Huge investment by MRO providers means more jobs

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The past few years have seen huge investment in the Gulf's MRO sector, with many providers in recruitment mode

Through its early years, much of the Gulf aviation sector's maintenance, repair and overhaul work was done outside the region, with Abu Dhabi's Gulf Aircraft Maintenance or Gamco - a joint venture between Gulf Air and Abu Dhabi's government - the only local provider of any size.

Recently, however, there has been a huge growth in the MRO infrastructure as a young, expanding fleet requires line maintenance and eventually component replacement and overhaul. As with the pilot market, the ambitions of the region's players mean a requirement for engineers, technicians and other professionals from around the world.

Emirates in 2006 opened a seven-hangar engineering centre on a 55Ha (136 acres) site at Dubai airport. It replaced a smaller facility, demolished to make way for the new terminal 3. Each hangar is large enough to take the Airbus A380. However, despite its scale, the demands of its internal customer means Emirates Engineering remains almost entirely an in-house business. Among its big current projects is a cabin refurbishment programme on Emirates' older Boeing 777-200s and -300s to bring their premium cabins up to the standard of its newer 777s.

 
 © Emirates

Gamco - renamed Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) by owner Abu Dhabi government-owned investment house Mubadala - remains the region's main third-party MRO provider, carrying out work for airlines and a number of armed forces. At November's Dubai air show, ADAT signed a $500 million, five-year deal with Abu Dhabi flag-carrier Etihad to provide a range of MRO services (the airline carries out its own line maintenance).

The MRO house - which has 2,800 staff - is undergoing a $500 million investment programme aimed at taking annual revenues to $800 million and fulfilling its "vision to become the Middle East's foremost independent technical solutions provider, as well as a major player in Europe and India". ADAT says it is "constantly seeking highly-qualified, motivated and challenge-seeking individuals to join our diversified workforce and play a part in our ongoing rapid expansion plans".

One area of expansion could be the manufacture of advanced aircraft structures and eventually possibly entire airframes. At last year's Paris air show, Mubadala chief operating officer Waleed Al Mokarrab al Muhairi said ADAT intended to become a "tier one supplier in the next five to 10 years" and "within my lifetime there is no reason we cannot replicate the Embraer story in Brazil".

Other MRO facilites include Qatar Airways' maintenance operation in Doha, which performs up to C checks on the airline's fleet, and Gulf Air's maintenance facility in Bahrain, a joint venture with SR Technics. The outcome remains to be seen of a "strategic alliance", also announced at the Dubai show, between the Zurich-based MRO house and Mubadala - which part-owns SR Technics with the region's other aerospace powerhouse, Dubai Aerospace Enterprise. So far, SR Technics has said it will subcontract component repair work to Gamco.

Little is known too of DAE's plans for the region. Engineering was one of six strategic planks laid out by the start-up at its launch two years ago, but thus far DAE's big plays in the sector have been SR Technics and the acquisition from Carlyle Group of North American MRO outfits Landmark Aviation and Standard Aero, now rebranded as a "global company" under the Standard Aero name.

DAE chief executive Bob Johnson has said the group is not interested in buildng hangar space for the sake of it in the Middle East, but that the acquisitions are about "leveraging them into a global marketplace and bringing them to a region where the growth is".

MRO will be key to the new Dubai World Central airport project at Jebel Ali, just outside the city of Dubai. Based around the six-runway Al Maktoum International Airport, due to open next year and be fully operational by 2015, the development will include a "residential city" and a logistics and free trade zone connecting the Jebel Ali port.

At the Dubai show, UAE-based Gulf Aerospace signed a memorandum of understanding to set up an MRO facility at DWC, supplying parts for a range of clients. Indian aviation services group Livewel will also open next year its own MRO centre at the airport, which will include a two-bay widebody hangar. Set to employ 500 people, the facility will focus on heavy maintenance and cabin refurbishment. Of the big Western-based players, Goodrich is the first to have an MRO operation at Jebel Ali. The $25 million "campus" will employ 100 people servicing and supporting Goodrich's range of products.

Business aviation MRO is also growing, with ExecuJet and Jet Aviation both recently opening hangars at Dubai's current airport.