The unique layout of the new hangar - a special door produced by Champion Door Oy
There is work to do, but development is now limited by a lack of qualified aircraft mechanics
The unique layout of the new hangar opens up further business opportunities
The article was published in Konstrukce journal no. 1/2020 (Czech Republic).
Another maintenance hall for large airliners has been built at the Ostrava-Mošnov airport, complementing the existing hangar. We used this opportunity to interview Mr. Vladimír Stulančák, the executive director of JOB AIR Technic a.s.
Let's summarize the reasons behind the construction of Maintenance Centre No. 2? I assume to expand the existing services…
That's right. The main reason was to expand the existing services and increase the number of aircraft that can be repaired simultaneously. The size and layout of the original hangar, No. 1, enables us to accommodate aircraft as large as the Airbus A330. If this space is filled with large airplanes (wide-body), we can now automatically move the narrow-body aircraft (or single-aisle aircraft) to the new maintenance hangar, No. 2.
Another important reason was the establishment of a workshop facility, which was previously located in the old hangar. The premises were no longer adequate. The new workshops are larger, more modern, more comfortable for the employees and are equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Now we also have an improved logistics facility, which means that our material and spare parts storerooms are larger.
I wonder how repairs to new types of aircraft work. Do you have to prove in advance that you can repair this particular aircraft, even if it has not yet been to Mošnov, or when the aircraft arrives for the first time does it arrive with a specialist from the manufacturer? How does it actually work in practice?
First you need to have certified specialists trained for the specific aircraft type with approved maintenance tools and technology. Then there is an audit by the Civil Aviation Authority, and if you receive approval, you can start to carry out repairs on this type of aircraft. To begin with this is sometimes done under the supervision of the aircraft's manufacturer or operator.
Last year you received the AS 9100D certificate. What does it entitle you to do?
It is a quality management certificate and it is required by an increasingly wide range of customers, such as Airbus. This is not a permit, but a quality label and a tool we can use to get more customers.
JOB AIR Technic has (according to your website) the largest maintenance hangars in Central Europe.
When it comes to their dimensions - certainly. But even more important than the overall size is its 'single span' - the widest span of the hangar without a need for supporting columns. A large number of repair centres are divided into smaller sections, side by side, with two or three airplanes. We are able to accommodate six A32F/B737 machines in a single hanger. Our repair staff and service engineers have plenty of work space around the aircraft. I have visited many hangars around the world, but in ours the wings of the aircraft do not touch which is not the case elsewhere. In this respect, Maintenance Centre No. 2 in Ostrava-Mošnov is a unique building.
Mošnov's biggest competitor in the passenger air transport market is Katowice Airport ... Where is your closest competitor?
Czech Airlines Technics (ČSAT) in Prague and Linetech in Katowice are the closest to us. But being close to us on the map does not automatically mean that we compete. Our real competitors in the market are the maintenance centres in Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Romania and Poland. The Poles in particular are doing very well.
The quality of their aviation segment is high; they have their own aircraft production and very up to date and skilful aircraft engineers. I also think that the top specialists in our northern neighbour are better paid than in our country. That was a big surprise for me, too.
What do you see as the competitive advantages your company has after the construction of Maintenance Centre 2?
As I already mentioned, we now have first-rate workshop capacities with modern technical equipment, which has allowed us to gradually execute more in-house repairs. This has reduced the time required to carry out maintenance procedures, as previously we had to send parts to other hangars across Europe.
List one of the two specifics or technical "gadgets" which are a must-have for a large aircraft hangar?
I have already mentioned them. It is the width and length of the hanger, which sets the limit on how many airplanes can enter the hangar "tail" or "nose" first through the special door produced by the Finnish company Champion Door Oy, how many airplanes can be placed side by side and things like that.
So soon we can expect to see an even larger aircraft than the Airbus A330 in a hangar in Ostrava?
It is certainly a very interesting market that could help us to cope with the weaker summer season, when logically most narrow-body aircraft operators want to fly as much as possible. Everything needs to be well thought out and prepared, because the maintenance concept for the largest aircrafts is different to the narrow-body aircraft. Russian aircraft, such as the Sukhoi Superjet or other wide-body aircraft are of interest to us but at the moment we are not considering going in this direction.
How many new employees have you hired in connection with the new Maintenance Centre 2?
We have been very intensively recruiting new colleagues for several years and this is still on-going. Our aim is to recruit about 140 new, qualified, employees within the next two years, which is not easy. The number of people with experience in the aviation industry is limited. One of the main reasons for this is the unattractiveness of maintenance work in today’s world.
I'm sorry, but it would seem (especially after I personally went through both hangars) that working in aircraft maintenance in such a luxurious environment is, on the contrary, a great attraction ...
But if you compare the extremely responsible job of an aircraft mechanic, which is still about manual skills, with a desk job somewhere in an office in a large city, where you can also make big money, then this field or work (and the added value it perhaps had in the past) simply loses out.
Although I think that the position of an aircraft mechanic is an exceptionally well paid one, unfortunately we are not able to compete with the wages paid in this field in the developed countries of the world. The salaries there are simply on another level. Young people now have great opportunities to travel or set-up home anywhere in the world. For example, the nearby Vítkovice Secondary Technical School, which is one of the few specialized institutes for aircraft mechanics in the Czech Republic, generates a relatively sufficient number of specialists every year, but a large number of them go to work abroad or wherever they get paid more.
Therefore we have to take the path of offering various benefits, for example by providing housing. I am glad that many of the people we have attracted to Mošnov appreciate the great environment within a professional company and acknowledge how precisely our processes are set up… We try to show young people and their parents (often big fans of aviation in general) what things are like here, the type of what environment their children could work in, how much they can earn, that, for example, we have heated floors throughout the hanger. We also send our specialists as trainers to universities. We want to demonstrate that working for us is very attractive.
This might be a stupid question ... Can, for instance, a trained auto mechanic be very quickly turned into an aircraft mechanic?
It takes 3 years for a graduate of a specialized school to obtain aircraft mechanic certification. A young person who studies in another field can also become an aircraft mechanic after 5 years of practical experience. It is not possible to simply take a car repairman from the street (even a very handy one) and “turn him into” an aircraft mechanic. First, repairing an aircraft is completely different to repairing a car - no offense intended. This is simply not allowed by the law. Another specific feature is that all aircraft repair manuals are in English. We tried to translate them into the mother tongue of the repairmen, but we were not successful. In the case of tinsmiths and other professions, for example, the requirements are simpler, also when it comes to English.
Is the construction of Centre No. 2 your last development investment for the next few years or is further development already underway?
Further development in Mošnov depends primarily on the availability of trained staff, which we currently lack. Unfortunately, the situation will probably not improve over the next three years. If there isn’t a dramatic change in the area of human resources then I don't see the possibility of any further expansion over the next five years, i.e. investment in another hangar. It's a shame, because there is plenty of work to do.
But hopefully the situation will quickly improve. From the universities, for example, potential colleagues can be found at a faculty of the university in Košice. However, a very flexible response to the existing situation can also be seen at the Technical University in Ostrava or Pardubice, where, for example, they started to teach a programme focused on aviation.
Did companies or educational institutions rest on their laurels and forget to respond to the situation in the market? Couldn't this development have been foreseen?
Maybe both sides could have been more active, companies could have communicated more intensively and cooperated better with schools. The schools might have been able to better promote the programmes that were needed and possibly even "favour" them and, within the legal framework, somehow make them more attractive... But such a massive degree of interest in maintenance services within the industry could probably not have been fully predicted.
Now I think the situation in this area is different. We have prepared very detailed analyses for the future, with an assumption of the market development, the possible risks or outlooks, and some interesting figures have come out of these. In ten years, the turnover in the industry will have grown by $ 16 billion a year and another 23,000 aircraft mechanics will be needed worldwide.
I will return to whether or not these developments could have been expected… Perhaps it was not possible to predict what happened to the manufacturer of the Boeing MAX…
That's right. The Boeing MAX is simply missing in the air, it was counted upon. As a result, there is growing pressure from the owners of existing, older aircraft to have them repaired. Repairs are increasingly demanding and in greater depth as the aircraft age, meaning that we devote more time to repairs, so we have more work and more orders.
Let me put another example…The whole world, especially Europe or America, has been for years used to a system where planes are in operation (flying) during the summer and are repaired in the winter. The situation has changed. The flying period now lasts practically all year, as the holiday season keeps being extended. And there are other factors coming into play... Nobody could have predicted that aircraft which used to be maintained in Australia will now be repaired in Europe. The cost of maintenance work done here is half the price. It is thus worthwhile for the aircraft owner to order the repairs in Mošnov, for instance.
So you also recruit talent abroad, outside the Moravian-Silessian region?
We have literally been recruiting all around the world for some time now. Almost 50% of our employees are Slovaks, for the most part graduates of the only purely aviation specialized secondary school in Trenčín. We currently have employees from Russia, India and Bulgaria… At the end of 2019 we managed to recruit 18 tinsmiths from the Philippines. Taking into account all necessary permits weexpect they will arrive in the first half of 2020.
An advantage we have in the recruitment of foreign workers is that the Czech Republic has retained its own bilateral agreements with some states, so we are not as bound by the EU regulations to the same extent as other EU states. If everything goes well, a foreigner can start working here within six months. For example, in the Philippines, recruitment is carried by a team of our people and specialists who are sent to test potential colleagues in both their practical and theoretical knowledge. The school system and the level of education are at a higher level in our country, but the advantage of countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines is the large number of people to choose from. The best ones are extremely clever, eager, hardworking…
How is 3D modelling (BIM) implemented in aircraft repair and the maintenance process? Is there something like an electronic twin of an AIRBUS with which the repairmen could prepare and simulate their future tasks (repair) in advance?
I have not heard of the existence of a true virtual twin aircraft somewhere, but even this may change in time. Quite recently we have been approached by a company that specializes in the creation of visualizations and 3D models, so we will see. But our industry has implemented many innovations, such as the use of drones, which complements the visual inspection of the aircraft, or assists in scanning for damage to the aircraft shell. 3D scanners are increasingly being used to detect and analyse damage, saving engineers much time and effort.
Thank you for the interview.
editor-in-chief, KONSTRUKCE magazine
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