Staff crunch hits Air India's MRO plan

Air India's plans to grow its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business faces a big risk as it faces a severe shortage of aircraft engineers.

Air India hived off its engineering department into a separate unit last January to tap business from other airlines. Primarily, it still caters to Air India's aircraft maintenance but aims to double its third party business to Rs 130 crore in FY 17.

Air India's MRO unit has around 600 aircraft maintenance engineers and faces a shortage of around 100-150 personnel. Recently it hired around 100 of its retired engineers on contract but still the shortage persists.

"Over the next two-three years we will require 250 engineers and the shortage could become a bottleneck to our growth," said H R Jagannath, CEO of Air India Engineering Services Limited.

Part of the additional manpower will be utilised to maintain new aircraft being inducted in Air India's fleet. But hiring engineers is also proving difficult as it essentially means poaching from another airline. The fresh hiring is also to cater to 15-20 employees who are retiring each month.

It takes two-four years for an aircraft technician to secure a type rating and maintenance engineers license and Air India has also begun offering on-job training to technicians from other companies, enabling them to apply to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for licence. 

"We are seeking support of DGCA and Boeing for the training programme. The government too should support the MRO sector by offering five year tax holiday, " he said.

Earlier this year, Air India's MRO began carrying out 'C' check (heavy maintenance check) on Jet Airways Boeing 777 aircraft. It has also signed a memorandum of understanding with SpiceJet to maintain its Boeing 737 and efforts are underway to secure European Aviation Safety Agency certification for MRO facilities in Nagpur and Thiruvananthapuram.

The MRO unit will also start test and minor repairs of General Electric engines which power Boeing 777 planes at its Nagpur unit later this year and complete overhaul of engines will be carried out from next year. The engine overhaul facility, the first of its kind in India, will significantly boost the MRO business as it can undertake engine repairs of all General Electric engine customers.

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