Cemil Sayar, technical director of the Turkey-based airline, is responsible for engineering, technical supply and line maintenance departments, as well as aircraft purchasing, leasing and maintenance contracts. He talks about managing these elements for the growing airline. Edited for length and clarity.
Given that your founders are Deutsch and , how has that influenced your technical operations?
Sayar: Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines have their own MROs as their subsidiaries, which are very well known in the market in terms of quality. So, of course our technical operations very much benefit from their experience and know-how, but if you answer that question from a contracting decision-making point of view, we are free to decide what is best for us: they do not influence us.
Does Sun Express still operate 28-800s?
Sayar: Yes, we operate 28 737-800s. We have established an airline in Germany—SunExpress Deutschland. It started operating in June. It is a 100% SunExpress subsidiary, and at the moment SunExpress Deutschland has three737-800s. The idea behind establishing another airline is to fly from German cities to Anatolian cities in Turkey, and soon we will start operating flights to Egypt from Germany, and to the Canary Islands as well. In two months we will increase the number of aircraft from three to six in SunExpress Deutschland. The rest of the fleet, 25 aircraft, fly for SunExpress Turkey. Six of them are purchased by SunExpress and the rest are from leasing companies.
What are typical contract lengths?
Sayar: It depends on the maintenance stage of the aircraft. The SunExpress maintenance management department evaluates each aircraft with great detail, especially according to the engine overhaul condition and life-limited parts. We find the optimum lease with the best maintenance unit cost and then, of course, we let the leasing company know our preferred lease term. Boeing 737-800 are quite reliable. For example, a brand new 737-800's lease term is nine to 10 years for the first run and for the second run, if the engine shop visit has been done freshly, we are going for six to eight years. The engine life-limited information is very important criteria. It's always easier for both airlines and leasing companies to get freshly overhauled engines.
Who do you use as your engine maintenance provider?
Sayar: Our engine maintenance providers areand Turkish Engine Center, which is a joint venture between Pratt & Whitney and Turkish Technic.
How does SunExpress develop its maintenance program?
Sayar: We use the Boeing 737 Next Generation maintenance planning document, based on MSG3 logic, so each task card has its own interval. Accumulating those task cards into big maintenance packages drives you to perform premature task card applications and to increase unnecessary manpower and consumable costs. It also increases your aircraft downtime. Instead, we track each task card with its own internal maintenance management software. This allows us to perform very small packages nearly every night to each aircraft. This system is working very well at the moments.
What software do you use?
Sayar: It is Oracle-based software called Wings from Applied Database Technology, a company from the U.S.
How much do you save on maintenance costs by breaking it up in to smaller tasks?
Sayar: We have seen nearly 20% in cost savings so far. This not only brings manpower and consumable cost savings, but it also allows you to give more serviceable aircraft to your operation because you do not ground the aircraft for big maintenance packages—you just perform them every night.
You must be accumulating a lot of data by doing this so you can see the life of components.
Sayar: Yes, this maintenance management software tool allows us to accumulate all of this data and it allows us to evaluate them as well. We prepare our own reliability reports quarterly and based on those reliability reports, we work on our maintenance program. Sometimes we decrease the interval of task cards or we prepare our own task cards for the specific systems.
There has been a lot of discussion in the industry about whether companies are really utilizing all of maintenance data that's available to them. What is your opinion of this?
Sayar: During routine maintenance operations, you accumulate a lot of maintenance data, but the important thing is what do you do with that data. Airlines do not have their own network that allows them to share their data, but Boeing does, and we use that. On the other hand, for our own programs, we use our data. But I think this should be improved for the sake of better maintenance planning programs.
Given your young fleet, do you expect a big wave of maintenance?
Sayar: The average age of our fleet is roughly six years but we do not expect a big wave of maintenance. We will have engine overhauls, base maintenance checks, C checks, landing gear and APU overhaul next year. They're all scheduled, planned and contracted.
They are scheduled a year out?
Sayar: To answer that question, I think I have to give more details about our contracting process. Recently we have gone through a very detailed tendering process, especially for major maintenance. We collected proposals from all over the world, from very well known MROs. At the end of that, our aim was to find the best quality and best value for the money, and we have contracted our engines for 10 years with Lufthansa Technik and Turkish Engine Center. For five years, C checks, wheels, brakes, APU, and landing gear overhauls have been contracted with Turkish Technik. For four or five years we have had a contract of expendables and consumables with Lufthansa Technik and we signed component pool services with Turkish Technik for 10 years. By signing those long-term contracts, we decreased the burden on our maintenance management department and we create a certain buying power that allowed us to minimize the cost of those services.
What maintenance do you perform in-house?
Sayar: We have three operational bases including one in Antalya, one of the most popular tourism destinations for Europeans, and Izmir and Istanbul. We do our own line maintenance below C checks.
Given that SunExpress operates scheduled and charter flights, how does that affect maintenance?
Sayar: In terms of number of flights, about 40% of the flights are domestic flights, which are all scheduled; 60% of them are charter flights and international scheduled flights. We apply the same maintenance program for each aircraft and do not discriminate airplanes: an aircraft may perform a scheduled flight today, a charter flight tomorrow, and the day after a domestic flight. The only affect of domestic operation to our maintenance program is that they are higher cycle operation.
What are your challenges today?
Sayar: Let me answer that from airlines' point of view. Like all other airlines, one of our biggest challenges is cost. In today's competitive environment if you look at the expenses list for airlines, fuel is the biggest expense. If you look at the expense list after fuel, maintenance, landing/ATC charges, passenger tax and insurance are next. Maintenance expenses are manageable, and our engineers work on cost control issues as well as maintenance. I think airlines create a difference in that competitive business environment. They should educate their engineers and maintenance management about how to control the budget and costs. I think a certain level of finance education and a certain level of accounting are crucial for today's maintenance management departments.
Our other challenge, and opportunity, is growth. The Turkish tourism and Turkish domestic markets are growing—sometimes with double digits. To cope with that growth, we would like to expand with six units next year, and in three to four years, our initial plan is to expand by five units each year. We intend to go up to 50 aircraft in three to four years and we need to manage all of the associated maintenance activities.
Can we talk more about the finance classes for your staff?
Sayar: I am an aeronautical engineer and then I did my MBA. Personally speaking, I have had a chance to see the benefits of my MBA education when I'm managing the maintenance department. We already started scheduling finance and accounting cost control, budget preparation training, not only for our engineers but for line maintenance managers, maintenance planners, technical procurement and the technical supply department as well.