The JOB AIR TECHNIC maintenance center specializes in heavy aircraft maintenance, especially redelivery checks, linked to a change of aircraft lessors. The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent reduction of air traffic thus brought the company new contracts.
“Redelivery checks currently make up at least 80 percent of our production,” Vladimír Stulančák, the CEO of JOB AIR TECHNIC, confirms.
The atypical year of 2020 also significantly shortened the summer season. In this period, hangars in maintenance centres usually remain empty, because most planes operate to provide for charter flights. But the pandemic has changed everything, and airports and most operators are currently not even at 50 percent of their usual capacity.
“The situation is still very unstable, and it is not expected to exceed sixty percent of capacity when compared to the last year. For this reason, several airlines were forced to lay some of their employees off, restructure their fleets and ground a part of them,” describes Vladimír Stulančák.
However, some airplanes operators won’t have the capacity to pay the leases due to the long-term reduction of their activities. As a result, several airplanes will have to be returned to the leasing companies. And according to many leasing contracts, redelivery checks are a must in this process. Thus, redelivery checks have already been replacing and will largely replace standard maintenance in the coming months.
Companies are now trying to use mainly airplanes that have a so-called “green time”, which means that they do not need heavy maintenance in the near future. Due to the necessary cost savings, replacements of components or even engines among airplanes within the fleet have been taking place.
Airplanes need to fly, not park
Many planes are not in the air, and the operators have them parked. But even a plane that is on the ground cannot do without maintenance. Any maintenance service varies according to the mode the aircraft is parked. It is either in a short-term parking mode or a longer-term storage. This also brings some resources to companies that take care of the aircraft´ maintenance. But it is significantly less compared to standard maintenance schemes.
When an aircraft is parked, basic maintenance tasks include covering critical parts, packing engines and insulation, covering windows, checking humidity, starting its motors regularly, etc. Aircraft grounded in a parking mode up to six months are usually able to fly again within a few days.
With long-term storage, the process to make the plane fly is more complex. At the same time, deadlines may expire during parking for services that would be performed on aircraft, even if it were in operation. Thus, they need to be performed before being put back into service. These are always individual projects.
“At JOB AIR Technic, the ratio is currently about 60 percent of machines in a parking mode and 40 percent in a storage mode. This is not an ideal condition for the planes themselves, they need to fly. The longer they are grounded, the more expensive their activation. And corrosion is the biggest risk,” explains Stulančák.
The aviation industry is facing difficult years
It is now premature to estimate how and in what direction the entire aviation industry will move after a coronavirus pandemic. However, another disruption similar to the one in the spring of 2020 would be fatal for the industry as a whole.
“In my opinion, it will take a year or two for the situation to reach pre-crisis levels. This is mainly since a large number of grounded aircraft is expected due to reduced demand. It is estimated that there will be a surplus of up to 4,000 aircraft over the next two years, which will simply not be needed,” Vladimír Stulančák says.
What else does this mean? First of all, the production of new aircraft will be logically reduced. Both Boeing and Airbus will probably reduce production by at least a third. It is also estimated that the map with the destinations to be flown will change, with shorter flights being used more, for example within the European Union. This could have an impact on the decline in the use of wide-body aircraft used for intercontinental flights.
The existing situation suggests that a change in the overall structure of operators and the emergence of new smaller airlines can be expected, mainly due to the decline in airplane prices. Their price will be reduced by the fact that leasing companies will have a surplus of them, which is already shown by the above-mentioned increased share of redelivery checks.
MRO segment and market clearing
The situation in the MRO segment, or else an aircraft maintenance segment, is also affected by the current situation. The mentioned share of heavy maintenance, the so-called C-checks, is decreasing. On the other hand, due to the return of aircraft to leasing companies, the share of redelivery checks has increased, which is a short-term competitive advantage for JOB AIR Technic.
“Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, we have been trying to keep production at least 65 percent of our total capacity. After the completion of the summer holidays, however, we plan to go up to one hundred percent, because we expect a gradual increase in redelivery projects. It seems they will stand for a significant part of our production for at least another six months,” Vladimír Stulančák comments.
Related to this, the company has resumed recruitment, which it suspended after the outbreak of the pandemic. And Stulančák expects a gradual return to normal within the MRO. “Overall, we expect the MRO market to clear and calm down as far as the qualified aviation workforce is concerned. We lacked qualified personnel before the pandemic broke out,” Vladimír Stulančák says. And according to him, experienced technicians are slowly returning to the company.
Covid-19 hasn’t disappeared yet
Since this spring, JOB AIR TECHNIC has been struggling with restrictions on travels from third countries like mandatory quarantines and testing. Already in the spring, the company helped return the crews transporting aircraft for maintenance to their home airports by using leased business jets so that the crews avoided quarantine.
“These days, we face a problem of transporting representatives from the U.S. to the Czech Republic. The visitors from the U.S. are now prohibited from entering the Czech Republic according to the regulations. This problem can usually be resolved through working with agents and external collaborators within the European Union. But it is not always possible. And surely, we use online communication when possible,” Vladimír Stulančák explains.
In addition, hygiene regulations and standards are strictly observed in the company and its premises, as an infected worker can temporarily send home all the staff. This situation is made even worse by the fact that the Moravian-Silesian Region, where the company operates has become one of the epicentres of Covid-19. Despite this, JOB AIR TECHNIC, is doing fine in this difficult year.