Following a visit by MRO Management to Etihad Airways Engineering’s facilities in Dubai, acting commercial vice president David Doherty talks about expanding and partnering globally and its approach to driving development this year and into the future
Q. The recently announced expansion of the Etihad Airways Engineering maintenance facility adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport feels like a big moment. What led to the decision to expand, and what are your goals and ambitions?
It has always been a long-term goal to expand the facilities to meet our strategic objectives, supporting the consistent growth of our extensive capabilities and customer footprint across the globe, and to cater to the rising global demand for industry-leading MRO services.
We are investing in the expansion of our facility at Abu Dhabi International Airport to a total site area of 550,000 square metres. Our MRO facility is currently the largest of its kind in the Middle East and can accommodate around 40 widebody and narrowbody aircraft on its busiest days.
In addition to our existing hangars, we are now building two new widebody hangars. A new widebody bay (6D), large enough to take an A380, will be added to Hangar 6 which can induct three A380s simultaneously at present. Another new hangar (Hangar 7) will be built with two B777 capable bays.
The demand for our comprehensive aircraft engineering maintenance solutions from customers across the globe is at an all-time high and our facility and capacity expansion is a part of initiatives to meet that demand.
Q. Will this lead to an increase in man hours, and why is this important?
Having a greater capacity and more hangars will help us take on additional strategic partnership projects and serve a larger number of customers.
One of the hangars we are building is customised to our specific business requirements and will be dedicated to passenger-to-freighter conversions.
It is our expectation that the additional hangar capacity will allow us to reach our two million man hours per annum target.
Q. How significant are the A380 12-year checks to the business?
Etihad Airways Engineering carried out the world’s first 12-year check on an A380. It added to our robust experience and expertise of extensive structural modifications, cabin reconfigurations and refurbishment on A380s for customers across the world.
Even though A380 heavy maintenance may wane over the long term, our proficiency in possibly the world’s most exhaustive aircraft checks demonstrates our ability to plan, manage and execute complex aircraft maintenance projects on time and to the satisfaction of a range of global customers.
Our MRO expertise covers most major commercial Airbus and Boeing platforms, including the A380, the A350 and the B787.
Q. Many MRO companies describe themselves as ‘one-stop-shops’. What are some of the latest innovations and capabilities that have been added?
We deliver hundreds of aircraft every year to customers all over the world, and our work ranges from routine heavy maintenance to cabin reconfiguration, from complex structural repair to component repair and overhaul, from livery paint to parking and preservation.
We are constantly adding new capabilities to our service portfolio and continue to build our experience and expertise across the entire spectrum of aircraft MRO solutions.
Manufacturing 3D printed cabin parts inhouse and flammability testing are some of the recent capability upgrades we have been investing in and delivering innovative solutions to our customers under one roof as we move towards being a Digital MRO.
Q. The company’s 3D printing capabilities seem to be becoming more important. How has this grown in importance and what are the next steps?
Etihad Airways Engineering was one of the first commercial MROs in the world to have an inhouse 3D printed lab for manufacturing certified aircraft parts.
We launched our 3D printing facility with a humanitarian project, manufacturing and distributing 3D printed face shields to frontline health workers during the pandemic.
Over the years, we have manufactured and delivered a wide range of aircraft cabin parts to customers in the Middle East, Europe and Latin America and the demand continues to grow consistently.
Our 3D printed parts are EASA-certified, light and durable, and come with significantly shorter lead times for cabin parts that are not readily available off-the-shelf from OEMs.
These can easily be shipped around the world to our customer locations. Our 3D printing business is currently making a six figure contribution to our bottom-line; this is expected to increase further as we have recently added another 3D printing machine to our facility.
This more than doubled our capacity and enabled us to not just fulfil existing orders but also meet any on-demand requirements of our MRO customers whose aircraft are undergoing maintenance at our facility.
Q. How important is company culture and what are Etihad Airways Engineering’s main philosophies?
We are a truly multinational company with professionals from more 50 nations working as one team at Etihad Airways Engineering. What has kept us all together for decades is our commitment to deliver the best possible solutions to our customers as a team and always have a can-do attitude.
Therefore we have many world firsts to our credit, from the world’s first stripping and painting of a B787 by a commercial MRO to the very first 12-year heavy maintenance check on an A380.
Our office tagline is ‘It’s all about commitment’ as that embodies our attitude to our customers as well as our colleagues, as we support each other in success.
Q. This year’s MRO Middle East show saw many announcements and seemed to be a big success for the company. What is your strategy and main areas of focus for the rest of 2023 and beyond?
As we navigate the changing challenges that the aviation market presents, our focus on the short term is supporting our customers as they complete their Covid recovery journeys and return to full operation.
We will continue to look to address the skills gap, utilising the new training academy operated on site by the technical training team. In the medium term, we want to secure more multi-year contracts with our key customers as we tailor our capability to meet their changing fleet demands.
We have big plans going forward, including some very significant partnerships to enhance our capabilities as we work with OEMs to deliver aftermarket support.
Despite the new hangar build, we also recognise the need to expand our MRO network, through partnership, as we have done in South America. It is not feasible to fully support our global customers through a single base, so this will be an area that we are looking at developing.
This feature was first published in MRO Management – June 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.