British Airways transferred its maintenance base to Wales’ Cardiff International Airport more than a decade ago when costs got too high at its London Heathrow headquarters. Another factor in that decision was the lack of space at Heathrow to deal with the carrier’s growing widebody fleet of Boeing 747s and, more recently, 777s.
According to Wayne Jenner, general manager of British Airways Maintenance Cardiff (BAMC), the airline was attracted to south Wales by the availability of a Greenfield site that could be developed according to its precise requirements. Another key factor was the availability of former employees from the downsized coal and steel industries who have related engineering skills and could be retrained at local colleges.
The company has been able to significantly lower its maintenance unit costs at the new site significantly, by introducing new cell-based working structures and practices from day one. The task of overhauling each aircraft has been broken down into more efficient processes for which parts are delivered in task packages.
Moving to Wales has undoubtedly lowered BA’s maintenance bills but the company certainly isn’t complacent about costs. The Cardiff operation had to bid for the 777 work and it faces continuing competition from shops in the Far East, such as Sasco and Taeco and the Emirates/Gameco facility in the United Arab Emirates. Man-hour costs for the Cardiff operation are almost $70 per hour, compared with around $29 in China. “There is a constant threat of outsourcing,” admitted Jenner.