WestJet Rebuilds MRO Workforce for Recovering Operations
Canadian truckers may be chafing at their country’s tight COVID-19 restrictions, but the nation’s major low-cost carrier has largely rebuilt its network and it is working on the challenges in maintaining aircraft as commercial flying increases.
WestJet’s Vice President for Technical Operations, Gandeephan Ganeshalingam, says all of the airline’s more than 100 Boeing 737s and 787s are now back in operation, adding: “We continue to build back our network.”
By early February 2022, Canadian domestic flights stood at about three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels, according to RadarBox. But the country’s international flights were still only about half of earlier levels. WestJet, which serves both domestic and international markets, has been carried along by these mixed trends. In 2019, WestJet operated more than 700 flights a day, and currently it is operating more than 400 a day.
Ganeshalingam stresses that safety remains WestJet’s number-one priority, with maintenance and part support playing a critical role.
WestJet is now actively recalling its mechanics and closely monitoring its needs to expand base support as it returns toward pre-pandemic levels of operations. Its part-support teams are already back to pre-pandemic staffing levels.
However, part availability remains a concern. “Like many industries, we are experiencing disruption in certain pockets of our value chain due to the impacts of the global supply chain,” says Ganeshalingam.
The airline is actively mitigating the impacts of these disruptions on its operational performance through careful planning, proactively engaging its vendors and closely monitoring and stocking inventories of high-risk parts.
Recruiting new mechanics remains an important focus for WestJet. Ganeshalingam says broader market dynamics in Canada are presenting some new challenges in recruitment, however, “in line with our recovery, we continue to actively recruit talented individuals to join our technical operations team, which is made up of some of the best technical and maintenance personnel in the industry.”
Recruitment of new mechanics will be crucial in the years ahead. According to Transport Canada data, in 2019 half of active mechanic license holders in Canada were over 50 years of age.
While workforce recruitment has been tricky, Ganeshalingam says obtaining slots for airframe and engine maintenance remains stable. “We maintain great relationships with our major airframe and engine vendors, with contracted slot times and turnaround time guarantees. We are not experiencing any issues,” he says.
The situation is similar for delays and pricing of component repairs. “We work closely with our vendors or original equipment manufacturers to mitigate inflationary pressures on component pricing,” says Ganeshalingam. This may be helped by Canada’s slower general inflation rate, which has been running at about 5% a year—a few points slower than in the U.S.
As for difficulties in logistics and transportation, Ganeshalingam says WestJet chooses its vendors carefully, selecting providers that maintain multiple part pool locations to ensure immediate support for any AOG scenarios it encounters.