Slow-Recovering Engine MRO Moves Toward New Products, Services

engine maintenance work
The engine MRO market is still down as airlines continue to tightly control expenditures as they recover from the pandemic.
Credit: P. Delapierre/AFI KLM E&M

A greater need for tailored engine solutions such as on-wing services and quick-turn capabilities from MROs is occurring because of the continued slowdown in full overhauls in the commercial engine aftermarket.

Speaking on a webinar previewing Aviation Week’s Aero-Engines Europe last month, Sabrina Bringtown, vice president of engine material policy and cost control at Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M), said a slight increase in traffic compared to 2020 has been noted, but a return to the pre-crisis levels of 2019 has been pushed back to next year and beyond.

The slump in engine MRO, one of the market segments most adversely affected over the past 18 months, is still ongoing, as airlines are constrained by a need to manage their cash as tightly as possible, Bringtown said.

“Airlines continue to use their green time in order to push back their shop visits to 2022,” she said, adding that the burning of green time is a short-term measure and not sustainable long-term. “MROs are having to provide tailor-made workscopes to delay removals as much as possible,” she said. “Because there are so many module swaps on CFM56 engines, for example, the market is also increasingly turning to on-wing services, quick-turns, hospital services and smart workscoping.”

She cited some recent positive signals as causes for market optimism. These include the U.S. announcing plans to lift a ban on unvaccinated passengers in mid-November—a move welcomed by carriers looking to revive transatlantic travel. The number of vaccinated people on the European continent is also increasing.

Bringtown anticipates an MRO recovery starting next year and lasting through to 2024. She said AFI KLM E&M is taking a long-term investment approach, which includes the expansion of its shopfloor capacity at Paris Orly Airport by the end of 2022 to be able to meet demand upticks. It plans to add a parts tracking system with radio-frequency identification that will also be used during the cleaning of parts. “This will allow us to have a fully optimized flow and reinforce our industrial performance,” she said.

While MROs have looked to invest in new services and capabilities during the crisis, engine OEMs are dealing with effects on both their aftermarket businesses and manufacturing production.

Gijs Gielen, director of aftermarket marketing at Pratt & Whitney, said the market is in a slow recovery phase, but the past 18 months saw workloads differ depending on the product line. “Shop visits for the V2500 were reduced by around half in 2020 . . . in contrast to the geared turbofan [(GTF)], where shop visits increased,” he said. “We utilized the impact and effects of the pandemic to accelerate some of the retrofits on the GTF program.” He added that this led to Pratt completing these necessary retrofits around two years ahead of schedule.

One of the long-term trends that Gielen expects will continue is operators selecting long-term maintenance programs for their engines. “Not only are they moving in this direction more, but the duration and terms of those programs are increasing,” he said.

Analyst Klaus Mueller, senior advisor at AeroDynamic Advisory, believes a recovery will not be forthcoming until 2023 and will initially be driven by narrowbodies. While that is good news for repair specialists in this segment, widebody engine MRO providers will need to be more patient, according to Mueller. “The widebody engine aftermarket is still falling behind and the question is: How quickly will long-haul traffic open its borders again?” he remarked.

Capacity could also be a critical issue in the near-to-medium term, with factors such as workforce layoffs at the height of the crisis having reduced engine technician numbers. If there is a wave of unexpected shop visits, it is not clear if MROs will be able to cope or if there will be further delays in shop visits. But overall, Mueller believes the engine industry is becoming smarter in terms of services. “We are now discussing quick-turns, minor shop visits and module changes,” he said, adding that this could eventually increase efficiency during engine shop visits.

Find out more about engine MRO trends at Aviation Week’s Aero-Engines Europe event in Stavanger, Norway, Dec. 1-2.

James Pozzi

As Aviation Week's MRO Editor EMEA, James Pozzi covers the latest industry news from the European region and beyond. He also writes in-depth features on the commercial aftermarket for Inside MRO.