said that the introduction of the 787 is an opportunity to review the situation - and possibly come up with a new solution.

The decision will also be influenced by the MRO strategy of its future Oneworld alliance partners, such as fellow 787 customer British Airways.

"As we are momentarily having very intensive talks in many areas with BA regarding the planned membership in the Oneworld alliance, there would certainly be an opportunity to cooperate with many carriers and decide what and how many components could be provided."