Airbus, reasoning that the evolution of maintenance providers has rendered a manufacturer-led competency improvement effort obsolete, is disbanding its MRO Network, Aviation Week has learned.

The 17 network members have heard directly from Airbus executives and received formal letters explaining the move, Airbus Senior Vice President-Customer Services and Support Tom Anderson tells Aviation Week. The network will be officially terminated in early 2014, following a contractually obligated notification period in the standard member contract.

“We’ve had communication with [members] that we’re winding down the network,” Anderson says.

While an aircraft manufacturer’s “network” of maintenance, repair and overhaul companies sounds like a commercial arrangement to channel work to certain providers, Airbus executives say this was not the case with its group. Unveiled in March 2005, the network’s primary goal was collaboration, not business generation, Airbus executives emphasize.

“There was never any commitment by Airbus to give any work to the network members,” explains MRO Development Director, Airbus Customer Services Michael Blyth. “The genesis behind the network was to bring together some of the best MROs in the world to further develop the competencies to care for our aircraft. It was a contractual relationship, but very much one where we exchange data in an attempt to establish benchmarks for maintenance performance, and to make sure MROs had what they needed to do a good job on behalf of our customer.”

Nearly a decade on, the network’s members—a list that includes industry giants like HAECO, Lufthansa TechnikSR Technics and ST Aerospace—are well-versed in supporting the Airbus product line. And while the 17 survivors (an 18th member, Canadian provider Aveos, went out of business in 2012) represent a who’s who of MRO providers, they are not the only ones with Airbus capabilities in their catalogs. 

“Rather than being close to 17 or 18 MROs, we want to be close to all of them,” says Anderson. 

Being in the network did not bring an influx of new business, but members say the group is beneficial in other key ways. Representatives from MRO Network member companies, citing contractual obligations with Airbus, declined to discuss the program publicly. However, they were universal in praising the network’s value as a formal forum for discussing Airbus product airworthiness information with both the airframer and each other. 

Airbus says that type of collaboration does not need an official channel to continue.

“The relationships have been formed,” Blyth says. “The MROs know us, and we know them. We still have their business cards. If they want to contact us about things that we’re doing or they’re doing, they can do that, just like any MRO can.”

Scrapping the MRO Network will not alter Airbus’s aftermarket strategy. On the front end, the manufacturer remains willing to purchase MRO services on behalf of carriers as part of expanded aircraft orders.

Unlike rival Boeing, however, Airbus does not have specific aftermarket revenue or growth targets. Boeing has publicly stated its ambition to leverage engineering expertise and bolt-on services to grow aftermarket revenues at a rate comparable to commercial sales. While Airbus offers similar services, Anderson says his team’s primary goal is helping ensure Airbus operators remain Airbus operators.

“Airbus has a unique place in the services and support marketplace, because we’re the ones who built the aircraft,” Anderson notes. “We need to ultimately be someone who is supporting the sale of the aircraft and facilitating the company’s long-term relationships with customers. 

“As far as a specific goal or market ambition, we wouldn’t go that far,” Anderson adds. “We need to further develop where we can help our customers and create value, and the business will follow.”