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Maintenance

Island outpost

Lufthansa Technik Malta is using its mid-Mediterranean location to attract customers from Europe and Africa. Ian Harbison reports from Luqa
 

The company was founded in 2002 as a joint venture between Lufthansa Technik and Air Malta, specialising in the Airbus A330/A340, A320 and Boeing 737. Over the years, the shareholding has changed, mainly because of financial problems at Air Malta, so the German MRO owns 92% of shares. However, it has been a successful venture, justifying the opening in 2009 of a new 27,000m² hangar complex.

 

The facility consists of two large hangars, capable of holding one widebody and two narrowbody aircraft simultaneously, and a smaller hangar that can take up to three narrowbodies. At the moment, the facility is running two widebody and three narrowbody lines, which matches current market demand.

 

Stephan Drewes, CEO, says that while there have been some vacant slots in the last two years, the company has weathered the storm as some two thirds of its workload has come from Lufthansa, in addition to the Air Malta base load. Currently, he says, 2012 seems to be a year of indecision for the airlines as they do not quite know where their business is heading.

 

Drewes divides the customer base mainly into two categories: traditional operators that purchase or lease aircraft and keep them through their lifecycle, and smaller operators that accept the maintenance burden of older aircraft, offsetting that against much lower lease costs. However, the split is not important, what is important is a good relationship with customers that keeps them bringing their aircraft back. The customer base may be small, but each operator brings their total fleet to Malta. These include Aegean Airlines, Aigle Azur, bmi and Wind Jet. The latter is an interesting customer in the second category. The Sicily-based low-cost carrier has a fleet of seven Airbus A320s and five A319s but, with a summer traffic peak, it puts its aircraft into Malta in the winter for a combination of overhaul and storage, reactivating aircraft as demand picks up again.

 

Specialists

The facility has become something of a specialist in repairing fatigue cracking at the Frame 40-to-fuselage skin panel junction on the A330/340, which is the subject of an AD. Donald Tabone, Bay Manager, explains that initial inspection of the area is carried out as early as possible after the aircraft arrives as each repair scheme is unique and has to be approved by Airbus. It can also present a few challenges as the aircraft has to be shored up precisely in order to maintain the correct structural loads. Significant weight changes, such as removal of interiors and engines, can affect this, sometimes requiring additional ballast to keep the aircraft aligned correctly. In one case, where the engines had to be removed to rectify corrosion in the pylon attachments in addition to the interior, 4 tonnes of sandbags were required.

 

Another structural achievement was a main landing gear Rib 5 modification and replacement on a 13-year-old A320 aircraft while it was undergoing scheduled maintenance. Although Lufthansa Technik Malta (LTM) had performed repairs on the Rib 5 structure in the past, this refit was the first to be carried out in Malta. Corrosion has become an issue on all Airbus models over time. The company recently completed, ahead of schedule, a wing corrosion modification programme on five A320s of Aegean Airlines over the winter, but is heavily into the repair of top skins or rear spars.

 

More recently, the facility has also become a specialist in cabin modifications. This started with refurbishment of the First Class cabin of six A340s of Etihad during 2010/11, followed by installation of a new First Class cabin for Lufthansa on several A340s, in cooperation with a team deployed from Hamburg. To ensure that enough aircraft entered service within a short space of time, aircraft were sent for conversion to Hamburg, Malta and Manila. For the same reason, it played a part in fitting the Airbus A320 Family aircraft of Lufthansa with the new Euro cabin last year, featuring slimline RECARO economy class seats. This led to a contract from Brussels Airlines (45% owned by Lufthansa) to refit both the Business and Economy class cabins on their fleet of five Airbus A340-300s and two A330-200s during heavy checks. The first aircraft arrived in February. The retrofit includes the installation of new Geven seats in both classes, the IMS RAVE inflight entertainment system (including the niceview flight information system from Lufthansa Technik) and new lavatories from McCarthy Aviation. Further to the cabin work, Brussels placed orders for lighter checks on two A319s in Malta, and plans to place four more.

 

Tabone notes that because of the high value of cabin furnishings and systems and the airlines’ need to generate a return on investment, they often drive a hard bargain for installation work. That means margins are low for MROs and turnaround times (TATs) are usually tight. Long lead times are typical for the cabin items, so there can also be scheduling difficulties on occasion due to late delivery, while heavy check work may conflict with cabin installation, leading to workarounds when both teams want to access the same areas at the same time.

 

Backshops include composite repairs, which are becoming increasingly important, especially for flight control surfaces, NDT, sheet metal, paint, cabin seats and upholstery work. The seat area is the largest shop in the facility, having been designed to cope with an A340-600 (in the Lufthansa configuration that is 306 seats). It is located on a mezzanine floor, at just the right height for easy access to the A330/340. The staff work on repairs as well as removal and installation – the shop goes from being completely full after the aircraft arrives to completely empty when it leaves, so labour flexibility is required.

 

LTM still has a labour cost advantage, says Drewes, and praises the quality of the local staff, which now number around 550, particularly their high standards of education. Aviation has been identified by the Maltese government as a national priority, so specialist training is provided in cooperation with the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST), which offers EASA Part 66 Cat A and Cat B1/B2 full-time courses for 60 to 80 people per year. MCAST training is also used by SR Technics and Aeromaritime, which have MRO facilities on the island, although not competing with LTM. He adds that if the government could attract a paint shop to the island, it would be a very useful addition to the local supply base – small areas can be dealt with in the hangar, but not a full aircraft.


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