engine maintenance lori ranson queretaro, mexico

Joining the Mexican wave

Local partner, able workforce and economics draw Safran engines group to the Americas

The search for extra overhaul capacity has taken France's Snecma Services to Queretaro in Mexico, which is rapidly establishing itself as a quality destination for major aerospace players. The European company estimates that its share of the worldwide market for maintenance, repair and overhaul of the CFM56 made by General Electric and Snecma is 16%.

With more than 17,650 CFM56 engines in service worldwide accounting for 2,300 shop visits for maintenance, repair and overhaul in 2007, the figures point to a shortage of overhaul capacity. Executives at Snecma Services - the repair arm of Snecma, which itself is GE's 50-50 joint venture partner in CFM - are on the move to fill that gap.

Snecma Services' current focus is to win new business in North, Central and South America from its Queretaro base, a city 200km (320 miles) north of the capital, Mexico City, which owes its position as the hub of a growing aerospace industry zone to a large pool of engineering talent and attractive economic benefits.

The opening of the shop in Queretaro - Snecma America Engine Services (SAMES) - takes its total number of commercial CFM engine overhaul shops to five.

local partners

It follows a strategy employed in other regions, that of entering a new market in partnership with an established local player. In Mexico that partner is ITR, which opened a Pratt & Whitney JT8D overhaul shop in Queretaro 10 years ago.

SAMES customer Mexicana, which has 20-year contract with the company, has a stake in ITR.

Currently SAMES is leasing space from ITR, with expansions of the shop area planned for next month and for June 2009. Snecma Services' $40 million investment in the site will be divided evenly between working capital and fixed assets.

Other Snecma Services joint venture sites are Snecma Morocco Engine Services - Royal Air Maroc is a 49% partner - and Chengdu-based Sichuan Snecma Aero Engine Maintenance, where Snecma Services holds a 51.8% stake, Air China Group has 43.6% and Willis Lease Finance the remaining 4.6%.

Queretaro is attractive to Snecma for a number of reasons. A local partner means that the company can develop its facilities quickly, and, according to Safran chief executive Jean-Paul Herteman, "our strategy is to be a key player in countries like Mexico", which offer a capable workforce and have economic advantages.

Without elaborating on specific details, SAMES chief executive Francois-Xavier Foubert says that the Mexican government offered a "very attractive" aid package to develop the facility in Quretaro.

Geography was also a factor in the choice of Queretaro. Herteman notes that the site is one only of only two CFM overhaul facilities south of the Rio Grande. The other facility, in Brazil, is run by GE.

Other big names in Queretaro include Canadian airframer Bombardier, which makes components for its Q400 turboprops and the Challenger 850 business jets.

mexican workforce

In addition, Safran itself was already established in Queretaro - last October its Messier Services subsdiary opened a landing gear repair and overhaul shop. Overall, 3,800 of Safran's workforce of 57,000 are based in six Mexican facilities.

Foubert estimates that SAMES will complete 10 CFM-5A/5B engine overhauls this year for Mexicana and existing Snecma Services customer Northwest Airlines. Representatives from that carrier have recently been on site conducting an audit.

Once staff and tooling are at full capacity, SAMES expects to carry out about 200 engine overhauls annually. The company has already brought forward plans to offer CFM56-7B overhauls from 2010 to late 2009.

As SAMES ramps to building up a base of more than 300 employees by 2014, Snecma Services is planning the next stages in its global strategy. Russia - where Aeroflot and NPO Saturn are seen as prospective partners - and India are its next targets.

Source: Flight International