GE90 MRO central to AFI's growth strategy

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Air France Industries (AFI) aims to improve its competitiveness for large engine MRO with a new test cell at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

The €43 million ($55 million) facility was officially opened by Air France chairman and chief executive Alexandre de Juniac and Franck Terner, AFI's president, on 16 November. It is rated for engines with up to 150,000lb (669kN) of thrust and has been specifically built to fill a capability gap to test powerplants such as the General Electric GE90 or Engine Alliance GP7000.

The French maintenance provider has been supporting GE90s at its plant at Paris Orly airport for some time. But serviced powerplants needed to be trucked to GE's overhaul facility in Wales, UK, for testing, which thus far had the only GE90-capable test cell in Europe.

Road transport of the GE90 requires detaching the fan module from the engine core owing to fan's large diameter.

Terner says that testing the engines in-house will reduce turnaround time for a shop visit by up to five days and create savings equivalent to the costs for a spare GE90 engine. The investment for the facility should be amortised in around three and a half years, he adds.

AFI needs to increase its competitiveness "significantly", says de Juniac, especially in the airframe maintenance sector. He adds, however, that aside from cutting costs as part of Air France's Transform 2015 efficiency programme, the strategy is also to generate more engine and component MRO business for AFI.

The GE90 plays a key role in this growth plan. Terner does not want to disclose detailed estimates, but says that AFI's custom with the Boeing 777 engine would increase at a "double-digit" rate.

AFI's 'Constellation' powerplant shop in Orly - which was opened in 2010 and expanded GE90 MRO capabilities to full overhaul - has a capacity of "more than 100" high-thrust engines a year, says Anne Brachet, until September AFI's senior vice-president engine overhaul.

At the moment, the facility handles 40-45 such engines a year, but this will increase to around 80 by the end of 2013. AFI is working on expansion plans for the site, says Brachet, but this will depend on how the engines for Air France-KLM's Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 fleet will be supported.

The Franco-Dutch group has not yet made a choice between the GE GEnx and Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 for the 787, while the A350 will be exclusively powered by the Trent XWB.

AFI and its sister operation, KLM Engineering & Maintenance, want to service the future engines in-house and, if necessary, would establish capabilities for both the GEnx and Trent XWB.

The new test cell - dubbed 'Zephyr' after the son of Aeolus, the king of the winds, in Greek mythology - has capacity for up to 300 GE90, GP7000 and CFM International CFM56 engines a year. AFI currently tests up to 220 engines a year. But Terner says that CFM56 tests could be transferred to KLM E&M to free up capacity in Paris.

The Dutch site has its own overhaul shop and test cell, where it focuses on CFM56-7B engines as well as the CF6-80E1s of Air France-KLM's Airbus A330 fleet.

Nevertheless, de Juniac says that Zephyr's capacity could be doubled with a second test cell and additional engine preparation stations in future. The current building has six such stations outside the test cell, five of which are linked with a ceiling-mounted crane system to the test chamber.

Zephyr replaces an existing smaller test cell at Charles de Gaulle airport, which is to be demolished.