ANALYSIS: KLM UK Engineering mulls more regional jet approvals

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KLM UK Engineering is evaluating adding new regional aircraft maintenance capabilities as well as diversifying its business with more aircraft teardown and technical training activities.

Last year, the wholly-owned subsidiary of KLM Engineering & Maintenance broadened its MRO approvals to include Airbus A320s in addition to the existing repair capabilities for Boeing 737s, BAE Systems 146/Avro regional jets and Fokker types. This was partly due to the decline of the latter two legacy families among European airlines.

However, the Norwich-based heavy maintenance specialist is also evaluating the establishment of further regional aircraft MRO capabilities to keep a foothold in that market. “With our facilities, it does make sense to have the 737s and A320s and a regional type,” says Arjan Meijer, who succeeded Paul Chun as KLM UK Engineering’s managing director in January.

KLM’s regional Cityhopper arm and Air France’s former subsidiary CityJet have been main customers of the MRO provider for the support of their respective Fokker 70 and Avro RJ85 regional jet fleets. The Fokker 50s turboprops of CityJet’s Belgian subsidiary VLM have also been serviced at the Norwich hangars.

But while Cityhopper’s Fokker 70s are approaching the end of their service lives – the airline has 19 in-service and six stored aircraft that were built between 1995 and 1997, Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database shows – Air France sold CityJet and VLM to German turnaround specialist Intro Aviation in April.

As Cityhopper already operates Embraer 190 regional jets, it seems pre-destined to replace the Fokker 70s with Embraer 170/175 aircraft. Last year, Chun ruled out the support of the Brazilian jets at KLM UK Engineering as they have been maintained by the MRO arm of KLM’s cargo subsidiary Martinair in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, however, Air France-KLM is considering a potential sale of Martinair as part of a strategic rejig of its main-deck freighter operations.

While KLM UK Engineering is keeping “all options open” about regional aircraft maintenance, Meijer says it would likely be a type that is used within the Air France-KLM group.

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Chun left the UK maintenance provider at the end of 2013 to head the engine services division of KLM E&M in Amsterdam. He was at the helm of KLM UK Engineering for two years, after he had previously led the group’s APU and component repair shop EPCOR near Schiphol airport. Meijer, meanwhile, was Cityhopper’s technical director before he succeeded Chun.

Aircraft teardowns is to become a main growth area for KLM UK Engineering as it aims to compensate fluctuations in base maintenance work with the dismantling business. After a dedicated, environmentally-approved teardown pen was set up in 2013, the MRO specialist expects to scrap 12 aircraft in the current year. The firm is “on track” with that plan and aims to double the number of scrapped aircraft in 2015, says Meijer: “We are convinced the market is out there.”

Aside from the “smart use of staff”, the establishment the of dismantling site was a strategic move to become more attractive to airlines and leasing companies looking for aircraft storage locations, explains Meijer: “Operators can park an aircraft in Norwich and await further decisions. If they sell off the aircraft, we can do the maintenance. If they say ‘well, we rather use the parts and engines and rather get rid of the aircraft’, that’s a service we can [now] deliver as well.”

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An engine test pen will be built to reduce noise restrictions for the maintenance business. Ground tests are currently conducted on the apron and thus limited to airport operating hours. Construction for the test pen is to start soon and be completed by around March 2015, says Meijer.

However, no other changes are planned for the MRO provider’s facilities, which comprise several hangars that date back to Norwich’s air-force days from the 1940s until 1960s. Some of that hangar space is let to aircraft painting company Air Livery, which is planning to build a new site near the airport’s northern perimeter.

That move will create “more opportunity than risks”, as Air Livery’s growth is set to attract more maintenance customers to the airport, says Meijer. Meanwhile, it will vacate space that could be utilised for the MRO business, if needed. “But at this point, we are a happy with the hangars we have. We don’t see a major change at this point,” he says.

Training is also to become an area where KLM UK Engineering wants to broaden its reach. The maintenance provider has an internal technical college – where it trains about 10 apprentices a year for its own operations – and is a partner for the aircraft engineering course at Kingston University in London.

Additionally, the firm will be a founding member of the projected Norwich Aviation Academy, a co-operation with the University of East Anglia, Norwich airport, the TEN Group – a federation of education institutions – and other local partners. KLM UK Engineering is to become a supplier for the course programme and could integrate its own training school into the academy. The MRO provider’s own apprentices could thus be trained at the academy, says Meijer. While the partnership is still in the planning stages, he says that more detail should become available in the autumn.