Airlines talks to SriLankan Airlines’ Head of Engineering, Shevantha Weerasekera about maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) challenges.
How difficult has it been for an airline engineering division during the pandemic? What challenges did you face?
Like all airlines, SriLankan was affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We grounded part of our fleet and took steps to preserve these aircraft in line with OEM and regulatory guidelines. We also took steps to carry out major maintenance and cabin maintenance while the aircraft were on ground.
During the ongoing pandemic, various countries imposed lockdowns, and service providers implemented work from home and furlough arrangements. This resulted in minor disruption to our supply chain and delays to our outsourced maintenance activity. Except for that, it has been business as usual.
Since October 2020, we have been active with two or more lines of base maintenance and up to 60% of activity in line maintenance and workshops. This is mainly driven by cargo and repatriation flights, scheduled maintenance and third-party business.
Tell us about your plans for the SriLankan Airlines Engineering division?
The engineering arm of SriLankan Airlines can be viewed as an airline- affiliated MRO with over 30 years of experience. It supports all heavy maintenance requirements for the parent airline, as well as a number of third-party customers. We have three heavy maintenance lines in Colombo, Sri Lanka and over the last 10 years, we have completed over 300 customer airline C-checks. We also operate three line maintenance stations at Colombo and Mattala in Sri Lanka and Malé in the Maldives with over 30 customers.
We have a strong intent to develop airframe maintenance and component maintenance in Sri Lanka and further expand the line maintenance network into Asia and the Middle East. SriLankan Engineering has lower labor costs and possesses European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and national authority approvals from multiple countries.
Thus, we are looking at new capabilities that we can justify based on the demand from our parent airline as well as external customers. We are also in discussion with OEMs for possible collaboration or joint ventures as well.
What are the challenges in implementing those plans in the post-COVID environment?
Currently, the post-COVID air travel recovery is a “guesstimate” at best. The business prospects for MROs are closely aligned with that of airline capacity recovery. This makes it challenging to accurately forecast future demand and makes large, long-term investment decisions risky.
In particular, how will you ensure skills are kept up to date?
We operate our own EASA Part 147 approved training school, which delivers a steady flow of ab-initio talent to the operation. We have also used the resources of the school to conduct training to upskill employees and carry out refresher training over the past few months.
The level of activity we have in base maintenance, workshops, line maintenance, and technical support are more than adequate to keep everyone engaged and competent!
How is the MRO industry developing in your region?
We have rapid development of the MRO space in India with a number of new entrants and expansion of existing players. This is a good sign and shows that the region is gearing up for the new aircraft inductions and level of activity of the near future.
Are regulators doing enough to ensure MRO rules meet the changing circumstances and are there are any changes in regulations you would like to see?
The regulators have provided guidelines for airline operations and the maintenance of parked aircraft. We haven’t seen any specific rule amendments for MROs.
The regulators could assist by providing guidelines for maintaining competency and renewing individual maintenance licenses for those who have been made redundant or who have limited working hours.
The airline community will also welcome any guidelines (in addition to OEM advice) on special checks when aircraft are returned to service after long term parking.