Making Africa an Aircraft Maintenance Hub


Recently a conference on aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul in Africa was held in Cairo, Egypt, where industry experts lamented the absence of major maintenance facilities in most parts of the continent, describing it as a threat to air safety. Chinedu Eze takes a look at the resolutions reached by participants

One of the major challenges faced by air transport in Nigeria and in many parts of Africa is the non-availability of major aircraft maintenance facility. Besides the cost of aviation fuel, which gulps over 40 per cent of operational cost in Nigeria, another major expenses made by Nigerian airlines is cost of aircraft maintenance because the airlines conduct such services overseas.

Nigerian airlines ferry their aircraft overseas for C and D checks and that is done at a huge cost. It is believed that the cost of maintenance could be halved if the airlines conduct these checks in Nigeria and experts also believe that when major maintenance facility is located very close to the airlines it enhances safety.

This is because it would be easy to take an aircraft for maintenance and it would eliminate the possibility of airlines cutting corners when they consider the huge cost of ferrying aircraft overseas, queuing at the maintenance facility and also the attendant delays that deny them the utilisation of the equipment, which leads to loss of huge revenue.

Recently, African Aviation Services organised the 27th Annual MRO Africa Conference and Exhibition in Cairo, Egypt where industry experts x-rayed the challenges faced by African airlines due to lack of major aircraft maintenance in many countries in the region and canvassed for collaboration and partnership so that well established maintenance facilities could assist upcoming ones acquire the necessary skills through training and building the capacity to conduct major maintenance checks on aircraft.

The convener of the conference and the former Secretary-General of Africa Airlines Association (AFRAA), Nick Fadugba of African Aviation Services, said for Africa to achieve the goals of Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), African airlines must focus on all aspects of air safety, especially by ensuring that they operate well-maintained aircraft fleet and well trained aviation workforce.

MRO Capability
Fadugba said that developing MRO facilities and capabilities in Africa is necessary in order to enhance safety, develop a skilled workforce and preserve scarce foreign exchange.

“But it is neither realistic nor desirable for every carrier and country in Africa to aspire to have comprehensive in-house MRO capabilities. The small size of African airline fleet and high cost of building modern MRO facilities dictate that the practical way forward lies in cooperation, collaboration and win-win joint ventures,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, the Operations Manager, KLM, Radj Jagbandhan in his presentation, ‘Creating and Sustaining an Aircraft Spare System’, said developing MRO capability in Africa should start with effective collaboration, technology utilisation, supply chain optimisation, competitive services and predictive compliance.

Richard Brown of ICF, UK emphasised the need to have MRO facilities in many parts of Africa, noting that this is necessary because although African air traffic has been growing but the region has the oldest aircraft fleet globally, although there has been recent modernisation. So in order to ensure air safety in the continent MRO should be established close to the airlines so that it would not cost hugely to conduct major checks and there should be the need to develop technical manpower that would meet the need of these airlines.

The Chairman and CEO of Egyptair Maintenance and Engineering, Abu-Taleb Tawfik Abu-Taleb said that the company has over the years promoted collaboration by sharing technical skills in manpower development. He noted that for more than 85 years Egyptair Maintenance and Engineering has been working on developing its own approach to providing MRO services, based on international standards and customer-oriented programmes.

“In parallel, we managed to have a clear and tangible impact in the African market, with special attention given to updates in the field and to continue playing our distinguished role in developing the industry in Africa,” he said.

Developing Major MRO in Nigeria
Speaking about aircraft maintenance in Nigeria recently, the Managing Director of Ethiopian Airlines International Operations, Esayas Wolde Mariam Hailu said that it would be extremely difficult for an airline that maintains its aircraft overseas to operate profitably.
He noted that overseas aircraft maintenance is very costly because in addition to the actual maintenance cost, the airline pays for ferrying of the aircraft, pilots allowances, accommodation, parking charges and in the case of Nigeria, it is done at a huge exchange rate, considering the disparity in the value of the naira and other major currencies of the world.
Yes, while the Nigerian airlines earn their revenue in local currency, the cost of maintenance is paid for in dollars, which is presently at N360/$1.

Hailu said: “MRO is very important because aviation without MRO is incomplete. This is because the aircraft needs to be maintained, it has A checks between every circle and then B and C checks are there. If we depend on overseas for our aircraft checks with other maintenance facilities and other things, they will be charging hands and legs and it is not going to be sustainable. So we need to be very careful about being self-sustaining when it comes to maintenance. And as we earlier said, safety is paramount; so the maintenance needs to be regarded very importantly.”
At the MRO Africa Conference and Exhibition 2018 in Cairo, Egypt, the CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi in his presentation said West and Central Africa have been deprived of any MRO facility yet the rub-regions contribute 40 per cent of passenger traffic in Africa.

He lamented that most MRO operators, lessors, insurance companies and others see nations in West and Central Africa as high country risk and noted that it would be great if other African airlines and companies with maintenance capabilities join Aero Contractors to establish major MRO in the sub-regions.

Sanusi said Aero has developed the capability C-check on Boeing 737 classics and it is already conducting D-checks on light aircraft.
“When I joined Aero we had aircraft taken to all over the world for C-check. In Nigeria we have 26 Boeing 737 flying in the country; yet, we didn’t have maintenance facility. We wanted partners but many global MRO organisatons did not want to support us. MRO must bring solutions to the doorsteps of the airlines,” Sanusi said.

The Aero Contractors CEO told THISDAY on the sidelines of the conference that the MRO Africa is enhancing collaboration that would benefit Africa in the area of capacity building and sharing of skills. He said the collaboration is necessary if maintenance organisations in Africa would grow.
“This MRO Africa conference is one of the real opportunities that any maintenance organisation has to come and showcase itself; not only to seek for customers but also to look for partnerships from well-established MROs and to see how other MROs are operating; to see the latest technologies, as Lufthansa Technics has shown us the digitalization of everything…six steps of the digitalization of MRO business.

“So those are things you gain from the conference and of course the most important thing is that you expose yourself to world,” he said.
Sanusi said he gained mileage from the interaction at the conference.
“I have met with a lot of customers and also intending partners. Had discussions with some MROs that that cannot accept works or clients that are close to me. We are in discussion with that. We are also in discussion with partnerships with other MROs and service providers. So it is very, very informative and very beneficial meeting that we have had. In fact, some MROs that said they will not accept our clients are also asking us to take their clients,” he said.

Nigeria as Aviation Hub
He argued that for Nigerian to benefit from its huge passenger traffic, the country must have to develop aviation hub, whereby it is expected to have viable and large airlines, major maintenance organisation with modern airports that can serve many airlines. In addition, it is expected that the country would have enough skilled manpower in aviation, have enough fuel supply provided at relatively cheaper prices and provide the capacity for aircraft to benefit from sundry services and passengers to enjoy mega duty free malls.

“We must develop Nigeria as aviation hub in Africa. That is the only way we can benefit from it because we provide them with the passenger traffic, we (Central and West Africa) give them 40 per cent of the traffic in Africa but we do not have big carriers to airlift passengers and we do not have any big MRO facility. So the only way we can do that is to first develop the MRO facility; as you heard the organisers say that most international airlines have their major maintenance facility and they metamorphose into profit making organisaions. So we must develop that,” Sanusi said.

He said the MRO would help Nigeria save a lot.
“One, we are saving from foreign exchange, second we are saving time and third we are providing people jobs. So we are talking about contributing to the economy of the country, the amount of the foreign exchange you will use to pay for these services outside, you pay less to a local maintenance facility in Naira. When you do that you have created jobs. I have just given 70 Nigerians jobs (at Aero Contractors). When we solidify the six checks that we know we will do in the year I will give 40 more people jobs.

“If I know that I am going to do 12 checks in a year I can take 120 engineers and they will work 24/7 and that means I am creating jobs, creating wealth for people and contributing to the economy of the nation. Apart from conserving the foreign exchange, few companies now create jobs in Nigeria,” Sanusi added.

Experts at the conference also called on the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and civil aviation authorities of all the countries in the region to harmonise their regulatory framework to ensure uniform minimum safety standard in Africa. The measure, they said, will prevent air accidents that have characterised the continent. This would also help maintenance organisations in the continent to maintain international standard on conducting checks and in the training of skilled manpower.