The global aircraft line maintenance market is expected to experience strong growth. Industry forecasts predict that the world aircraft fleets will more than double over the next 20 years. Such growth offers a number of new opportunities, but at the same time, challenges will also be on the rise. So how do airlines and aircraft maintenance service providers prepare for such future developments?
INFORM spoke with Stephan Regli, Vice President and Head of Maintenance at Swiss International Air Lines Ltd., about their current line maintenance operations, the opportunities and challenges they are facing and what actions they have taken to increase their competitive strength.
Can you give us a brief overview of your maintenance operations?
Our maintenance department has roughly 550 employees. Swiss itself carries out Line Maintenance and A-Checks for the entire fleet at our home bases ZRH (Zurich) and GVA (Geneva). While we have one hangar for narrow body aircraft with three bays and one hangar for long range aircraft with two bays for maintenance in ZRH, we have one hangar for short range aircraft with two bays at GVA.
Swiss operates 16 maintenance stations abroad to serve our aircraft all around the world. At these stations, we also offer line maintenance services to other airlines. We still have some shop capabilities for our Honeywell LF507-1F engines at Swiss’ former maintenance hub BSL (Basle), which power our Avro fleet, along with some mechanical and electromechanical components. Furthermore, we have a small mechanical shop producing and maintaining our ground support equipment.
What are the main challenges faced by line maintenance departments today? How does Swiss deal with them?
Switzerland is considered to be a high-cost country. Since Line Maintenance is a very man-hour driven business, labor costs are equally high. As a consequence, the reduction in costs is our focus and optimizing our processes by introducing new technologies as well as improving the workflow with the help of the Kaizen methodology is our day to day business. In order to maximize the aircraft utilization, planned maintenance is carried out whenever and wherever the plane has ground time. Even though cost saving is imperative, we do not compromise on safety or reliability.
ICAO forecasts the world aircraft fleet to more than double within the next 20 years, increasing the demand for engineers and technicians, even leading to skill shortages in certain areas. How are Swiss maintenance departments preparing for such future growth?
In Switzerland we face difficulties in this area as industrial and labor apprenticeships have become less popular among young people and their interests have shifted toward the finance and service sectors. We have been monitoring and observing this development for some time now and realized the need for action. After looking into several options, we concluded that we need to build up our own training department in order to hire and train our future B1 & B2 aircraft maintenance engineers. Therefore, we will invest about CHF 4M ($4.025M USD) in building up a training department, enabling us to hire and train up to twenty B1 apprentices per year. According to our estimation, the annual costs will be around CHF 4.2M ($4.22M USD).
Newer aircraft will send even larger amounts of valuable data to airline maintenance departments. What opportunities do you see for your maintenance department?
I see our maintenance department going from a reacting into a proactive organization. An organization with the goal to have more resources on the monitoring and prediction of maintenance tasks which will assist us in minimizing unscheduled and unforeseen events. This will support us in guaranteeing on-time departures and will also support the trend for shorter transit times.
In what technologies have you invested in recent years to support your maintenance operations?
The key factor for process optimization is the introduction of new IT solutions. We are currently introducing electronic logbook (ELB) for the entire Swiss fleet which will reduce the paperwork massively. This is the first step in turning the Swiss Maintenance Department into a paperless maintenance organization. In order to optimize our real-time resource management, we are in the process of implementing INFORM’s Line Maintenance solution. Furthermore, other IT projects such as the use of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) for component traceability will be implemented within the next months. However, our focus is not only on IT solutions, but on all tools being used in the maintenance of our aircraft.
How do you see the Swiss maintenance department evolving over the next decade?
SWISS Technical Division will be the European benchmark amongst airline technical divisions and leading in applying innovations. We, as part of the Technical Division, provide Swiss passengers the highest reliability and comfort by maintaining our fleet at competitive cost through optimal supplier management while adhering to supreme quality and safety standards.