Emirates Explores MRO Digital Efficiencies

Credit: Emirates

MIAMI—Like other airlines, Emirates had to struggle through the COVID-19 crunch and it now faces challenges recovering from it, according to Dolf Beltz, vice president of engineering planning and IT systems.

The huge Gulf carrier grounded its massive Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 fleets early in the pandemic, extending maintenance on 130 777s and parking 115 A380s much longer. Many mechanics working in seven heavy check likes were laid off or shifted to line maintenance. But now that business has come back, there is a large backlog of airframe work to do.

Engines were swapped between grounded and flying aircraft, exploiting green time and dramatically cutting the more than 200 visits Emirates’ engine shops normally handled each year. “There’s a bow wave coming now,” Beltz told attendees at a recent conference held by IFS, which provides the IT system for the carrier’s engine shops. He is expecting the engine wave to hit in 2023-24 and be even stronger than the carrier had anticipated. As a result, “I don’t know if we will increase capacity or outsource,” he adds.

Emirates has seven hangars full now with airframe checks. It also has a full staff count back, although Beltz said it wasn’t easy getting all the employees it needed, requiring several months to recruit many. About 10% of its current staff are new recruits, often from universities and with a different approach to maintenance than older workers. “They are used to newer technologies,” Beltz notes. For example, these younger mechanics expect to use smartphones, not laptops, to do their digital tasks.

These new attitudes affect recently recruited back-office workers as well. Beltz says most of them are eager to use robotic process automation to speed up administrative and data-entry tasks.

Much more problematic, however, has been the supply chain. Spares are thin and replenishment is slow. Beltz expects Emirates’ C checks—which are already coming in high volumes to catch up with past extensions—to experience delays for at least another six months due to tardy part deliveries.

Contemplating substantial outsourcing for the first time during his career at Emirates, Beltz is also interested in making data transfers between airline and MRO as efficient as possible. Some carriers seek to have third-party MROs enter data directly in airline systems to save data-entry steps and time. However, Beltz does not want these MROs to enter data directly in Emirates’ IT systems. He wants to “view and validate” the data first, but adds that he would like the data transfer to be as automated as possible. Beltz says he also wants third-party MRO data to be in formats that he can easily check and transmit to his own systems.

Looking to the future, Beltz sees several “exciting technologies” that will help mechanics do their jobs better and quicker. For example, he looks forward to drones and more automated scanning during check inspections. Beltz says Emirates spends “a lot of time just opening it up” on all aircraft, especially on A380s. That is not time spent on repairs, but simply on gaining access to areas to determine if repairs are needed. If drones and other scanners could avoid these steps, Beltz estimates that ground time could be reduced by 20-30%.

Beltz also believes MROs need to eliminate all the current and lengthy steps between task accomplishment and data entry. “There are a lot of steps before we get the data into our systems,” he stresses. “Don’t leave it all to the back office.”