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Swings & roundabouts

KLM UK Engineering is making plans for the future but its past is catching up and bringing new business. Ian Harbison reports from Norwich

The company dates back over 40 years, when it was the maintenance arm of Air UK, Britain’s largest regional airline at the time, which had a significant fleet of BAe Systems 146 aircraft when it was acquired by KLM in 1998 and renamed KLM UK. In 2003, the airline was taken over by KLM Cityhopper, the Dutch carrier’s regional operation. This brought further Fokker 70 and 100 work to the MRO, which had changed its name to its current one. With the inevitable decline in the fleets of those aircraft seeming to approach, diversification was needed and Boeing 737 Classic/NG approval was gained in 2008, followed by the Airbus A320 Family in 2014. Two years later, the Embraer E-Jet Family was added, this being the Fokker replacement aircraft for KLM Cityhopper.

Although part of AFI KLM E&M, the company enjoys a high degree of autonomy, says Peter van der Horst, Managing Director. It is a stand-alone business with its own sales and marketing organisation. Of course, the group has oversight of the operation and there is an exchange of market intelligence. Perhaps because of the KLM Cityhopper connection, there is some Dutch influence. New LED lighting in the hangar is from the Netherlands, as is the Embraer nose docking, from NIJL.

Currently, the Boeing 737 is the dominant type, accounting for 50% of work. In addition to aircraft from KLM and Transavia France (also a KLM group company), it has a number of third party customers, the most recent being West Atlantic UK, which will be sending „ its freighters to Norwich throughout the year and so has a dedicated bay. The E-Jet represents 20% but, with the KLM Cityhopper fleet getting close to the planned 14 E-170s and 44 E-190s and with the first aircraft now reaching 10 years old, he notes that the frequency and complexity of the heavy checks are increasing. On the A320 Family, the market is more competitive and the right opportunity will be taken when available.

Ian Bartholomew, Director Business Development & Sales, says the company is enjoying considerable success. The 2017/18 winter is sold out, as is this summer, and next winter is already looking busy. In fact, he is advising major customers to reserve space early. This is partly due to space limitations, the facility having five bays available. There are two two-bay hangars, linked by a central building that houses the logistics centre and customer offices, while the other bay takes half of another hangar, the rest being rented by painting company Air Livery, which has two other paint bays on the airfield. This is a useful add on service, he says, especially for end of lease work, and the two companies often work together. He comments that this type of work can be ‘volatile’, so long term contracts are preferred.

While base maintenance is the core business, another product is line maintenance, carried out at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, London City, Newcastle, Norwich and Teesside; whilst also operating AOG callouts to other UK airports upon request. Edinburgh is the largest line operation serving numerous customers, and has recently extended its current contract with BA CityFlyer to include A checks. The company’s Lean team is now looking at ways to streamline these A checks to ensure they are completed overnight. This should not be much of a problem – in 2013, they organised a complete cabin reconfiguration overnight on 26 KLM Cityhopper Fokker 70s at Norwich.

Having rejoined KLM UK Engineering after stints at much larger MROs, Bartholomew says he is impressed by the skill levels in Norwich. A recent project involved the complete reskinning of an aircraft from the nose to the rear of the wing. The 24 replacement panels had to be specially manufactured by the OEM as these were not held as repair items. He comments that the level of expertise shown matched that of the production line and the pressure test on the renewed fuselage was passed first time. Part of the reason for this comes from the very low turnover rate of staff. There is little competition in the area, where the company is one of the biggest employees with 370 staff, and it offers a good quality of life. >>


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