Fast 5: Blueberry Aviation Enters Aircraft Storage, MRO Project

With a background primarily in helicopter and aircraft asset management, Monaco-based Blueberry Aviation has entered a cooperation with partners to establish a new aircraft storage and MRO project in Ostrava in the Czech Republic. Francois Gautier, the company's CEO, tells James Pozzi why it decided to move into this area.

Blueberry Aviation has previously leased commercial aircraft along with a large presence in the helicopter segment. Why did it decide to venture into commercial aircraft storage and which type of aircraft will you look to store? 

As lease and asset managers we view it as critical to be in a position to offer this service to our commercial aircraft customers and more generally to the market, particularly in the current environment and with our recent involvement in various repossession projects. We think there will be more such projects to come in 2021.

Where do you think demand will lie from customers? Will it predominantly legacy operators or perhaps also some low-cost carriers looking to store aircraft?

Many analyses predict traffic will not to return to 2019 levels before 2024, and even later as far as wide body aircraft are concerned. As a result, we expect airlines to reduce their fleets substantially in the years to come. Even some of the sturdiest airlines including legacy carriers are likely to have to reduce their capacity substantially over the next two years. We cannot predict which airlines will be more exposed at this stage. This is why we selected a facility which can welcome large numbers and any types of aircraft.

How did setting up the storage base in Ostrava come about and specifically, the partnerships with Job Air Technic and Roth International?

We had been actively looking for a reliable well-equipped and well located partner for some time. A state of the art recycling facility was a definite prerequisite, as well as a fully certified maintenance facility. We foresee recycling as a critical and unavoidable aspect of the aircraft lifecycle, especially in the years to come where any aircraft will at some stage have to be properly recycled. The structure is already up and running. JobAir was launched 24 years ago and has been growing ever since. It is the largest maintenance facility in Central Europe and has the full capability to perform storage and maintenance of a large number of aircraft for Blueberry Aviation’s customers. Roth International has more than 20 years’ experience in the recycling business, involved in various high value equipment such as oil rigs, vessels and turbines.

Will the storage site primarily focus on short-term storages or long-term ones of three months or more?

Given the current conjuncture, the demand is likely to be primarily for long term storage, but short-term storage can be considered, in particular in the context of upcoming maintenance to be carried out by JobAir Technics or part out project to be performed by Roth International.

Capacity is there for up to 100 aircraft. What numbers do you see this being at in the initial operation and do you think this will ramp up quickly over the course of 2021?

We have no crystal ball but we expect airline fleet reductions over the next several years. Unfortunately, there will be some defaults and bankruptcies to be expected along the way - some perhaps as early as this year. We therefore consider the service around storage to be timely both for airlines, lessors and financiers whatever future holds for the aircraft: storage, maintenance, recycling, placement and/or management.

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.