Heli-One’s maintenance, repair and overhaul operation at Rzeszow airport is an example of how Aviation Valley has been expanding its appeal into the services sector and beyond its traditional base of engine components manufacturing and helicopter assembly. Opened in 2014, the facility is the CHC Helicopters subsidiary’s fourth and newest MRO centre – the others are located at Vancouver, Colorado and Stavanger in Norway and focuses on a largely third-party heavy-check market stretching from Eastern Europe to Africa, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.

Around five years ago, Heli-One was looking for an additional location for customer support, and settled on Rzeszow because of the availability of “skilled, new-generation, but relatively low-cost labour”, says general manager Robert Kyc. The presence in southern Poland of two manufacturer-owned factories carrying out their own MRO – Lockheed Martin Sikorsky/PZL in nearby Mielec, and Leonardo Helicopters further away in Swidnik – added to the city’s attractiveness, as it meant there was a tradition of helicopter repair and training infrastructure in place, he says.

The airport authorities – having expanded the terminal in anticipation of growing passenger traffic – were also working hard to market land around the perimeter with airside access to MRO businesses, with some success. A Warsaw-based fixed-wing MRO provider – Linetech – opened its second maintenance base in Poland, on the plot next door to Heli-One. In 2013, the helicopter MRO house began work on the new four-bay, 22,000m2 facility, operating initially from a small, rented hangar.

The Rzeszow site employs 80 people and can carry out avionics and component repairs, and painting, as well as structures work. It specialises in medium and heavy helicopters from the three main manufacturers, including Airbus Helicopters’ Super Puma family, the Leonardo Helicopters AW139, and the Sikorsky S-76 and S-92. “We have approvals for 75% of the world’s fleet,” notes Kyc. Although only a fifth of its work is for CHC itself, the US-based helicopter operator remains its biggest single customer.

Heli-One has been developing its own “signature” repairs, including for the AW139 exhaust. “It’s a repair that doesn’t exist in the Leonardo repair manual,” says Kyc. An increasing trend towards helicopters changing owners at the end of lease has led to an increase in other “business models”, he says, such as supporting lessors with inspections, ferry flights and registrations. “We are experts in that. It’s become almost as important as the actual maintenance itself,” notes Kyc.

And with maintenance standards taken almost as a given, customer care becomes the real differentiator. “The service begins when the customer asks you for a quote. We tell them the price, but also the schedule, and what’s feasible. We deliver on the date that was agreed,” he says. “Customers tell us that this does not happen so often in this business.” It means that, despite Poland’s lower labour costs, keen rates alone are not the main reason for Heli-One’s success in Rzeszow. “This business does not work on low cost,” he says. “The market is bouncing back, but there are other reasons why we have been growing.”

Source: Flight International