France-Focused Sabena Technics Sees European Growth Potential


A French Army Lockheed Martin C130 under maintenance at a Sabena Technics facility in France.

Credit: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

TOULOUSE—After having consolidated several French maintenance players, Paris-based Sabena Technics is turning its attention to other countries in Europe.

Growing outside France in countries relatively nearby would enable synergies, according to Sabena Technics CEO Philippe Rochet. “Our company has a significant growth potential in Europe,” Rochet says. Why not further afield? “If you stay in Europe, you can keep a level of complementarity between your sites,” he says. 

“The industrial pattern can remain the same, thanks to a combination of costs and approvals, for instance,” Rochet continues. “That said, we know how to support a partner outside Europe, typically on the military side.”

The expansion would be part of a long-term evolution in the MRO industry where the major actors are required to have increasingly comprehensive offers, both in the civil and military domains. “Strong players will be needed,” Rochet says. “[Only] they will be able to invest in industrial platforms, inventories and aircraft.” Nevertheless, responsiveness and agility will remain key, he adds.

France currently accounts for 50% of Sabena Technics’ annual revenues, which are close to €700 ($750 million). Other European countries make up 30% and non-European customers the remaining 20%, according to Rochet.

Meanwhile, 80% of Sabena Technics’ headcount, totaling about 3,500 staff, can be found in France.

The post-COVID recovery has been forceful, Rochet says. After a very good 2021 and an even better 2022, all of the MRO’s slots in commercial and military aircraft heavy maintenance—the company’s core activity—have been booked. It has room for 50 narrowbodies or 10 widebodies. Over a year, this typically translates into 350 heavy maintenance slots.

Some 2.5 million work hours are planned for 2023, spread 80-20 between airframe and component work and including both civil and military activities.

That plan follows an eight-year period when revenues doubled. Civil and military activities are said to be balanced.

“Given the demand, we could continue to increase capacity but we would have to grow our workforce,” Rochet says. “And hiring is increasingly tricky in Europe. Several countries are close to a situation of full employment and the relationship to work has changed. For a company, being attractive is not only a matter of salary or permanent contract.”

In this area, Rochet believes Sabena Technics can offer something different to staff. “We are a human-scale and agile company,” he says. “And we work in diverse areas.”

Alongside workforce, the other major problem across the entire industry is the fragile supply chain, but Rochet sees Sabena Technics as being relatively insulated. 

“We do not have exactly the same suppliers as the large OEMs,” he says. “We see few critical situations in terms of supply. We do not use large quantities of raw materials and we do not depend on aerostructures specialists.”

However, the company is “rather worried about price inflation,” he adds.

Thanks to a broad customer base, Sabena Technics is not too dependent on a single client, Rochet says. Therefore, losing a few contracts in Ukraine and terminating those with Russian customers was not impactful, he says. Conversely, the recently announced increase in French military budgets is expected to have a positive effect on Sabena Technics’ military activity.

Since the acquisition of Heli-Union last year, the company has organized its military helicopter maintenance around the operator’s expertise in MRO. That includes French facilities in Angouleme and Marseille. 

For part of that business, Sabena Technics has partnered with Airbus Helicopters. “Being an operator is good for our relationship with the French military,” Rochet says.

In the near future, Sabena Technics is ready to offer maintenance services for the French forces’ unmanned aerial vehicles, Rochet says.

The most recent addition to the portfolio, now known as Sabena Technics BGC, is located next to Toulouse Blagnac airport. Bought from Akka Technologies, it brings more skills in Part 21 and Part 145 maintenance, continued airworthiness management and flight operations thanks to an on-site operations control center. Sabena Technics BGC headcount totals 200 staff spread across France as well as Dubai, Montreal and Singapore.

Thierry Dubois

Thierry Dubois has specialized in aerospace journalism since 1997. An engineer in fluid dynamics from Toulouse-based Enseeiht, he covers the French commercial aviation, defense and space industries. His expertise extends to all things technology in Europe. Thierry is also the editor-in-chief of Aviation Week’s ShowNews.