Etihad Airways Engineering is beginning to work in refreshing cabin interiors as an adjunct to its main business of aircraft maintenance.
Etihad Airways Engineering was set up in 2014 with the acquisition by Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) from the Abu Dhabi national investment company Mubadala.
Abdul Khaliq Saeed, chief executive officer of Etihad Airways Engineering, explains that an MRO facility was really outside the scope of the investment company, while the airline needed to take control of these capabilities to ensure efficiency and flexibility, especially as it had a rapidly expanding fleet.
In addition, substantial resources would have to be developed to include new generation aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787. However, ADAT also had a successful third party customer base that could be developed in parallel.
He says that, despite a large number of business aircraft in the region, there is no intention of getting into VVIP conversions in a big way. However, the airline’s investment in high-quality interiors has to be supported (for example, The Residence, the super first-class suite on the A380) and there are opportunities to get into the refurbishment of larger executive aircraft.
This has already happened with Royal Jet, jointly owned by Abu Dhabi Aviation and the Presidential Flight Authority and operating a fleet of eight Boeing 737-700s/BBJs. This came about as a result of a heavy maintenance contract, which required removal of the interior. Previously, the company would have been wary about taking on such work, but having gained valuable experience, there is now the confidence that it can be done without risk.
In November last year, the company completed, ahead of schedule, the first A380 C check for Etihad Airways, along with an extensive cabin interior refresh. In the same month, it signed an MoU with Airbus to work jointly on the development of new A380 MRO services in Abu Dhabi.
These are aimed at offload work from operators who have their own maintenance facilities and upgrade programmes and could offer further opportunities for interior work. Similarly, the MRO facility is seeing an increase in lease transfer work and can now take on cabin reconfiguration as part of the package.
Cabin Interiors are definitely a part of the future, as shown by an agreement in December 2016 with Lantal Textiles to establish the first Flammability Test Laboratory in the Middle East to provide services that include flammability tests, seat cushion burn tests, heat release and smoke tests.
The laboratory conforms to ISO 17025 quality management standards and all testing is conducted in accordance with Airworthiness Regulations FAR/CS 25.853.
A month later, it signed a partnership agreement with Strata and Siemens to develop 3D-printed aircraft interior parts. The company has Part 21J Design Organisation Approval, while Strata has a local manufacturing plant.
Strata also have a cooperation agreement with Siemens that could lead to the development of a strategic three-year joint roadmap for the further industrialisation of additive manufacturing in the UAE.
This comes under the country’s Vision 2030 national development plan, which includes aerospace and is one of the key sectors that will help to develop the country and its people, especially the younger generation. Both the airline and MRO are deeply involved in the plan.
One 3D-printed cabin plastic part was commercialised in collaboration with Diehl Aerosystems. This was an IFE control unit cover plate, which has been installed in economy seats on several aircraft of a Middle Eastern third party customer.
The 3D-printed part offered a cost saving of around 20-30 per cent, with the added benefit of not requiring tooling and avoiding any permanent modification to the seat. The two companies plan to create a range of products based on the experience gained from this pilot project.
By the time this was developed, the company had been granted a Part 21G Production Organisation Approval (POA) by EASA, allowing it to manufacture cabin interiors such as seat covers, carpets, curtains, decals and markings alongside composite and other cabin structures, and release them with an EASA Airworthiness Certificate.