The pandemic may have put progress on the blocks for two years, but the Middle East’s ambitious third-party maintenance, repair and overhaul houses are very much in growth mode, investing heavily in infrastructure, technology, and talent as airlines in the region take delivery of new types, twin-aisle fleets return to service, and demand for widebody freighter conversions continues.

“We’ve been extremely busy this year,” says David Doherty, vice-president commercial at Etihad Engineering, the region’s largest third-party MRO provider. “We’ve cleared the decks of aircraft that were parked here during the pandemic, and we’re now into a growth phase that was planned pre-Covid.”

Etihad A380

Source: Etihad Engineering

Etihad Engineering has built a reputation asan A380 specialist

This year, the company will carry out 1.7 million hours of touch labour and is targeting 2 million in 2024. Plans include new infrastructure at the 550,000sq m (5,920,000sq ft) campus next to Abu Dhabi’s main airport, with additional hangars that will take aircraft bays from 16 to 24 by 2027. The site already includes 66,000sq m of hangarage, with Hangar 6 large enough to accommodate three Airbus A380s.

Part of the expansion will see the creation of two – and possibly eventually four – Boeing 777-300ER passenger-to-freighter (P2F) lines, as part of a partnership between the Abu Dhabi company and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

IAI and lessor GECAS – later acquired by AerCap – launched the P2F programme in 2019. Under the agreement, IAI will hold the supplemental type certificate (STC) and Etihad Engineering will act as integrator. Doherty expects the first aircraft to arrive early next year, dependent on STC approval. Staff have been to Tel Aviv for training.

Etihad Engineering has built a name as an A380 specialist. Just before Covid-19, the company carried out the world’s first 12-year check on an A380 for an undisclosed flag carrier. In June, it followed that with a six-year heavy check on the initial Etihad Airways A380 to return to service post-pandemic.

Despite production ending, Doherty believes the world’s largest airliner will remain lucrative for Etihad Engineering, with almost three-quarters of the pre-Covid fleet back in service. In total, widebodies make up 80% of the company’s throughput, with A350s and A330s, as well as 777s, 787s, and 767s being regular visitors. “We build our budget around widebodies,” he says.

Etihad Engineering is broadening its portfolio in other ways. In March, it announced a letter of intent with Collins Aerospace to establish a nacelle and thrust reverser “centre of excellence” at its Abu Dhabi facility. Although a contract has to be agreed, the move will mean Etihad Engineering will be able to “work beyond the standard repair manual” and into “OEM-approved solutions”, says Doherty.

Additive manufacturing, mainly of replacement interior parts for galleys, seats, and lavatories, is another growth area, and reflects the increasing popularity of quick part replacement. Since acquiring its first 3D printer in 2019, Etihad Engineering has produced more than 10,000 3D-printed parts every year. These parts range from individual units to batches of up to 300.

“We are fully embracing 3D printing and starting to see its financial benefit,” comments Mohd Aizat, manager design, engineering, and innovation, as he shows off the company’s latest EOS selective laser sintering machine, which has doubled Etihad Engineering’s additive manufacturing capacity.

Although a recent restructuring of Abu Dhabi state-owned assets means Etihad Engineering is no longer a division of its sister airline, Etihad Airways remains a major client, representing about 40% of the MRO specialist’s business in recent years. While this proportion has been falling as Etihad renews its fleet, the airline plans to grow the fleet again, “giving us a fantastic growth platform”, says Doherty.

He stresses that Etihad Airways gets no preferential treatment. “Customers appreciate our ability to deliver world class support,” says Doherty. “Any suggestion that we don’t treat all our customers the same is simply not true, and is evident in our mix of third-party work and customers from around the world.”

Etihad Engineering Hangar 6

Source: Etihad Engineering

Etihad Engineering’s giant Hangar 6 can house three superjumbos

The company’s neighbour, engine MRO Sanad, was part of Etihad Engineering until nine years ago as Abu Dhabi Aerospace Technologies, and before that GAMCO, which was established on the site in 1987. When the airframe business was moved to Etihad Airways, the engine division was retained by state investment group Mubadala and renamed firstly TS&S, and then Sanad in 2019.

Like its former stablemate, Sanad has recovered well since the pandemic, benefiting from what group chief executive Mansoor Janahi calls its “diversified portfolio of mid- to mature” programmes, including the 787’s GE Aerospace GEnx, the Rolls-Royce Trent 700 that powers the A330, and the International Aero Engines V2500, fitted to around half of all A320ceo aircraft.


At Paris, it signed an 11-year agreement with GE and Safran – owners of CFM International – to become the first full MRO provider in South Asia, Middle East and North Africa on the Leap-1A and Leap-1B, which power the A320neo family and 737 Max, respectively. It already had a deal with GE for “quick turn” overhauls on the Leap, but this was its first partnership with Safran.

Janahi describes the move as a “significant opportunity” for Sanad, given the “high-penetration” of latest-generation narrowbodies in the Middle East. It builds on a long relationship with GE. A decade ago, ADAT, as it was, became one of the first GEnx shops outside the GE network, and, as the engine matures after 12 years of 787 service, it will continue as a profitable programme for Sanad, he says.

The company is also the only full Trent 700 shop outside the R-R network, following a deal announced at the 2019 Paris show that added to its offering on the A330 engine. On the V2500, it has also recently carried out work for American Airlines, the first time a US carrier has used an MRO provider for engine work in the Middle East, says Janahi.

This year, Sanad expects to carry out 139 engine jobs, up from 121 last year. In five years, Janahi hopes to reach an annual total of 200, with the Leap and V2500 accounting for about 30% each, and the Trent 700 and GEnx sharing the remainder. He is also looking at “natural adjacencies” such as moving into auxiliary power units.

Janahi is also keen to “export our services” beyond the United Arab Emirates. “We are surrounded by strong markets – India, Eastern Europe and Africa – and partnering with local companies is how we want to do business,” he says. In 2022, Sanad signed a “preliminary agreement” with Indonesia’s GMF to set up an engine MRO centre in that country.

In Jordan, Joramco – the MRO owned by aircraft lessor Dubai Aerospace Enterprise – also has big ambitions, including building two hangars to house a P2F conversion line and a widebody paint facility. The Amman company expects the first hangar to be ready next year, as part of its vision to be “a global independent MRO providing a full one-stop-shop solution”.

In August, Joramco revealed that a 737-800 Boeing Converted Freighter line would be its first foray into the P2F market in an agreement with the US manufacturer. Boeing’s vice-president of engineering services Mike Doellefeld says the deal fits with the airframer’s objective “to bring freighter conversion capacity closer to our customers”.