EasyJet insists that its opening of a hangar at London Gatwick does not represent a shift in its strategy of outsourcing technical services to external maintenance providers.

But the UK low-cost carrier does not rule out establishing similar MRO facilities elsewhere.

On 10 June, EasyJet formally opened the two-bay hangar next to Gatwick's cargo facility – near the airport's north terminal – after beginning operations there with project partner Lufthansa Technik in May.

The airline owns and manages the hangar, but the maintenance work is being conducted by LHT, the two partners having signed a five-year co-operation agreement.

EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall told Flightglobal at the inauguration event that establishing its own maintenance facilities is "not part of our strategy" and that the carrier currently has no plans to build hangars elsewhere. "However," she adds, "it means we can do it – and if we need to, we would do it."

The Gatwick hangar – a steel structure with fabric covering – was built in a short time period as EasyJet's previous MRO provider at that airport, Virgin Atlantic, had decided to end work for third-party customers.

Gatwick airport chief executive Stewart Wingate says "early discussions" with EasyJet about the project took place in October 2015.

EasyJet's head of maintenance Brendan McConnellogue acknowledges that the timespan available for the hangar's construction and selection of a maintenance partner presented "a lot of challenges". Suggesting that the airline had not been given much notice by Virgin and hence had to forgo a longer planning process, he says the project was not undertaken "in an EasyJet way".

Still, the airline was able to select LHT as maintenance provider after a "thorough tender process" involving multiple other bidders, adds McConnellogue. LHT provides similar checks in its own hangars for EasyJet aircraft at the carrier's Berlin Schonefeld and Milan Malpensa bases. The two partners have been co-operating since 1996.

At Gatwick, LHT has been contracted to service two aircraft per night seven days a week and provide AOG support. EasyJet pursues for the vast majority of its Airbus A320-family fleet an equalised maintenance strategy under which tasks are allocated to fit into overnight checks in order to avoid conventional C-checks that would require several days.

Thomas Stuger – LHT's chief executive for products, services and IT – says the co-operation with EasyJet represents "a big strategic step forward" for the German MRO group and that it could serve as a role model for potential new partnerships with other airlines.

He adds that LHT's aim is not to establish its own hangar facilities for the sake of it but to provide maintenance services for more customers. "We are not at all dogmatic [about any form of partnership]," says Stuger. "Nothing is too small or too big."

The Gatwick hangar has been built on an apron and is flanked by aircraft stands. But McConnellogue says EasyJet has no plans to add further bays because "there is no space for expansion" at the site.

Alluding to Gatwick's hopes to build a second runway and new terminal facilities, McCall says the hangar site was allocated to EasyJet as a quick solution because there was "too much uncertainty" about the airport's future shape.

However, she argues that the facility "will make us much more flexible" at Gatwick. With a locally based fleet of approximately 60 aircraft, that airport is EasyJet's largest base – and the budget carrier is Gatwick's largest single customer.

Source: Cirium Dashboard