The Middle East is one of the fastest-growing commercial air transport regions in the world, leading in capacity per departure and average stage length growth, according to Aviation Week data. As airlines there increase in size, it is natural that they leverage their scale to gain efficiencies. That comes from both purchasing power and the desire to bring higher-technology maintenance, repair and overhaul capability in-house—or at least in the region.

Emirates, the largest Middle East carrier, operates a technologically advanced aircraft maintenance operation with engineering support in eight hangars. Its engine shop replaces modules and performs minor repairs on Rolls-Royce, General Electric and CFM powerplants and Honeywell auxiliary power units. Its huge engine test cell, built in 2007, handles engines up to 150,000 lb. thrust. It also has avionics workshops that test and repair flight control, navigation and inflight entertainment systems.

As Emirates becomes more deeply involved in system and component maintenance, it infuses higher technology into its engineering organization and substantially lowers maintenance costs, says Abdullah Osman, vice president for engineering materials management.

At Aviation Week's MRO Middle East Conference in Dubai last month, many airlines and maintenance facilities in the region emphasized the need for more high-tech capabilities—beyond airframe—to reduce turnaround time, logistics concerns and shipping costs (AW&ST Jan. 28, p. 28).

Osman says Emirates' next steps are deciding whether to establish an in-house pneumatics and hydraulics MRO capability and reviewing its component outsourcing strategy.

Saudi Aerospace Engineering Industries also is examining its capabilities for supporting Saudi Arabian Airlines' fleet. CEO Nader Khalawi says its current facility will be demolished by 2016 to make way for a new cargo village at King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Designing a new facility is clearly a good time to examine capabilities and take advantage of finding ways to make operations more efficient. For Saudi Aerospace Engineering, it's also because “we need to bundle services and give customers something better,” says Khalawi. He admits this is not an easy undertaking, “but we need to learn this because we're losing business to companies like Lufthansa Technik, for example, because we're not providing comprehensive services.”

Khalawi wants third-party work to climb to 40% of Saudi Aerospace Engineering's work, which will force it to broaden its engineering offerings as well as lower the airline's costs.