They do things big in the Gulf, and in the world of maintenance, repair and overhaul you cannot get bigger than an A380 hangar. Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies’ 46,200m2 (497,100ft2) fan-shaped Hangar 6 – which opened two years ago at its complex at the city’s international airport – can house three of the Airbus superjumbos. The development has doubled ADAT’s airframe maintenance capacity and is part of a major investment by parent Mubadala Aerospace that includes a new overhaul shop for the General Electric GEnx and Engine Alliance GP7200 engines, able to carry out up to 200 overhauls a year.
The first A380s have already arrived. ADAT has this year completed mandated wing-spar fixes on eight of the ultra-large aircraft belonging to Emirates – the MRO house is sharing the work, which will continue into 2015, with three other providers. ADAT will also carry out airframe maintenance on Etihad’s A380s, which are due for delivery at the end of 2014. Next year could also see another A380 customer secured. “We are close to a deal with a European airline,” says Abdul Khaliq Saeed, president of Middle East and North Africa for Mubadala Aerospace’s MRO network. Although he will not reveal a name, French carrier Air Austral, which has two A380s due for delivery from next year, is the only European customer without its own A380 facilities.
It has been an tumultuous few years for ADAT. Formerly Gamco, and part of Gulf Air when that airline was owned by four Gulf emirates including Abu Dhabi, it was absorbed into Mubadala in 2008 and is now one of three units of Mubadala Aerospace’s MRO business, alongside Zurich-based SR Technics and Sanad, an airline spare parts support service also based in Abu Dhabi (see panel). Several general managers have departed over that period and in a brutally competitive MRO market, ADAT has had to become leaner. “We reduced our headcount by 500 last year,” says Saeed. “But we have improved efficiency. There was no reduction in the work we were able to handle.”
Today ADAT employs 1,700 staff, plus 300 contractors and is a much fitter business, as well as being a better place to work, Saeed maintains. “The first thing we had to do [after the job cuts] was improve morale,” he says. “We’ve done that with a lot of small things – a new cafe, an employee of the month award, a family day. Every day, the leadership team get out of their offices and go and spend two and a half hours in one part of the shopfloor, talking to staff, discussing whatever is on their mind.” Rather than compete with SR Technics in the same areas, ADAT has also ceded CFM56 work to its Swiss sister company, while it continues to specialise in the IAE V2500.
Military MRO – a core business of Gamco in a previous era – has also been hived off to a new Mubadala unit, Advanced Military Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Centre (AMMROC). Although AMMROC still leases facilities at ADAT, all the defence contracts will be moved to a new facility at Al Ain in 2015. Although ADAT faces tough competition for commercial airframe MRO from other lower-cost providers in the Middle East and eastern Europe, Saeed says there is still plenty to play for in emerging as well as established markets – with the main targets being low-cost, start-up and charter airlines without their own MRO capabilities.
“Russia is a very good market for us – we were at [Moscow air show] MAKS in August – and Africa is getting stronger and stronger,” he says. “In Asia we are winning business and in Europe we have established customers including Thomas Cook, Thomson and Condor.” Long gone are the days when Gamco – as was – could rely on its parent carrier, Gulf Air, to keep its hangars busy, with third-party work treated as incremental revenue. Today Etihad represents 40% of ADAT’s business and Gulf Air along with Oman Air is still a customer, but ADAT is very much focused on winning contracts from outside the region, says Saeed.
While ADAT is the “leader in airframe maintenance in this part of the world”, it is investing heavily in developing its other activities, too, where competition is not as intense, including engines and “high tech” components, he says. The engine shop will overhaul 40 units this year and “next year we are budgeting for more”. As well as the partnerships with GE and IAE, ADAT is also ramping up its Rolls-Royce activities and is now able to offer full overhaul services on Trent 500 and 700 engines, something Saeed describes as a “huge milestone”.