The impact of Covid-19 has proven Skyways Technics to be the opposite of one of James Bond’s Martinis – stirred but not shaken. That’s according to CEO Benjamin Nielsen, who spoke to Melissa Moody
It would be an understatement to say that the aviation industry has faced unprecedented challenges in the last year. Despite there being a light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of Covid-19 vaccines, those challenges haven’t gone away yet, as Skyways Technics has found.
What started as a continuation of the maintenance and spare part activities of the Cimber Sterling Group, Skyways Technics quickly bloomed into a trusted MRO provider specialising in regional aviation and ATR aircraft.
“We honour our past, while still believing in the future of regional aviation, in which our extensive experience and know-how makes a real difference in our support and offerings to customers,” says Skyway Technics’ CEO Benjamin Nielsen (pictured below). “We strive to deliver whatever is needed on time and at the highest quality, whether it is a spare part report, overhaul, sale and lease or a complete aircraft base maintenance check.”
The company has grown from being a European-based MRO in Denmark to opening workshops, warehouses and sales offices in Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Miami with a main focus on supporting regional operators, aircraft owners and lessors.
Offering all types of maintenance – whether base, line, modifications, upgrades or conversions – Skyways makes it clear that its aim is to become a “one-stop-shop” for airlines with regional and ATR aircraft. It is also working on developing and growing a range of repair and overhaul capabilities on flight controls, composites and structural parts, among others.
Nielsen notes: “Our long and wide ATR experience dating back to 1986, combined with our desire to expand and strengthen our professional approach and offerings, has resulted in close co-operation with the manufacturer ATR, other select OEMs and top-quality component MROs.”
An uphill climb
As with other MRO businesses globally though, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have hit over the past year, and Skyways Technics has faced an uphill climb.
Nielsen says that the biggest change the company, and the industry in general, has faced has been the steep drop in demand.
In April and May 2020, in response to the global grounding of aircraft, Skyways took the decision to react “swiftly and firmly”, he explains. “We qualified for some help schemes from the Danish state relative to our activities in Denmark, but these did not at all cover our full expenses if we just continued with the pre-Covid set up as-is, and there was, and still is, a high uncertainty as to the future situation.”
Skyways cut its workforce by 50 per cent in both Denmark and the United States, while all office and staff managers took a temporary voluntary reduction in salary. In Kuala Lumpur and Dubai, the company managed to keep its staff with a temporary salary reduction and unpaid leave. It also looked at reducing all fixed expenses accordingly, and re-evaluated variable costs, in addition to putting even more focus on its cashflow and “to the furthest extent possible” entered into repayment plans with customers for outstanding amounts.
The measures seemed to come at the right time as the company saw sales slow in almost all activities from April to September. From October 2020, sales started to gradually increase in both Asia and the Americas, while Europe continued to hover at a lower level, according to Nielsen.
“When you watch the news you get the feeling that the world is all the same in terms of the effects on travel, flights and the aviation industry,” he notes. “But with our presence in Asia, Middle East and Africa, Europe and the Americas, and our involvement with the regional aviation sector, we see that different levels of restrictions result in different levels of demand. Furthermore, we also feel that the difference in cultures plays a role in how fast aviation demand picks up once travel restrictions are lifted.”
The variance in demand over the world has been unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome, by MRO providers. Extended lockdowns in Europe mean that it is one of the regions with the lowest demand, whereas Asia and the Americas are picking up the fastest.
“Looking back on the past year, relative to our status now in February 2021, we see lower demand in all markets we serve,” says Nielsen. “Europe especially seems to be very low, while in the last three to six months we have seen stabilisation and even some growth in Asia, Middle East and Africa, and the Americas.”
Evidence of demand driving the company’s future can be found at its Skyways Technics Asia subsidiary, with the extension of structural repair workshops and warehousing facilities in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Tripling the surface area of the workshops to 3,000m², Skyways Technics has been able to install additional shops for sheet metal and composite works. The warehouse has also doubled in size, increasing the space for both owned and consigned components and parts that are available for loan, exchange and sale.
As a result, the provider is now able to complete structural repairs for all ATR interior, fuselage, wing, nacelle and door items with both EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) and CAAM (Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia) certifications, in addition to “more sensitive” components such as radomes, outboard and inboard flaps, and flight control surfaces such as ailerons, elevators and rudders.
“There was definitely a need for more capabilities to be established in Asia Pacific with a focus on regional aircraft support, which is the reason we invested in this area at this location,” Nielsen explains.
He reiterates that the strong relationship between operators and lessors throughout the Asia Pacific region was a significant factor, with the enhancements “greatly” welcomed throughout the region.
“We are determined to continue to grow our activities in Asia, and we feel we have just started,” Nielsen adds. “The plans for our expansion were already in place pre-Covid and as the pandemic challenged the budget targets we had set out on the individual parts we service, the decision to expand the capabilities to include a wider