International airlines form alliance to support A350

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A group of international airlines has banded together for the maintenance of their Airbus A350s, independent of the original equipment manufacturers, and to offer third-party MRO services for the type.

One of the partner companies is TAP Portugal, which has 12 A350s on order. The Lisbon-based carrier has decided to develop in-house MRO capabilities for the fleet without its technical division becoming part of an OEM network, said executive board member Jorge Sobral, who is responsible for the TAP Maintenance & Engineering (M&E) business unit.

The combined weight of the airlines' orders will give them more leverage with the aircraft manufacturers, for example to demand technical data regarding continued airworthiness of their equipment.

The members of the consortium want to develop a complete range of MRO services, comprising airframe, component, spare logistics support and engine support.

Despite Rolls-Royce having a strong position as the exclusive engine provider for the A350, Carlos Ruivo, vice-president marketing and sales at TAP M&E, is confident that the airline team will develop a complete range of MRO capabilities for Trent XWB turbofan. "We have the strategic intent to be able perform the full maintenance of the Rolls-Royce [Trent XWB] engine," he said.

The carriers have been meeting for "some time", according to Sobral. What services TAP M&E will provide within the network has not yet been decided, he says.

The airline group includes carriers with affiliated MRO companies which compete with each other on the open market. Sobral is relaxed, however. "We want to compete. But we want to compete in a decent way, not in a way that the OEMs like to impose Because all of us will be out of business if we don't group now."

The idea of pooling resources follows previous MRO partnerships, such as the former Atlas and KSSU groups, between different European airlines in the 1970s and 1990s. Atlas was formed by Air France, Alitalia, Lufthansa, Sabena and later joined by Iberia, while KSSU included KLM, SAS, Swissair and French carrier UTA.