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ANALYSIS: Mobility key to line maintenance at Northern Aerotech

Danish line-maintenance specialist Northern Aerotech has come up with an unusual plan to grow its business – by putting it in a box.

Setting up a line maintenance station and securing regulatory approvals is a complicated process, the company's founder and chief executive Morten Schalls Jorgensen tells FlightGlobal.

A qualified aircraft engineer, Jorgensen was previously employed by a line maintenance provider and was frequently seconded to set up line-support operations.

Having decided that "something was missing" in the market, he set up his own Copenhagen-based company in 2011. Using a fleet of vans equipped with the required tooling and material, he had the capability to establish initial line-maintenance operations away from base.

European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations have made it possible to create such operations throughout the EU based on the company's Danish Part 145 maintenance-provider certification, he notes.

The "deployable stations" have worked well, he says, particularly for airlines that are opening new routes and want to assess their viability for a limited time without the initial expense of installing permanent facilities.

But as the van-based operations are confined to airports within driving distance of the home base, the concept is limited. Northern Aerotech has therefore developed a miniaturised version in a box, which fits on a standard freight pallet for deployment further afield.

Jorgensen says his team is able to able to set up line operations "within days", while larger MRO providers might take months to establish far-flung line maintenance stations.

Northern Aerotech's "flexibility and speed" helps it differentiate itself from the rest of the field, Jorgensen asserts.

At peak periods, the company employs around 80 engineers and has permanent stations throughout Europe, in addition to a fleet of maintenance vans and boxes. The business generated revenue of around €6 million ($6.8 million) in 2018.

Ryanair and the Latvian charter and wet-lease operator SmartLynx are among the MRO provider's customers.

More recently, the company has established line operations in Vietnam's capital Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, in co-operation with local Qantas joint venture Jetstar Pacific.

Jorgensen says Northern Aerotech's main customers are low-cost carriers and ACMI operators, which have a particular need for flexibility as they often establish operations on an ad-hoc basis when other airlines require additional short-term capacity.

He is not worried that efforts by Airbus and Boeing to grow their aftermarket activities will have an adverse effect on Northern Aerotech's business.

Jorgensen says the manufacturers' efforts tend to concentrate on airlines that are or will be operating fleets of new aircraft, while much of Northern Aerotech’s business is about servicing mature equipment of a "certain age".

He does say, however, that airlines' behaviour when buying line maintenance services has changed, creating a tougher trading environment.

Describing local line support as "insurance" against flight disruptions caused by technical incidents, he says airlines "take more risks" as aircraft have become more reliable.

The buying of line maintenance services is directly related to an airline's economic circumstances, he points out. As a result, it has become "more difficult" to grow the business.

But he sees a bigger challenge in a projected shortage of aircraft technicians caused by retirements amid rising traffic. Jorgensen says that the inability to recruit enough engineers is an obstacle to growth.

Rather than individual efforts by airlines, MRO providers and manufacturers to train their own staff, the issue requires "political focus" to encourage more co-operation between aftermarket players, Jorgensen argues..

But "nobody is doing anything about it", he complains. "Everybody is just trying to secure their own operations."

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