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West wing

Lufthansa Technik Sofia has experienced rapid growth in recent years, resulting in the need for extra hangar and office space. Ian Harbison was invited to take a look just ahead of the official opening

Founded in the late summer of 2007 and opened in October 2008, Lufthansa Technik Sofia is a joint venture company between Lufthansa Technik (75.1%) and the Bulgarian Aviation Group (24.9%).


The first hangar was a 30-year old building that was stripped back to the steelwork and reconstructed with 6,000m² of floor space, which provided enough room for two narrowbody aircraft simultaneously, with each bay also having paint facilities. A hangar door cut out also allows a third aircraft to be positioned nose in for cabin work. In 2012, having successfully established the business, the company added three new bays. Once again, an existing hangar was demolished, except for the steelwork, and reconstructed as Bay 4. This opened in January. Bay 3 was then built in the space between the old and new buildings, before opening in May. Finally, Bay 5 was constructed in just 180 days and opened in October. It stands separate from the rest of hangars, although linked by a corridor at the rear of the building.These buildings are not as sophisticated as the original hangar, with no painting facilities.


Having become the largest MRO facility in Eastern Europe, the company has enjoyed further success, with constant work from Lufthansa and Bulgaria Air, plus regular visits from aircraft of Germanwings, British Airways, easyJet and TUI. Further afield, customers have arrived from Russia, Nigeria and Tanzania. The company claims a catchment area within a 5,000km ferry distance, meaning Europe, Middle East/North Africa and Russia/CIS.


Daniel Hoffmann, Chief Executive Officer, says a number of factors helped the company to succeed. Bulgaria is politically and financially stable with low taxation, while Bulgaria Air is the second strongest airline in Eastern Europe after Aeroflot. After the failure of Balkan Bulgarian Airlines in 2002, many engineers joined Lufthansa Technik and moved to various bases. They seized the opportunity to return home, which gave the new base a core of solid experience from the very beginning. This has been augmented by younger staff that come through various training courses and see engineering as a good career choice.


With all slots sold out and commercial aircraft heavy maintenance ending in Hamburg this year, there was a clear need for additional hangar capacity, but other factors also had to be taken into account.


A few years ago, the Lufthansa Technik group introduced the SixToONE programme, which involved Hamburg, Berlin, Budapest, Malta, Shannon and Sofia, and added Manila at the beginning of this year. The programme was designed to increase efficiency by centralising virtually all service functions of every facility and housing those service centres both in Sofia and Hamburg.


For Sofia, this included planning and engineering (covering 600 heavy checks a year across the network); material management; quality; information management (benchmarking continuous improvement across the network); a graphics studio for paint schemes and placards; and a staff agency to manage employee movements from Sofia to other bases on a permanent or temporary basis. Some 500 people are involved in these activities, greater than maintenance (400) and central support (150). Also on site are 90 staff from Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services.


The importance of the service centre can be seen from the fact that the new €35 million extension, known as the West Wing from its situation to the rest of the facility, comprises a six-level multifunctional building, combining hangar, workshop areas and offices. >>


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