Facing Down Growth

Emirates251In October 1985, Emirates Airline began service with a leased Boeing 737 and Airbus 300-B4, basically serving Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian destinations. Fifteen years later, in 2000, it had grown to 28 aircraft. Today it has more than 200 aircraft, and took delivery of its 44th A380 last December for a total of 12 delivered in 2013 and a fleet total of 212. It is the world’s largest operator of the world’s largest commercial jetliner, and will be taking delivery of another 13 in 2014.

Last November Emirates entered the aviation record book by placing the largest aircraft order by dollar value in civil aviation. During the biennial Dubai Air Show, it placed an order for 150 Boeing 777s, consisting of 35 777-8Xs and 115 777-9Xs, plus options on an additional 50, along with an order for an additional 50 A380s, for an estimated list price of $99 billion.

This gives the Dubai, UAE-based carrier a total firm order book of 385 aircraft consisting of 214 Boeing 777s, 101 Airbus A380s, and 70 Airbus A350s.

It thus becomes clear why maintaining the current fleet while preparing for incoming aircraft is a major challenge facing Emirates Engineering, the maintenance branch within the Emirates Group.

The airline is expecting to take 25 of its new A380s just within the next four years, so a major part of that challenge is physically preparing to take delivery of the new aircraft while maintaining the current fleet plus preparing its older fleet of leased A330s and 340s to be returned.

To do that, it is in a major facility expansion mode, building four new hangars to add to the seven hangars currently available at Dubai International Airport (DXB), according to Iain Lachlan, Divisional Senior Vice President, Aircraft Maintenance Engineering. All of the current hangars are A380 compatible, as will be the four new ones, with each having floor space of approximately 100 square meters, Lachlan said. The seven hangars, plus a paint hangar, is considered the largest free-spanned structures in the Middle East, with roofs support by 110-meter long single spans.

The new hangars are expected to be ready during the first quarter 2014. Emirates also has an engine test cell capable of producing about 150,000 lbs of thrust. Both of these are located about 40 km from the airport. Lachlan said the engine test cell will focus primarily on GE 90 engines used to power the 777 and the GP7200 engines used on the A380.

Preparing for the introduction of the new aircraft is not cheap. Unlike maintenance operations such as Lufthansa Technik and British Airways Engineering, Emirates Engineering does not sell its services to third-party operators, particularly at the C check level. The maintenance facility is simply too busy with the introduction of new wide body aircraft to take on additional heavy maintenance for other carriers, Lachlan said. The facility already has five lanes for C checks, with a sixth coming on line in 2014 and a seventh in 2016 just for its own aircraft.

“So with the fleet growth, I need additional hangars just to manage the existing fleet. With a fleet of 180 aircraft, all wide body, and growing with another 200 aircraft (coming in), we just don’t have the capacity.”
However, it does support other airlines at the line maintenance level, Lachlan said. It currently provides support for six airlines at its Dubai hub—Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Singapore, Singapore Cargo, Korean and Air France.

It will also assist other carriers at other destination airports if needed. “We don’t turn down people that need help. We are also the Middle East agent for aircraft recovery, with all the recovery equipment necessary to an aircraft having difficulty. We have the recovery jacks and the trained personnel, and we work with the IATA supplier for the region. We have invested heavily in that.”

Emirates Engineering also is not considered a profit center and does not sell its service to the airline.


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