Q&A Caroline Vandedrinck

Caroline Vandedrinck

SR Technics is a large MRO service provider in the civil aviation industry headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. The company narrowed its focus to engine MRO and is an authorized CFM and Pratt & Whitney MRO engine shop. It has performed more than 5,500 shops visits for more than 500 customers worldwide. Aviation Maintenance editor-in-chief, Joy Finnegan, had the opportunity to speak with Caroline Vandedrinck, senior vice president business development at SR Technics, recently. Vandedrinck has more than 25 years of experience in aviation, and has held various senior commercial positions for international aviation companies. She joined SR Technics in 2016 as vice president Americas and has played a key role in driving SR Technics’ sales organization forward. She holds a degree in Aerospace Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an MBA in International Business from European University. She’s been in her current role with the company since July, 2020.

AVM: 2020 — what a time to take on that role! Give our readers an overview of what’s been happening the last couple of years and where you’re headed.

Caroline Vandedrinck: Exactly. But it’s been good. We did a successful transformation of the company. We have really dedicated and very talented people and our main focus is now on engines. We focus on the CFM engine and the PW 4000. Those are our mainstay. We also, in the last couple of year’s got the license for the LEAP-1A and B and we are part of the Pratt Whitney GTF PW1100G-JM network. Those are two major milestones that really propel us into the future.

AVM: That’s a lot going on. It’s already a challenge to find people that are qualified that can do this very specific technical work. How are you keeping up with the need for technicians with the current workforce challenges?

Vandedrinck: We’re in the business for the long term. This means we have to hire a lot of people for the new engines. It’s a different team and we have to hire about 400 people in the next couple years, which is a lot of people. And then, of course, we also have to hire just from normal attrition in the main line. We have an apprenticeship program which provides trained employees to our company, but that’s not enough. We have to go wider.

AVM: Go wider — how?

Vandedrinck: We traditionally work with educational facilities. In the past, we looked at Switzerland for our labor force and our apprenticeship program. In recent years, we also went to Germany and France and Italy, so people can easily commute. Now we have to go much further into the EU (European Union). We go to all 27 countries in the EU to look for people with those skills or skills that can be easily trained into our engines.

AVM: Are you offering incentives for people to join the company?

Vandedrinck: Well, Switzerland itself is an incentive to come. It’s safe, it’s clean. Quality of life is really good.

AVM: It’s also expensive.

Vandedrinck: It is, but the salaries are commensurate with that. The cost of living is taken into account. And when there are employees who come from other countries, we have a program that indoctrinates and onboards them. This enables them to get established with a bank account, an identity card and get their own apartment.

AVM: Tell our readers about the Women on Wings (WOW) initiative at your company.

Vandedrinck: SR Technics introduced the Women on Wings (WOW) initiative recently. It’s a dynamic endeavor aimed at promoting the growth of a diverse and inclusive workforce within the company. By offering a network platform, mentoring programs and increased visibility within the company, SR Technics is aiming to support its current and future female workforce in reaching new heights of success. I am the chairwoman of WOW. We’re going to talk about mission and vision and what is it we want to achieve and how can we collaborate together. What are the needs of women in our company? What can we do to retain them and attract many others? We are committed to fostering an environment where every individual’s talents and contributions are valued and encouraged. Collaboration is key to our success and it’s inspiring to see so many talented women leading the way. The company firmly believes that by nurturing an environment where every voice is not only heard but also valued, limitless possibilities for growth and innovation can be unlocked.

AVM: Do you think this initiative will help attract and retain women?

Vandedrinck: Yes — I worked in other companies where they had a women’s network and just having a voice meant a lot. And then, of course, action needs to follow. It’s learning from other companies who have it, guest speakers, and it’s mentorship. When I was early on in my career I definitely valued the mentorship that I had. Anytime I had to make a career decision, I went to my personal board of directors — my dad was one of them — there were three other women that were part of it from totally different aspects of aviation. I would run things by them and say, hey, what do you think?

AVM: Your company says they use a top down, bottom up management style. Please explain that.

Vandedrinck: During Covid, we had a two-year strategy to survive. It was all about survival. Now, post-Covid, we, as a leadership team, spent last year working on what we call “takeoff,” which is the company strategy from 2024 through 2028. We also had to create a new vision, which is about unwavering dedication to innovation, excellence, and environmental responsibility, which will propel us on our journey to becoming the leading, most customer-centric and sustainable engine-focused MRO. As part of the transformation, our company is now 85-90% focused on engines, whereas before we had five different business units. This new strategy has many pillars, some of which focus on growth, people, customers, environment, environmental sustainability in innovation, and digitalization, which then leads to financial success.

AVM: Talk about digitalization. What does that mean to SR Technics? Where are you headed in this regard?

Vandedrinck: This is just the beginning. We’re introducing a new ERP system, which will improve many of our processes. The new system is coming online later this year. But we still have ways to go. Our efforts will focus on process improvements where we have a lot of touch with labor and we have a lot of material planning. There is a lot of innovation that you can do. There’s some artificial intelligence that can be used. We are already using robots on repeatable processes that can be automated.

Caroline Vandedrinck

AVM: Give us some examples of repeatable processes that can be automated.

Vandedrinck: Invoicing. Those types of easy processes that are repeatable. Automating them avoids possible human error.

AVM: What are your thoughts about how AI is going to impact our business?

Vandedrinck: It’s going to be a journey to really understand what value it can bring, but also what pitfalls there are. AI is what you put in to have a repeatable process or to have an answer to a question. But it has to be put in by somebody. And that needs to be verified, especially in aviation. You don’t want to go to ChatGPT and say, “How do I maintain an engine? Using the answer from ChatGPT would not make the engine certifiable.” We as an industry need to be really careful how we use AI and when we use AI. There will be applications, but we are governed by regulatory entities. We have to be careful that we understand it and its pitfalls. We don’t have concrete examples yet but we’re evaluating it. It’s exciting, but we have to go with our eyes wide open.

AVM: Jean-Marc Lenz retired in 2023. Matthias Düllmann was appointed CEO but left the company after only a few months. Owen McClave, formerly COO, succeeded him. Quite a few changes to your leadership. Talk about that.

Vandedrinck: In any company people change, people get changed. It’s a normal way of running a company. Owen McClave has been in this industry for many decades. He worked at Pratt & Whitney. He was our COO. He was running operations. He comes with great experience.

AVM: Let’s talk about some of the locations and can you highlight some of your locations and what they do.

Vandedrinck: Zurich is our headquarters and is also where we have the engine operations. But very important to the engine operations is our facility in Cork, Ireland, where we do the repair of airfoils. That really is our internal supplier to the engine line. Another facility we have is in Malta and this is where we do airframe maintenance. We also have our facility in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is a joint venture haswith SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC). That joint venture has been in place for a couple of years and it’s where we do component repair work. We also have a facility in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, where they focus on the repair and overhaul of wheels and brakes. We also have business development offices in various other places, like we have one here in, in Florida, and we have one in Shanghai.

aircraft engine

AVM: Your promotional materials say your maintenance work is focused on quality, speed, and value.

Vandedrinck: Those are the hallmarks of a Swiss company!

AVM: Talk about how you’re achieving that.

Vandedrinck: So we’re very proud of that because the “Swissness” is about quality, it’s about being on time. And we achieve that with the use of employees. Motivated, talented employees, continuous improvement, training, and leadership.

AVM: This business is about hands on aircraft but also about trust and relationships. Talk about how those two things integrate at SR Technics.

Vandedrinck: Well, you can’t grow unless you have customers and you can’t retain or obtain new customers without relationships and without motivated employees. It all works together. I mean, it’s still a business of people. There may be company names attached to those people, but the relationships are very important.

AVM: And let’s talk about your commitment to sustainability. It’s on everybody’s minds these days. What is SR Technics doing in this area?

Vandedrinck: Environmental protection is a strategic pillar in our organization and our strategy. We are very committed to reduce our CO2 emission by 15% until 2025 from baseline 2019 and being carbon neutral by 2050. We have an action plan to work towards that by addressing everything from energy in the shop for example heating. We’re also looking at the test cell. How can we reduce test cell time and therefore exhaust? We’re also looking at sustainable aviation fuel and together with our partners, Kuehne+Nagel and Atlas Air, Inc., we received the prestigious Laureate Award for the Sustainable Engine Alliance initiative at the 66th Aviation Week Network’s Laureate Awards ceremony. We are looking at not just the engine overhaul piece, but the whole transportation of an engine from wherever it is to an engine maintenance facility. We looked at the whole value chain that makes it important and makes it recognizable and now we have other airlines knocking on the door saying, how can we be part of what you are achieving here?