EasyJet’s push to lower maintenance-unit costs even as its fleet age climbs is going far beyond re-tendering of contracts to include investing in new technologies—and some already are paying dividends.

The airline is nearing the end of an 18-month process to re-tender 95% of its maintenance contracts, exploring options such as foregoing deals with MRO service aggregators and going directly to component manufacturers to cut costs and boost efficiency. The carrier also is creating some of its own opportunities—including one that’s already paying significant dividends.

Leaving no area unexplored in its quest to shave costs, the airline targeted engine blade replacement. General wear plus frequent events such as bird strikes and foreign object debris damage mean blade swaps are common. The CFM International CFM56s that power EasyJet’s 226 Airbus A320-family aircraft each have 36 fan blades, and the carrier kept about 200 spare blades in reserve. That, notes EasyJet Head of Engineering Ian Davies, equates to more than $8 million in spares, as the list price for one new titanium blade is $41,000.

The spare-blade demand was driven both by the need to replace a damaged blade and the practice of swapping the blade directly opposite the engine fan hub so that the fan would remain in balance. EasyJet teamed up with Polish software company Output42 to develop software that tracks blade moment weights and calculates the most efficient way to keep a fan in balance as part of the repair. The process factors in swapping blades on the engine as well as pulling the optimal parts from the nearest spares stock.

Rolled out earlier this year, the BladeFix app—which Davies says cost EasyJet €15,000 (about $20,000) to develop—is helping the carrier’s bottom line. Briefing analysts during the carrier’s recent investor day, Davies says the carrier now stocks 25% fewer blades, shaving $2 million out of its spares budget in the process. BladeFix also cuts down on labor and repair costs by helping technicians make decisions faster and eliminating some previously needed repairs.

BladeFix is one of several technology-related efforts in which EasyJet is investing to lower maintenance costs. The carrier also is using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to inspect aircraft for exterior damage (Aviation DAILY, May 8). The technology projects are a small part of EasyJet’s effort to keep maintenance costs in check as its fleet ages ahead of deliveries of next-generation Airbus A320neos

The carrier’s maintenance costs declined 2.9% in its 2014 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30—a dip that executives credited to a one-off benefit from its most recent order of CFM56-5Bs, announced in September. Factoring that out, there were cost increases resulting from increase in average fleet age, which went from 5.1 years to 5.8 years,” EasyJet CFO Chris Kennedy explained, and they are expected to rise again in 2015.

But efforts like the technology advancements and more significant moves to revamp its airframe and engine maintenance contracts as well as increase the number of larger capacity A320s should lead to lower unit costs by 2020, even as the average fleet age creeps up.

Davies says one of the ancillary benefits of more automation, through efforts like the use of BladeFix and UASs, is a reduction in manpower. The carrier’s maintenance-staffing headcount sits at 0.6 per aircraft, and Davies says one near-term goal is to bring that down to 0.55.