Challenges and trends in aircraft MRO

Credit: HAECO

Challenges and trends in aircraft MRO

It is a safe assumption to say that no one in the aviation industry needs a reminder that the world has become a different, more challenging place after emerging from the pandemic - perhaps the biggest challenge our industry has ever faced.


Resilient despite major challenges

Despite these major challenges, HAECO has shown remarkable resilience and adaptability. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the aviation industry hard, with travel restrictions and reduced demand leading to significant financial losses. HAECO faced the additional challenge of Hong Kong and China being among the last few places to open their borders as the pandemic eased. Despite the severe impact on its airframe services in Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland due to flight reductions and quarantine requirements, HAECO made the bold decision not to lay off any employees. Instead, it continued to invest heavily in training and development to maintain the skills and experience of its workforce. HAECO also intensified its LEAN and Continuous Improvement efforts, such as the introduction of a fully automated warehouse. Its approach aimed to be prepared for the recovery of the market, and the recovery has come quicker than anticipated. The latest IATA numbers from September 2023 show a 29.6% increase in international air traffic compared to the same month a year ago, with robust growth in all markets. International revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) reached 88.7% of July 2019 levels, and the industry achieved the highest monthly international passenger load factor (PLF) ever recorded at 85.7%. This robust recovery has had a positive impact on the MRO industry in general and specifically on HAECO, with full hangars and limited slot availability being solid indicators of the recovery.

Qualified staff, supply chain and geopolitical risks

However, challenges still cast a shadow over the aviation industry's well-recovering state. Aircraft base maintenance, being a labour-intensive industry requiring highly skilled specialists, faces the difficulty of finding such individuals in the market. The post-pandemic labour market has fundamentally changed, with highly specialized people being sought after not only by the aviation industry but also by other industries offering well-paid jobs with less skill requirements and responsibilities. Additionally, the aviation industry as a whole is grappling with supply chain issues and geopolitical challenges.

Efficiency, digitalization, and sustainable growth

To address these challenges, HAECO has recognized the need for efficiency, digitalization, and sustainable growth. Challenging the efficiency and effectiveness of its daily work and constantly questioning processes and priorities is ingrained in HAECO's DNA. Currently, the entire HAECO team is working on a range of innovation projects under the "One HAECO" effort, ensuring that it maintains its position as a world-leading MRO provider in terms of optimized ground times, quality, safety, and staff commitment. These innovation projects primarily focus on digitalization, with HAECO developing and introducing a customer gateway using agile project management methodologies such as scrum. The overwhelming feedback from customers serves as important proof of concept that digital projects have the potential to drive efficiency and effectiveness in the medium to long term, despite the usual cost incentives. Building on this learning, HAECO is currently running several game-changing digital and technological projects, including data analytics, robotic process automation, and automated guided vehicles for tool and material transportation, among others. 

The last pillar of HAECO's strategy is sustainable growth, which involves adapting to market conditions and preparing for new technologies. HAECO has recently announced the opening of a new base maintenance facility in Xiamen in 2026. This state-of-the-art facility will incorporate the latest green technologies, such as wastewater reuse, solar power, and optimized climate control for hangars and buildings. The new facility will also provide ample space for implementing new technologies and automated processes, ensuring that HAECO remains a world-leading MRO provider with a global customer base. Another aspect of HAECO's growth effort is its focus on nose-to-tail services. By offering services for components and composite repairs, inventory technical management, base and line maintenance, global engine support, and full engine MRO, HAECO is well-equipped to address the challenges of our fast-moving industry.