Nagpur: The city-based Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) unit of Air India might turn a defence business hub if the plan of the State-run airliner gets the necessary push. Air India is seeking defence business for its MRO in Nagpur as part of diversification plan, even as nation’s oldest airline uses the facility for major repairs of its own wide-bodied aircraft.
Moreover, Air India is also approaching domestic airlines such as Jet Airways (India) Ltd, IndiGo (run by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd), GoAir (run by Go Airlines India Pvt. Ltd), SpiceJet Ltd to service their aircraft at the Nagpur MRO, said two Air India officials, who did not want to be identified.
“Air India is seeking defence business in Nagpur. Air Force is showing keen interest in getting its IL76 and AN32 aircraft serviced at Nagpur facility — particularly painting, structural repairs etc,” said one the officials cited above.
“Air India is actively following up with the Air Force,” he said. The Nagpur MRO faced initial trouble with some Air India employees expressing their unwillingness to relocate to the city in Maharashtra. An MRO consultant, requesting anonymity said, engineers don’t want to relocate as there is no social life at Nagpur.
“Air India has a huge infrastructure. But I doubt they are putting those to best use,” he said. However, the second official denied any such issues. “Sixty-four people have been employed on contract and 27 permanent staff were transferred. The 64 include eight AMEs (aircraft maintenance engineers) and 58 technicians recruited through a service provider. Fifty percent of the technicians are local. In addition to this facility, management work has been sub-contracted and the majority are locals,” he said.
The official said activity has already picked up at the Nagpur MRO and the facility has been made fully operational. For instance, the D-Checks (major repairs) on Air India Boeing B777 aircraft which is generally done after 3,000 days of use, are now done at Nagpur, he said.
In February, Air India invited Expressions of Interest (EOI) from private firms to operate and manage its airframe MRO facility in Nagpur. It has received nine bids and is yet to select the winning bidder.
A greenfield project:
The Nagpur MRO is a greenfield project built by Boeing Co. at a cost of $107 million as part of a deal related to the acquisition of 68 Boeing aircraft in December, 2005. The MRO project will be fully ready after a GE branded engine shop is operational by 2018 to repair aircraft engines. In June 2010, 50 acres of land was acquired on a 99-year lease from MADC (Maharashtra Airport Development Co.) in the SEZ area at Nagpur airport to set up the MRO facility.
Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T) was awarded the contract to design and build the facility. Construction work started in March 2011. Boeing handed over the facility to Air India on December 29, 2014. There are two hangars, each of which can accommodate one wide-body or three narrow body aircraft. Each of these hangars has an area of 21,000 sq.m., big enough to house the biggest commercial aircraft in the world.
The facility has been built with the highest level of design and safety standards as applicable to similar Boeing facilities in the US. The second Air India official said Air India spent around $8 million towards tools and equipment.
“Additional tools are being purchased to enhance the scope of approval to cover checks on A320 family aircraft. Air India also has long-term plans to have approvals for B737 and B787,” he said.
“The Nagpur MRO is targeting all the domestic operators as well as international airlines within flying distance of five hours. At present, MRO is assured of Air India’s captive business which will cater to only 40% of its capacity,” he said.