Fast 5: Icelandair May Consider Third-Party Services Long-Term
With the influx of new aircraft, Icelandair has made significant changes to its maintenance operation in the past five years. Jens Thordarson, the airline’s VP technical operations, tells James Pozzi about its MRO adjustments.
Icelandair’s fleet is undergoing a modernization strategy. How is Icelandair meeting the challenge of managing maturing aircraft and welcoming new-gen models like the Boeing 737MAX into its fleet?
First of all, it is important to state that we will operate the current generation fleet for many more years. The Boeing 757 is still a perfect fit for our network and our order for 737MAX aircraft will complement our 32 757/767 aircraft and allow us to retire a few. A fleet transition is an interesting challenge but Icelandair is on track with all of its milestones to meet 737MAX entry into service, which is 15 months away. There are a lot of decisions to make in terms of whether to build up in-house maintenance capabilities and to invest in assets or go for many of the new, more creative solutions on the market such as flight-hour based agreements. We will probably invest in some capabilities for the aircraft, but we also are ready to look at the pool of capabilities in the market, especially early on when we will only be operating a few of the new type.
In which areas has Icelandair focused on expanding its capabilities in recent years?
We’ve made a strategic decision to add heavy maintenance capacity at our facility in Keflavik. From its opening, the new facility will be fully booked with Icelandair aircraft but as we get further into fleet modernization, we might well try our luck in the market for third-party work as we did quite successfully in the last decade or so before Icelandair’s rapid expansion of the past few years. As a part of fleet growth and entry into the market for services for 757 components, Icelandair is also looking to increase its shop capabilities in Iceland. This is underpinned by a strong interest in aviation-related work in the country.
What can you tell us about Icelandair’s new maintenance facility scheduled to open in 2017? How will this impact workloads?
The new facility will open in September 2017 and in it a new heavy maintenance line will be operated, which will double our heavy maintenance capacity. The new hangar also will be able to fit one additional narrowbody aircraft for intermediate maintenance such as modifications and other work. We will be able to fulfill most of Icelandair’s needs for heavy maintenance and initially there will not be much capacity for third-party work. In the future that might change.
At which stage is the technical division on its paperless operations journey? What were the challenges of digitizing the operation?
We are on the verge of a paperless cockpit after several false starts. There are so many processes that need upgrading along with equipment installation and software development that this has been a daunting task but the fruits of this labor in terms of information availability and oversight are tremendous. The MRO is behind in this respect mainly due to regulatory issues as electronic signatures seem to be surprisingly low on EASA’s agenda. Before there is a clear policy on these the benefits of paperless MRO will always be severely limited.
Where have been some of the key investment areas for the maintenance team in recent years?
Besides the additional capacity we have invested in capability in Iceland for basic aircraft maintenance engineer training. Previously this was not possible in Iceland and so very few people graduated. Icelandair assisted local academies to build up capability to do basic training in Iceland, and after that, we have seen a boom in the interest in this line of work, fulfilling our needs for the near future. We also have upgraded our software systems and invested in component stocks for in-house use and third-party support.