Politically, Malta might be a new member of the European Union, but geographically the island is further south than parts of Africa. The convenience of this access point, sited between the two continents as well as within reach of the Middle East, helped drive Lufthansa Technik's decision to establish a joint-venture maintenance operation on Malta in 2003.

Its faith in the potential demand appears to have been justified. Initially set up to perform C-checks on Airbus A320 aircraft, and later Boeing 737s, Lufthansa Technik Malta is to expand into widebody D-check servicing under an extensive investment programme. This entails constructing an entirely new maintenance station - with two widebody and two narrowbody bays - to accommodate all of the company's operations. On 5 July at Luqa, near Malta International Airport, work on the centre formally began.

Although the new complex will cover an area of 27,000m² (291,000ft²), and would be able to handle the ultra-large Airbus A380, Lufthansa Technik Malta chief executive Louis Giordimaina says that the numbers should not detract from the real focus of the facility - to specialise in servicing Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft. There is, he says, a need to ensure that Lufthansa Technik can provide resources within its network to deal with heavy maintenance on the types.

Lufthansa, which has 55 A330 and A340s, will be the single largest customer. But Giordimaina says the venture aims to replicate the 50:50 balance with external customers characteristic of its narrowbody business, whose clients include Alitalia, Eurocypria,Spanair, Travel Service and Windjet."When it comes to the widebodies it will be a similar scenario," he states. "There'll be one line dedicated to Lufthansa and one to third-party customers."

Giordimaina is a former chief engineer of Air Malta, Lufthansa Technik's partner in the company. Air Malta originally had a 49% share but has since allowed the German firm to take the lead on investment, with the result that the carrier's stake has been diluted. With the �55 million ($75.7million) development of the widebody facility, Lufthansa Technik will raise its stake in the Maltese venture to 92%.

Construction of the new centre is set to be completed next year. Malta Industrial Parks is building the complex and will lease it to Lufthansa Technik Malta. First servicing will be performed on an A340 in the fourth quarter of 2008 and a second widebody line will be available at the end of 2010.

Giordimaina says that the narrowbody maintenance operation, which has so far performed around 260 C-checks, will move to the new facility. But he says that this will not happen immediately because servicing is at a peak in the winter season, with both lines in demand, and the company does not want to disturb the operation more than necessary.

"The idea is to stabilise the new facility from a logistics point of view," Giordimaina says. Once the narrowbody business can manage with one line, in summer 2009, the move will begin.

Lufthansa Technik Malta employs around 160 staff but Giordimaina says that the facility will ultimately expand to include around 700 workers. Engineering is "still an attractive" career option, he says, and the company already sponsors more than 60 apprentices at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology in Paola."This project comes at a time when the Maltese economy is growing," he adds. "There is no doubt that this project will help generate new jobs, with over 500 employment opportunities envisaged over the next four or five years - an essential part of the restructuring process through which Malta is passing."

Malta complements Lufthansa Technik's other European bases, outside of Germany: Shannon Aerospace in Ireland, Lufthansa Technik Brussels and its Hungarian joint venture Lufthansa Technik Budapest.

Source: Flight International