Limited MRO Slot Availability Creates Headaches For Lessors, Airlines
SINGAPORE—Pent-up maintenance demand is driving the need for flexibility at MROs, airlines and lessors in the Asia-Pacific region. During a panel at Aviation Week’s MRO Asia-Pacific event on Sept. 20, stakeholders noted that MRO capacity is being strained by an influx of activity in aircraft return-to-service, passenger-to-freighter conversions, reactivated cabin modification projects and regular maintenance check cycles—all of which is being exacerbated by supply chain issues.
“We’re finding we’re having to reorganize the schedule—even with some of our biggest customers—by bringing some checks forward and putting some back because cabin parts aren’t available,” says Richard Kendall, chief commercial officer at HAECO Group. “We’re all trying to manage this within a framework of a finite resource, particularly labor, in terms of being able to fulfill those activities. Everybody wants their aircraft available in the third quarter next year, so it's trying to manage those expectations along with available capacity as efficiently as we can.”
One airline trying to efficiently manage its own labor and MRO capacity issues is PAL Express. According to Associate Vice President Jeffrey Espiritu, the airline is a major supplier of labor not just in the Philippines, but also in Singapore and the Middle East. During the pandemic, Espiritu says many of its technicians temporarily returned home to the Philippines, so the airline used this time to strengthen training of younger technicians. He says one of the airline’s key strategies post-pandemic has been to bring some maintenance in-house to increase flexibility and help manage expenses.
Despite MROs making maintenance schedule adjustments and airlines bringing more work in-house, limited MRO capacity is causing major headaches for lessors. According to Patrick Low, vice president of BBAM, customers are hoping to get their aircraft back into service within 2-6 months, but many MROs do not have available slots until next year.
“I think the speed of recovery is related to whether we can get MRO slots and whether the OEM has parts for us,” says Low, adding that many of the MROs BBAM has approached have been too full to spare capacity to lessors. He says the 9-12 month lead time needed for lease returns is straining the schedule even further.
“The crisis taught us that a lot of airlines are looking close by for their returns. Because of lockdowns and restrictions, the returns have to be conducted more or less in their own backyard,” says Low. “For lessors, we are begging for slots with MROs. We always take the slots that they will give to us, so much so that we are looking around more just to get slots and going to untested or new MROs.”
Low notes that BBAM does its due diligence with new MRO partners by sending staff on-site to evaluate capabilities and getting word-of-mouth recommendations from other industry stakeholders.