Opinion: Don’t Blame MRO For Today’s Airline Travel Delays

people waiting at airport terminal
Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images

Do you want the good news or bad news first? Let’s start with the optimistic. Passenger traffic in Europe and the U.S., where it’s easy to travel in and among regions, is back.

Load factors are high—several of my recent flights were even overbooked. Airlines didn’t anticipate this demand surge or “revenge travel,” the pent-up demand that motivates passengers to quickly catch up on the travel they’ve been missing the last couple of years due to the pandemic. One of my friends is taking three overseas vacations within five months!

The bad news is that the travel experience, at least in Europe and the U.S., is not necessarily ideal. I just got back from a trip to Boston—our flights were on time, and we got home with two of our three checked bags. Given flight cancellations and delays these days, we considered this trip a success! (United Airlines delays delivering my son’s 5-ft.-long lacrosse shafts by 24-48 hr. about every fourth flight, so 36 hr. without his lacrosse sticks isn’t surprising.)

This is nothing compared to problems at some airports, like London Heathrow, where passenger bags have piled up and queues at security can take hours because there is a shortage of security staff. (For those of you attending the Farnborough Airshow in July, take note.)

Ireland has placed military personnel on stand-by at major airports to help with security checks to reduce long queues that are causing passengers to miss flights.

This is the public side of our cover story, analyzing how airline recoveries and reshaping of fleets—including older aircraft in-service extensions and delays in receiving new metal—are affecting MRO work and planning. With fleets in flux, how will MROs forecast, plan and pivot?

“If COVID-19 has proven one thing—the industry is far more flexible than everybody thought,” says Sven Taubert, head of market intelligence for Luft­hansa Technik. The keys: Pivot quickly and respond to customer needs.

For example, ST Engineering redeployed spare capacity in its airframe MRO facilities to passenger-to-freighter conversions due to the need for more cargo lift. “Likewise, we have the dexterity to pivot toward higher MRO demand as necessary, should there be any changes in market conditions down the road,” says Tan Eng Shu, executive vice president and head of MRO for commercial aerospace.

While communicating with customers always has been imperative, nearly every aftermarket provider I interviewed for this cover story says customers are more open in their communications than before the pandemic. With a looming recession, supply chain clogs, OEM airframe and engine delivery delays and the Ukraine war underway, honest, meaningful communication is something that you can control with your customers and suppliers.

And in this busy travel season, I haven’t had a flight delayed by maintenance. I suspect the MRO side of the travel equation is much smoother than the airport side. Well done.

Lee Ann Shay

As executive editor of MRO and business aviation, Lee Ann Shay directs Aviation Week's coverage of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), including Inside MRO, and business aviation, including BCA.