Virgin expands MRO partnership with LHT

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Virgin Atlantic Airways has expanded its base maintenance contract with Lufthansa Technik (LHT) for its Airbus A340 and Boeing 747 fleet, but also signalled potential closer cooperation - with more outsourced technical responsibilities - for its ordered 787s.

The German maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company has been supporting Virgin's A340-300s and -600s at its facility in Manila, Philippines since 2007, with around 60 C- and heavy IL-checks to date. This six-year contract has been prematurely extended until 2019.

From now on LHT will also undertake C-checks for the airline's 747s at its maintenance base in Frankfurt, as well as servicing the thrust reversers of the General Electric CF6-80 engines on the 747-400s and Rolls-Royce Trent 500 engines on the A340-600s at its overhaul shop in Hamburg.

In total the work is valued at more than $100 million over the contract period.

Virgin opted for Frankfurt as its C-check location for the 747s to keep the aircraft close to its operational bases at London Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Steve Griffiths, Virgin's chief operating officer, tells Flightglobal that servicing the 747s in the high-cost location is possible, because a C-check on the type - which typically takes a week - requires less downtime than for the A340. He adds, however, that the airline will send the 747s for D-check work to an unnamed Asian MRO provider.

KLM Engineering & Maintenance previously undertook C-checks on Virgin's 747 at its facility in Amsterdam.

The UK carrier is presently evaluating proposals from four MRO providers for airframe maintenance on its A330s. As the first C-check for the type is due in January, the airline wants to finalise the contract by November. That deal will cover lighter C-checks, which the aircraft will undergo two or three times before the heavier C4 check becomes necessary.

Phil Maher, Virgin's director of engineering, says that the expanded cooperation with LHT could lead to even closer cooperation for the carrier's future 787 fleet. Virgin has ordered 15 Trent 1000-powered 787-9s, which are expected to be delivered from 2014.

"LHT is not the preferred supplier, but in a good position to bid for the contract," he tells Flightglobal. Maher adds, however, that the company is also considering Boeing's GoldCare aftermarket programme. Virgin wants to issue requests for proposals over the next two to three months, with a view to completing the contract in approximately one year.

The 787 introduction is likely to involve a shift in the airline's future MRO strategy. As a continued airworthiness management organisation (CAMO), Virgin coordinates technical support for its existing fleet in-house and has thus far partnered with different external maintenance providers.

But Maher says that the carrier will consider outsourcing part of its CAMO activities in future, allowing it to concentrate more on its core airline operations. This does not mean in-house CAMO responsibilities for the existing fleet will be retrospectively outsourced, he notes, though the company may not establish such resources for new types.