Business for general aviation providers in India is generally slow as the economy shows signs of slackening, yet 60-year-old Mumbai-based Air Works Engineering is looking at innovative ways to expand its business in India and abroad.
“We are now looking at doing heavier checks in India–one of the first in the country–as we will get certification, one-by-one, for the Bombardier series, Bell Helicopters and Hawker Pacific,” managing director Vivek Gour told AIN.
The “deep level of heavy maintenance” will encourage customers to get 8-, 10- and 16-year checks in India rather than at facilities abroad, Gour said. While taxes in India are high, labor is cheap. “Clients also save on ferry costs. If hangar rents would come down in India, then it would be possible to do maintenance in India with a significant margin, as well as to attract international customers,” he said.
Interestingly, Air Works’ hangar in Manchester costs $57.5 per sq m per year, compared with exorbitant rents of $343 to $405 per sq m charged at major airports in India.
The company said breaking into commercial aviation is difficult in India, so it has chosen to concentrate on where it does best: general aviation. “We are presently in discussions with Jet Aviation to view opportunities to synergize our business here [in India],” said Nick White, vice president of general aviation at Air Works. “When they send their jets to India, maybe we could support each other,” he added.
Air Works holds EASA certifications at Delhi for the Hawker 750 and 950XP, and was expecting EASA approval for Mumbai early this month. “Our approval will cover the Challenger 300, Challenger 604/605, the Learjet 60 and Global. The reason we have gone for EASA first rather than FAA, is because the operations of India’s regulator, DGCA, are based on EASA rules.”
In June, Air Works India Engineering Pvt. Ltd. made a strategic investment in Dubai-based private aviation specialist, Empire Aviation Group (EAG) that will help Air Works increase its footprint in the Middle East and provide aircraft management services to its customers in India.EAG co-founder and executive director Paras Dhamecha said the move would “help facilitate our entry into India and allow us to exploit more fully the Indian market opportunity by replicating the full portfolio of aviation services for India that we have successfully developed for the Middle East.”
In addition, Air Works will service Challenger 604/605 and Global Express/XRS business jets at Bombardier Aerospace’s 9,042-sq-ft line-maintenance facility at Delhi. It also operates a facility in Mumbai. “The two Air Works facilities are an important part of our overall network in India, anchored by our Mumbai regional support office. We continue to place a heavy focus on growing our local roots in key markets, and are pleased to collaborate with local partners,” said Eric Martel, Bombardier Aerospace president of customer services and specialized and amphibious aircraft.
A new interior refurbishment business facility planned in Mumbai, initially encompassing 7,000 sq ft, will handle carpet cutting and edge binding, seat repair and overhaul, plastic repairs, seat cover manufacture in fabric and leather, leather seat cover reclamation, laminate replacement on sidewalls, ceiling panels, metalwork plating, wood veneer repair and relacquering and galley insert repairs. “We are hoping the workshop will be operational late December under DGCA approval. EASA approval will then follow,” said White. A specific problem in the region is heat damage to wood laminates, “due to direct heat or cracks formed by heat when locked up [as large aircraft are parked outdoors at the airport],” said White.
Air Works is also looking to set up a hangar “that we could use as a base for customers in Chennai and Bangalore, in the south. Customers are becoming less willing to move aircraft long distances. For example, if there is no hangar in Delhi, the customer [based there] is unwilling to come to Mumbai,” said White.
Earlier this year, Air Works paid $30 million for a majority stake in Dubai-based Empire Aviation Services, which specializes in aircraft management, sales, charter and finance.The acquisition is completed and integrated fully with the company’s activities, said Gour. It now also owns Air Livery, its subsidiary, which has a wide experience in the aircraft refinishing market.
The company is looking at tax-free Dubai for its future expansion. It plans to build its first narrowbody-sized hangar of around 3,000 sq m, for which land has been identified, at Jebel Ali Airport. The facility, expected to be set up in three years, will service Indian clients initially. “We are looking at business jets, not commercial clients, as Emirates and Etihad already hold a big market [commercial domain] in the region,” said Gour. “We will invest with our own equity and will have the Empire advantage [with the government]…Here [in Dubai], heavy maintenance will be our first preference,” he added.
Because Dubai is an easy place in which to do business, it will also afford the company easy access to spare parts known to be associated with major clearance issues in India. Also, the facility in Dubai will enable the company to offer across-the-board services “with holistic rates under one roof, occasionally some credit and flexibility.”
Air Works’ international business also is increasing, Gour said. The company recently commissioned a paint hangar under its Air Livery brand at the Bratislava airport in Slovakia, where “business is packed” with bookings up to next May by clients that include Lufthansa, Austrian and Alitalia. “We are positioned to complete four paint jobs in a month,” he explained.