Despite the downturn, war in Iraq and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome causing crisis in the industry, Australian and New Zealand airlines are continuing with plans to boost their maintenance facilities and capabilities.

Virgin Blue has been building up its maintenance business. The Brisbane-based low-cost operator purchased the Melbourne base, including two large hangars, of collapsed carrier Ansett last year and has established its own maintenance company, Virgin Tech, at the facility to service its growing fleet of Boeing 737s. The Melbourne operation handles line maintenance at airports south and west of the Murray River, while Brisbane-based Jet Care, purchased by Virgin Blue 50% owner Patrick Corp last year, is responsible for line maintenance north of the Murray River. Virgin Tech expects to expand into third-party work and is reviewing how it approaches heavy maintenance, which is currently conducted by Air New Zealand, says David Huttner, Virgin Blue commercial director.

Qantas's 737 maintenance activities are being boosted as the carrier expands its fleet of the type. This year Qantas will add a third heavy maintenance line for 737s in Melbourne. In Brisbane work has started on the airline's new 767 heavy maintenance facility, which is due for completion next year when all 767 heavy maintenance will move there from Sydney. Qantas also purchased a former Ansett hangar at Brisbane for line maintenance.

Despite the developments, 360 engineering and maintenance jobs are set to go at the airline, which led to an Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union strike in mid-April.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand Engineering Services (ANZES) expects to complete second heavy maintenance lines at Auckland and Christchurch this year. Auckland will handle 767s and 747s, while Christchurch will look after 737s and 767s, with Airbus A320 capabilities at both, says John Mounce, ANZES vice-president.

Meanwhile, Christchurch City Council is investing NZ$20 million ($11 million) in an engine test and overhaul facility to be leased by the Air New Zealand/Pratt & Whitney joint venture company Christchurch Engine Centre. From mid-2004 the centre will service the International Aero Engines V2500s that will power the airline's new A320 fleet. ANZES believes the A320s will provide it with new third-party business opportunities - 180 A320s are operated in the Asia-Pacific region.

Air New Zealand says its engineering and maintenance activities would be boosted if the Air New Zealand/ Qantas alliance is approved. Last year Air New Zealand managing director Ralph Norris said it would invest NZ$100 million to expand maintenance activities if the alliance goes ahead.

Source: Flight International