Chinese aircraft maintainer Gameco will try strict specialization as a way of driving up efficiency, allocating one of its sites to only A320 maintenance.

The company is emphasizing scale as well as efficiency at its main base, at Guangzhou, eyeing a third-stage expansion even as it breaks ground on the second stage.

Gameco's satellite operation in the big western city Chongqing performs only line-maintenance. Construction of a hangar there for heavy maintenance will begin next year and should be finished 12-15 months later. It will be able to handle about four narrowbodies, says Gameco General Manager Norbert Marx, adding that he plans to restrict its scope to A320s. The idea is to see if the Chongqing team—dedicated to overhauling one kind of aircraft—will do that exceptionally well.

If the scheme delivers the step-gain in efficiency that Marx is hoping for, it could be reproduced at hangars at Guangzhou and potentially other big Chinese second-tier cities.

By specializing, “you have significant potential to be faster and cheaper, to save in labor and materials,” says Marx. “And it can be cloned.” The obvious prospects for new locations are cities that already host bases of China Southern Airlines, which is the 50% owner of Gameco and also its chief customer.

Keeping up with the growth of China Southern is a key challenge for Gameco (Guangzhou Aircraft Maintenance & Engineering). The airline, already Asia's largest, introduces almost one aircraft a week into its fleet.

Work began on Sept. 8 on the second stage of the Guangzhou base, located at Baiyun International Airport. The expansion comprises a $90 million hangar that will take eight narrowbodies, with associated workshops. It will be high enough for Boeing 787s but is aimed mainly at relieving the current hangars of the need to deal with smaller aircraft.

The facility will include a 27,000-sq.-meter (291,000-sq.-ft.) maintenance apron that can fit two Boeing 757s. There will be areas for work on seats, lavatories, galley, sidewalls, wheels and brakes, and upholstery, says David Conrad, Gameco's director of international sales and marketing. There will be a shop for quick engine changes, too.

The company plans to finish the 14,800-sq.-meter new hangar at the end of 2012 and begin using it in first-quarter 2013. As it approaches that point, staffing will rise beyond the normal needs of its current facilities, which will endure a period of over-utilization.

The new hangar alone will require 1,500 employees at full capacity. That level should be reached by late 2014 or early 2015, with all bays functioning. By then, there will be a staff of 5,500-6,000, compared with 4,200 now, including 120 at Chongqing, says Marx.

Recruiting is under way at colleges and universities in China. “Once we recruit from these schools, we also put our new employees through a basic five-year training program at Gameco that helps them attain their mechanics licenses with the CAAC [Civil Aviation Administration of China],” says Conrad. The company also offers courses to train mechanics for EASA or FAA maintenance licenses.

Phase 3 will be two more widebody hangars. The scale is not decided but Marx points out the height needed to take A380s would be just 3 meters more than the 747 standard. China Southern operates 420 aircraft today but plans to have 645 in five years, says Conrad, “so we need even more hangar space.”

The airline expects to receive its first A380 by October, which will make it the seventh A380 operator. Its first of 10 787s is expected in February 2012.

With the new facility at Guangzhou, Gameco will have 18 maintenance bays for China Southern and third-party work.

“Today the split between China Southern and third-party work is about 74/26 percent, respectively,” says Conrad. “The real challenge is that China Southern is growing so fast that we have to run to keep up with them and still grow third-party work.”

The new Gameco hangar will bring the company close in aircraft capacity to Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering Co. (Taeco), which has six hangars that accommodate 12 wide- and five narrowbody aircraft. Ameco Beijing, however, has the biggest maintenance compound in Asia, with 600,000 sq. meters. One hangar there can house four A380s, another can hold 15 widebodies and 11 medium-range aircraft. A third paint hangar handles widebodies.

Recent Gameco additions include a Boeing 747 C check line in Urumqi, a Boeing 777F line maintenance at Shanghai Pudong and the Chongqing base.