UTAir temporarily shifts MRO to external partners

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Russian carrier UTAir has temporarily suspended much of its in-house maintenance operations following an EASA safety audit in the aftermath of the airline's fatal ATR 72 crash last month.

Days after the 2 April accident in Tyumen in Siberia, Russia's federal transport supervisory authority, Rostransnadzor, recommended that the airline should stop ATR 72-200 operations and restrict maintenance work at its engineering division, UTAir Technik.

UTAir started de-icing aircraft in typical icing conditions as a standard procedure following last month's crash, when it emerged that several flights had not been properly de-iced before departure. This procedure had previously only been carried out after visual inspections.

Wing-icing has been suspected as a cause for the crash shortly after take-off, which killed 29 of the 43 passengers and crew onboard the turboprop.

Meanwhile, the airline has temporarily decided to transfer all line and base maintenance for its Western-built aircraft from its UTAir Technik subsidiary to external MRO providers. The move comes after an EASA audit, which brought up a number of safety recommendations.

A UTAir spokesman tells Flightglobal that the recommendations were "not critical, but we think they are significant". They cover quality safety management systems, staff qualifications and the allocation of work between the base maintenance facility at Moscow's Vnukovo airport and line maintenance stations in Surgut and Tyumen, he says.

While the airline operates a range of Soviet-era aircraft, the spokesman reports that these types are only used when excess capacity is needed and that the MRO base at Vnukovo airport - which employs "up to 100" staff members - focuses mainly on supporting the ATR 42 and 72, Bombardier CRJ, Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft.

Last weekend (May 26/27), this work was transferred to S7 Engineering, Vostok Technical Service and German maintenance provider Nayak. The spokesman says that UTAir had cooperated with the three companies before.

He adds that "some" work would certainly return to UTAir Technik while other responsibilities will remain permanently allocated at external service providers, although the details and timing were not yet clear.

The implementation of the changes at the MRO subsidiary will take at least 2-3 months.