ANALYSIS: EasyJet ponders change in airframe MRO approach

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EasyJet is considering a change in its MRO philosophy as it seeks cost savings while the fleet is maturing.

To minimise aircraft downtime, the UK budget carrier has been following an equalised maintenance regime for its Airbus A320-family fleet, whereby most tasks up to C-check level are allocated into equal man-hour packages that can be completed overnight.

After six years, the aircraft undergo a heavier, intermediate layover check, which takes about two weeks. Thereafter, the aircraft return to the equalised maintenance regime until they are due for a 12-year heavy maintenance check.

At an average fleet age of around five years, EasyJet has thus far returned aircraft to their lessors before they reach the 12-year check. However, the carrier is reviewing whether to adopt a block-maintenance philosophy whereby aircraft stay on the ground for longer, comprehensive C-checks, says Swaran Sidhu, EasyJet’s head of fleet technical management.

This is partly driven by fleet age, as the oldest aircraft in the airline’s fleet are 10 years old today. Once an aircraft has undergone a 12-year heavy check, it tends not to return to an equalised maintenance regime, because its age requires more frequent structural inspections. Potential findings become less predictable and inspections of airframe areas that are difficult to access require more time than available during overnight checks.

"It becomes very difficult to have the aircraft ready for service in the morning," says Sidhu.

EasyJet has developed a potential block-maintenance plan, but has not yet decided whether to implement the scheme. "We know what a block-maintenance programme looks like, because we almost have it ready. But whether we adopt it is a separate that is dependent on our future strategy," says Sidhu. The review has not yet been concluded, he adds.

The best time to change the maintenance philosophy would be the introduction of a new fleet to avoid costs for transitioning existing aircraft to the new regime, says Sidhu. But he adds that if aircraft reach the 12-year point and remain in the fleet, "we will convert to a block programme even on the existing fleet, because it leaves us no option".

EasyJet has firm orders for 33 A320 and 100 A320neos to be delivered from 2015 and 2017 respectively.

While SR Technics conducts the airline’s IL-checks at its narrowbody MRO facility in Malta, the overnight checks are shared between the Swiss maintenance specialist, Lufthansa Technik, Virgin Atlantic’s engineering base at Gatwick and EasyJet’s own hangar in Luton.

Earlier this month, the low-cost carrier’s chief executive Carolyn McCall told investors that it will retender 95% of its maintenance and engineering spend by 2015 to curb "rising pressures" on MRO costs.