Components and business jets on Masco agenda

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Lebanese maintenance provider Mideast Aircraft Services (Masco) is expanding its component capabilities and moving into private jet support as it looks to escape the shadow of its home nation's troubled history and build a reputation in the regional MRO market.

The maintenance arm of Middle East Airlines, Masco specialises in heavy airframe maintenance for Airbus models - from the A300 through to the A340 series - as well as aircraft painting. Its support of Boeing and other manufacturers' aircraft involves mainly line maintenance services.

New component overhaul capabilities will be limited to airframe equipment such as heat exchangers, safety equipment, wheels and brakes, which become due for overhaul during heavy airframe checks, because most customers have separate arrangements for component MRO. "We run on a pure profit and loss basis," says executive director Mohamad Yassine Sabbagh. "So everything we do must have profit capability."

mea aircraft, masco
 © MASCO
Masco's main customer is its parent, Middle East Airlines

The company generates an annual turnover of about $25 million and has 325 employees. Its 27,000m² (290,000ft²) facility at Beirut's Rafic Hariri International airport comprises two heavy maintenance bays - one for widebody and one for narrowbody aircraft - a third bay for light checks and a dedicated paint hangar.

Another area of expansion will be to support business aircraft. Masco's ground-handling sister company, Meag, operates the Cedar Jet Centre at the capital's airport, which can handle private aircraft up to Boeing 747 size.

Masco was founded jointly by MEA and British Airways predecessor and then MEA shareholder British Overseas Airways in 1955. When the association with BOAC ended in 1961, MEA took over the maintenance facility. However, the company did not have long to grow before the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in the loss of staff, capabilities, facilities and custom.

RESTRUCTURING

After years of loss-making, MEA was restructured in 2001, with Masco becoming a wholly owned third-party maintenance provider in 2003. Since then, its list of customers has grown from two to 25. Although the 2006 conflict with Israel did not have a lasting effect on the business, the economic downturn in 2008 left its mark, says the company.

"There has been practically no growth in the past two years," says Sabbagh. "The financial situation of the market has affected everybody. We were able to fill up our slots, but most of our work was ad-hoc checks [for individual aircraft]."

777 AND A320 GROWTH

The Boeing 777 and Airbus A320 are by far the two most widely used aircraft baseline models employed in the Middle East as of January 2011.

Among the 1,043 aircraft currently active in the region, there are 150 777s and 215 A320-family aircraft with an average age of six and five years, respectively.

To outline the growth in heavy maintenance for these aircraft, Flightglobal Insight has forecast the number of required heavy checks over the next six years based on the current fleet and order backlog.

Apart from parent MEA, which operates four Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered A330-200 and 11 International Aero Engines V2500-powered A320/A321s, its main customers are Onur Air, Atlas Jet and Cyprus Airways.

Asked about possible co-operation with other MRO providers or original equipment manufacturers, Sabbagh says the company has recently been approached from various directions to form joint ventures or even to be taken over. He declines to give any further details about these initial discussions.

In 2000, the EADS aerostructure and interior equipment subsidiary Sogerma was interested in forming a joint venture, but this eventually failed because of logistical issues.

Although he does not rule out the possibility of Masco operating as part of a larger MRO consortium, Sabbagh emphasises the firm's intention to maintain its own identity and potential. "We don't want any company to purchase Masco for the value of it and then not grow it or keep it just a small part of a conglomerate," he says. "We would like to grow the company to become an icon in the industry."