Spanish budget carrier Vueling is in the process of constructing a spare-parts warehouse at its Barcelona hub as part of a wider project to insource critical maintenance management activities.

During the virtual MRO TransAtlantic conference on 29 October, Vueling technical director Boris Rogoff described the project, begun in 2019, as a “big bang” aimed at improving control of the IAG carrier’s maintenance processes and its co-operation with service providers.

vueling Airbus A320 (2015)

Source: Airbus

Vueling does not have its own Part-145 approval and outsources all maintenance activities for its 124-strong Airbus A320-family fleet to external MRO providers.

The first phase of the big bang was to grow the airline’s continued airworthiness management organisation from a team of fewer than 50, who provided “basic certification functions”, to more than 100, in order to set up a a much broader maintenance control centre capable of planning and overseeing the carrier’s MRO operations.

As part of that process, Vueling’s original CAMO team was merged with the external service provider that previously conducted maintenance planning and control functions on the airline’s behalf.

The second step in the airline’s MRO transformation was to switch the fleet to an equalised maintenance regime. Under such a programme, base-maintenance tasks on A320-family aircraft younger than 12 years are packaged across multiple, equalised overnight checks in order to reduce the number of conventional C-checks, which are typically required after two years and involve several days of downtime.

Rogoff says the change “vastly simplified” the airline’s maintenance operation. While the previous check regime created a “massive logistical issue” to work on around 60 aircraft per night, Rogoff says two or three aircraft are being serviced every night under the new system.

He says “we still got a way to go” to refine the system and reap further efficiencies, but the airline has already “meaningfully” reduced the number of early-morning AOG incidents following the maintenance change.

A third area of activity spans implementation of new IT tools, to make processes more efficient; facilitate communication with aircraft crews, Vueling’s airline operation control centre and external MRO partners; and aggregate and analyse data to improve decision-making.

This also included adoption of Airbus’s Skywise digital services to analyse aircraft system data and move to predictive maintenance rather than responding to equipment failures.

With work on these activities having begun in 2019, the project was set to run through this year and into 2021. Covid-19 has delayed progress, but Rogoff says that the project has never stopped and is delivering benefits despite the pandemic.

Indeed, construction of a warehouse at the airline’s Barcelona El Prat base began just after Spain’s first coronavirus wave earlier this year, says Vueling’s head of vendor management maintenance, Maria Jesus Ymbernon, who also participated in the MRO TransAtlantic presentation.

She says negotiations for a new pooling contract in 2019 were the starting point to review the airline’s component maintenance approach and take greater control of the process.

Component maintenance and logistics represented the airline’s second largest area (24%) of MRO spend, with engine and APU support having been the largest (38%), before the pandemic, she says. Line and heavy maintenance accounted for 23% and 14%, respectively.

The new pooling contract covers around 900 rotable removals per month – 64% of the total. The remainder includes equipment that tends be replaced at much slower rate or during longer aircraft checks, facilitating more individual supplier arrangements.

However, Ymbernon says some 80% of the components not covered by the new pooling agreement is made up of high-rotation equipment that the airline decided to manage in-house – including wheels & brakes, batteries, cockpit windows, escape slides, galley inserts and portable oxygen bottles.

In 2019, Vueling acquired its own main-base kit of spares and decided to build the warehouse at Barcelona because 60% of the airline’s component replacements take place at El Prat airport – where half of Vueling’s fleet is based – and 88% in Spain.

As part of the establishment of an in-house department for material management – an activity previously overseen by a single staff member, Ymbernon notes – Vueling has modernised its communication channels with maintenance and spares suppliers. In the past, she says, procedures and communication formats varied widely across different suppliers and locations.

Not did only did the lack of harmonisation create complexity for the airline, but communication via email and Excel files made it difficult to aggregate and analyse historical equipment performance data. “So you can’t anticipate problems,” says Ymbernon.

The new set-up, she foresees, will give Vueling better supplier control and an ability to improve processes.