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28 Jun 2021

Shining a Lite on new engine solutions


AerFin recently launched a new suite of engine maintenance solutions aimed at cost reduction and flexibility in work scope. Keith Mwanalushi sat with senior management to get more insight into the new MRO Lite services.

Fresh off the heels of gaining approved repair stations accreditation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAR 145) at its facility in Caerphilly, Wales, AerFin has launched its engine MRO Lite Service.

Launching the new product offering in May, the aviation MRO and aftermarket specialists, who specialise in providing efficient and sustainable solutions, said this new service offers a range of in-house and off-wing engine maintenance solutions, including quick-turn services, hospital shop repairs and engine transitions across CF34-8, CFM56-5 and 7 and RB211-524 engine platforms.

“The more we talked to customers the more we recognised there was demand for a bespoke or flexible offering that is much more about cost avoidance versus an engine overhaul slot and the expense that goes with it,” James Bennett, Commercial Director at AerFin tells AviTrader MRO. Bennett explains that having airlines, MROs and lessors as the key customer segmentation, and especially with the effects of Covid, all the indications pointed to a requirement to look at minimising cost reduction, maximising asset value wherever they could and extending fleet life and age where possible, all tailored neatly to what AerFin is looking to offer with MRO Lite.

“As we come out of this pandemic, there is going to be another surge in MRO capacity as a consequence of deferred maintenance, and as we head towards  2023 [and a gradual return to  2019 activity levels], I sense we are going to find that the big MROs will not have the slots available to accommodate this type of work scope. They will be looking for the $4-5million engine overhauls for obvious reasons. And yet you have a situation where the airlines are looking to reduce cost, and the MROs are looking to potentially, where they can, offload more minor  work scope activity,” Bennett states.

Certainly, in the current environment, airlines and aircraft operators will likely turn to engine hospital visits rather than full engine inductions but MRO Lite was not a direct response to the challenges caused by the pandemic but was in development well before the onset of Covid. “These questions were already being asked of us pre-pandemic, that is the key to this, Bennett stresses. “What has happened is, the demand for it has now accelerated.”

Director of Operations, Simon Bayliss, comments that the scope of work will include both scheduled and unscheduled engine services. “A lot of this was based on some of our own engines as well. Pre-pandemic, we had a sizeable lease portfolio and we see MRO Lite as being a good enabler for both  reducing our own cost base and controlling the time in which we do them.”

Bennett adds: “Prior to the pandemic you had this bottleneck at the MROs that you don’t have now but once we get into 2022 -23 and you are approaching 2019 levels that type of flexible minimal work scope approach is not what the major MROs are going to want for obvious reasons.”

The AerFin MRO facility, which recently achieved FAR 145 accreditation is complete with OEM engine line tooling, a 10-tonne gantry overhead crane and has the capacity to store up-to 55 fan engines – “We have invested in our infrastructure and our tooling and put our staff through all the regulatory training to bring them up to the correct standard,” comments Bayliss in response to the investment put into the new suite of services.

Looking at the three initial engine choices for MRO Lite, Bennett reckons the residual values for those engines are positive. He gives the CF34-8 as an example which sees 75% of the operator base on the E-170s in the North America market – “that domestic market is strong and those are efficient aircraft targeted at the 75-passenger segment which has seen good uplift even through the whole pandemic.”

With the CFM56-5B and 7Bs Bennett points out that currently, some 50% of those engines are yet to have their first shop visit and the maintenance plans for those engines still look strong. “We have been careful to focus on narrowbody and regional jets. - with their strong maintenance forecast and predictable engine activity, at least as predictable as we can be right now. When we talk to our origination team any firming up of pricing that they are seeing,  has been in the engine market on those platforms. Such investment gives us renewed confidence in customer demand moving forward. - .”

Another interesting engine choice is the RB211-524 clearly aimed at the Boeing 747-400 freighter market. Since the peak of the Covid crisis in May last year, some 200 aircraft of various types have joined the global freighter fleet according to aviation advisory firm, IBA. Boeing forecasts 1,500 freighter conversions will be needed over the next 20 years to meet growing demand.

“Looking at the performance of those cargo operators over the pandemic they have all been posting stellar profits during the period, there doesn’t look like there’ll be a  let up in that cargo demand, especially in the short term and then you’ve got the P2F conversions which is also expected to increase significantly, all of which points to confidence in not just the 524 platform but also the CFM56-7B.”

Bennett continues saying the suite of product lines that MRO lite has started with will not necessarily be the only ones, but the three initial engine types are more likely to get off to a flying start.