Lao Airlines is hoping to persuade EADS’ maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) firm in Malaysia, Sepang Aircraft Engineering (SAE), to establish a joint-venture MRO operation.

The carrier wants to form a joint venture with a foreign MRO company so that heavy maintenance checks on its ATR and Airbus aircraft can be done at Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport, says Lao Airlines VP Sengpraseuth Mathouchanh. He says the carrier is in discussions with SAE about this. SAE, which EADS bought into late last year, does heavy maintenance checks on A320s from the AirAsia and Myanmar Airways International fleets. It also recently completed its first heavy check on an ATR 72-500 from Malaysia Airlines subsidiary Firefly.

Lao Airlines recently took possession of a new aircraft hangar at Wattay International Airport. Mathouchanh says the Laos government paid for the hangar using financing from the Chinese government.

Mathouchanh says the hangar is large enough to accommodate one Airbus A300-600 and one ATR 72 simultaneously. Lao Airlines operates two Airbus A320-family aircraft, four ATR 72-500s and four Xian Aircraft MA60s. It also has two ATR 72-600s on order. Mathouchanh says one is arriving in the coming weeks and the other by the end of March.

AEPS, a French company registered in Hong Kong, currently handles the airline’s line maintenance. For heavy maintenance, Lao Airlines has been sending its ATRs to Bangkok Airways and Vietnam Airlines, depending on slot availability, says Mathouchanh. Lao Airlines has so far not needed to do heavy maintenance checks on its two A320-family aircraft, because it received these new about 12 months ago.

As for its MA60s, Mathouchanh says Lao Airlines plans to send all of these to Xian Aircraft to be converted into freighters. The airline will use the MA60Fs to transport perishable goods, such as foodstuffs, he adds. Xian Aircraft previously had no MA60 passenger-to-freighter conversion program, but Mathouchanh says it does now, and has already agreed to convert two of the aircraft.