A Global Market for Narrowbody Checks?

In the early 2000s several big U.S. carriers outsourced widebody base maintenance to MRO providers in Asia and as we enter a new decade it is worth asking whether such trends will extend to narrowbody heavy checks as well.

Until now, most narrowbody operators have chosen MRO shops on or near to their home continents to minimize ferry costs and coordinate trips to the hangar with revenue services.

However, the introduction of longer-range models such as the A321XLR and their use on longer routes, particularly by long-haul, low-cost carriers, means that it is increasingly feasible for airlines to choose service providers further afield.

Indeed, they already do so for certain items, such as specialized work on components like gearboxes and APUs, says Brian Sartain, SVP of repair and engineering services for AAR.

He adds that “widebody maintenance will occur anywhere globally, determined primarily by labor costs.”

However, Sartain notes that AAR’s narrowbody customers tend to come from the same continent as the MRO facility they use.

“We expect the narrowbody market to stay largely unchanged in terms of where maintenance is provided due to the route structure of the airlines remaining largely stable.”

Another inhibiting factor is the need for extra regulatory approvals by MROs seeking to offer narrowbody checks for airlines from different regions. For while equivalence principles between the major aviation authorities mean that attaining such approvals would not require major investment, the bureaucratic burden of doing so and then keeping up with audits might dissuade providers who expect only a trickle of demand as a result.

Nevertheless, if the low-cost, long-haul market does gain significant traction this decade – a big if – the trade-off might become worthwhile.

Alex Derber

Alex Derber, a UK-based aviation journalist, is editor of the Engine Yearbook and a contributor to Aviation Week and Inside MRO.