The departure of the UK from the European Union has not put off STS Aviation Group from increasing its presence there and increasing its footprint on the continent.
STS Aviation Group started out as a staffing company in 1986, before branching out into line maintenance in 2007, developing a network at airports throughout North America.
In September 2017, it acquired the assets of AeroMod International taking over a 10,640m² widebody hangar in Melbourne, Florida. Renamed STS Mod Center, it has become a major provider of airframe modifications, especially connectivity and cabins, with a reputation for very short turnaround times through very efficient processes.
The new UK operations will join an established European presence. At Shannon, Ireland, there is UJet, an EASA Part-145 operation supplying seats and cabin interior parts for all aircraft types, as well as kitting services, while a separate organisation provides engineers and technicians under contract worldwide.
In Bordeaux, France there are aircraft structures specialists on call for projects as required, and a Tank Tigers team responding to aircraft fuel system problems. A Tank Tigers team is also based in the UK, as well as several locations of STS Component Solutions.
On 23 September last year came the announcement that the latest step in moving into the UK was the acquisition of Apple Aviation, based in Newquay in the far west of England with a 1,400m² facility (including a 370m² parts processing facility).
Its remote location reflects its quiet success over the years, establishing a reputation for line and base maintenance, engine services, AOG support, aircraft storage, parts processing and teardown/recycling. For the latter, it holds a UK Environment Agency permit and is a member of the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association.
Development plans include EASA Part-147 training approval, Part 21J Design Approval to support modification activities (supported by US design approvals in the interim), and B1 engine shop approvals allowing off wing work (to be replicated at Birmingham later). NDT capabilities will also be expanded.
The civilian Newquay airport is co-located with RAF St Mawgan and Apple’s existing military business will again complement STS activities in this area.
The Apple acquisition was followed on 14 October by confirmation of the purchase of the former Monarch Aircraft Engineering Limited (MAEL) aircraft maintenance facility in Birmingham, UK. This has 18,600m² of total space, including ramp area, and the hangar, opened in 2013, can house two widebody or 10 narrowbody aircraft at the same time.
The following day came the news that Mick Adams had been appointed as senior VP of maintenance, engineering and modifications to take over the European operations, to oversee the new developments and become CEO of Apple Aviation.
He moved from Etihad Airways Engineering but had formerly been managing director of MAEL, so he had first-hand experience of the UK MRO industry and the Birmingham hangar.
In fact, he was in charge at the time the hangar opened but he says the new operation is not looking at nose-to-tail heavy checks (unless, of course, a multiyear contract for an entire airline fleet comes its way), but will adopt the STS philosophy of responding to airline needs in a short space of time.
This approach will enable the facility to be on the market much more quickly, as the primary driver will be basic C checks, Next-Generation aircraft, modification and structural repair approvals.
Having said that, despite retaining much of the original MAEL tooling, there has been further investment in additional equipment. There is now a process of carrying out a complete inventory check and establishing tooling control processes.
Services to be offered include entry into service, lease returns and light C checks.
MAEL also had a healthy line maintenance business at the airport and this is another target, to regain customers who were forced to go elsewhere. The aircraft types will inevitably be Airbus A320 Family and Boeing 737, but Adams says A330ceo/neo, A350 and 787 are also in the mix.
He adds that a successful line maintenance operation is the ‘front window’ of an MRO business and can lead to valuable additional work. This may also be another spearhead for an increased STS presence in Europe in the future, through growth or acquisition.
The MAEL influence is not to be underestimated. The Birmingham staff may have been dispersed but a recent two-day recruitment drive produced more than 100 candidates, including former employees. The target is 100 staff by this year’s end, and between 200 and 250 by the end of 2021.
Coming back to the overall picture, Adams says he is impressed with the STS approach and this is a vital part of the future success of the Europe facilities. Collaboration seems to be an integral part of the operation, bringing together the various parts of the company and exchanging best practices.
This will be very important in the development of Newquay and Birmingham, but he notes that it is also a two-way process – UK personnel will soon be visiting STS in the USA, to advise on the nuances of EASA and FAA regulations and how these can be aligned for greater flexibility and efficiency.
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