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Maintenance

Kazakh can do

Air Astana is developing its MRO capabilities in anticipation of new aircraft types. Ian Harbison reports from Astana
 
Although Air Astana has seen profits drop from $39.1 million in 2017 to $5.3 million in 2018, the airline still saw a number of positives last year. Capacity as measured in ASKs rose by 5%, and total passenger numbers by 3%, to 4.3 million. However, transit business via the airline’s Astana and Almaty hubs rose by 48%, and now represents close to 40% of total international traffic, and fuel prices have reduced by 16% from their peak in June 2018.
 
It is those positives that are driving a fleet change in the airline. In December 2018, it took delivery of the first of five Embraer E190-E2 aircraft on lease from AerCap, to be followed by four this year. These will replace 9 E190-E1 aircraft already in service as their leases expire up to 2022. Three of  Airbus A321 LRs will arrive during 2019 , to be followed by 2020 deliveries. These will replace five Boeing 757-200s. Three Boeing 767-300s will remain in service, alongside two Airbus A321ceo, three A321neo, eight A320ceo and one A320neo.
 
However, the company is setting up a new low cost carrier, FlyArystan, which will start operations in May with an initial four Airbus A320ceo. The company also has RFPs out with Airbus and Boeing for the A320neo Family and 737 MAX respectively, with a decision expected in 1Q19. By 2022, it is expected to be operating from four bases in the country with a fleet of 15 aircraft on domestic and international routes.
 
With all this activity, the maintenance department is also undergoing some changes, says Ruslan Shayakhmetov, Senior Manager of Maintenance. The airline's main base is in Almaty, with a new hangar in Astana, the capital city, 950km to the northwest. There is also a small line maintenance facility at Atyrau, in the west of the country, on the Caspian Sea.
 
The airline has EASA Part 145 maintenance capability up to A checks, with heavy checks being outsourced. The A320 and 767 C checks go to S7 Technics in Russia and 757 C checks are handled by HAECO Xiamen. Air Astana is currently sending two E190 aircraft to Flybe in the UK for heavy maintenance checks and is still considering long term options for these aircraft.
 
He says there is a close relationship developing with S7. Novosibirsk is only 90 minutes flying time away, and some Air Astana personnel have already visited for training that will help to develop an A320 C check capability in Astana. 
 
In Almaty, there is a hangar leased from the airport that can carry out all maintenance under C checks. It can also handle AD/SB incorporation and landing gear/engine changes. There are workshops for wheels and brakes, batteries, and galley equipment, all of which hold third party contracts, some with private aviation companies. There is also a sheet metal shop and an NDT laboratory. Another third party venture is with Jettainer, for the repair of cargo containers. 
 
Back in Astana, in May 2018, the airline celebrated its sixteenth anniversary with the opening of a new Aviation Technical Centre at the Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport, which was financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development at a cost of $19 million. This includes a 5,500m² single span hangar, designed in Canada and built to a very high specification that will allow it to remain fully operational under the extremely low temperatures experienced in Astana during winter months. 
 
It can hold one widebody and one narrowbody simultaneously. Shayakhmetov says the design takes account of future expansion, allowing an extra hangar to be built on either side. The centre also includes a spare parts warehouse, which will be used for a recently signed Flight Hour Pool Program agreement with Embraer for the E2 fleet. This is an extension to a similar agreement signed in 2011 for the E1. The new deal will provide unlimited access and full repair coverage for more than 325 components, with almost a third of them exclusively placed in Astana.
 
An auxiliary building provides space for the training of engineering and maintenance staff to international standards. This is being carried out by German company AERO-Bildung. An EASA Part 66 course includes 18 months of theoretical and practical training, followed by a further 18 months of practical. Part 147 courses include Airbus A320ceo/neo Family and the 767. 
 
Eight technicians have already been sent to Embraer for E2 training with another group about to follow. Line maintenance training is also provided, the airline handling most of the international carriers in Astana.  

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