Safran Signals 'War for Talent' within Civil Engine Aftermarket

 - March 1, 2023, 10:45 AM
CFM Leap-1As power TAP Air Portugal's Airbus A320neos. (Photo: Safran)

Safran has started construction of an aircraft engine maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facility at Brussels Airport. The project is part of Safran's strategy to develop and modernize its global maintenance network to support the aftermarket needs of the CFM56 and Leap fleets. The company expects the 8,500-sq-m Safran Aircraft Engine Services Brussels (SAESB) site to go into operation in the first quarter of 2024. It will become the fifth “ultra-modern, new-generation” building erected by Safran around the world, noted Arnaud Haquin, the company's commercial engines MRO vice president. “We are committed to reducing the carbon footprint of our engines but also of our operations and infrastructure,” he said.

The site will produce more energy than it consumes, thanks to the use of solar panels and smart skylights on the roof and new techniques for insulation, heating, and water recovery, Haquin told AIN. As such, he said, the building will meet a “twofold objective” of contributing to the industry’s net zero-carbon goal and supporting the acceleration of MRO activities on the Leap-1A and Leap-1B powerplants.

Through CFM International, the 50/50 joint venture between Safran Aircraft Engines and GE Aerospace, the French OEM produces the CFM56 and its successor, the Leap high-bypass turbofan, which entered service in 2016. The Leap-1A, -1B, and -1C power the Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 Max, and Comac C919 single-aisle jets, respectively. At the end of 2022, CFM had collected orders for 10,000 Leap engines. The backlog has since grown, thanks to the record order from Air India for 420 Leap-1A and 380 Leap-1B engines plus spares destined to power the airline’s newly announced fleet of 210 Airbus A320/A321neo and 190 Boeing 737 Max family aircraft.

Global narrowbody capacity, measured in available seat kilometers (ASKs), had reached 98 percent of 2019 levels in January and by the beginning of February, the number of worldwide CFM engine flight cycles had reached 97 percent of 2019 levels, according to the OEM. 

“We are benefiting from the recovery of air travel,” Haquin remarked, while acknowledging that the planned increase in the production of new engines and engine maintenance activities both face supply-chain problems. “The whole supply chain is growing and there are some tensions,” he told AIN. Speaking during Safran’s 2022 results presentation last month, CEO Olivier Andri├Ęs named supply-chain management as the company’s “number-one priority.” He expected the supply-chain constraints to last until “at least” the end of 2023.

For Haquin, a shortage of skilled labor makes for an equally challenging problem for the aerospace and MRO industry. Good access to skilled labor played a pivotal role in selecting Brussels airport as the location for the new MRO facility, he told AIN. “There is a war for talent,” he said. “Finding the right skills is very important for the moment. We employ about 200 people on the current SAESB site and will hire an additional 80 staff for the new site next year. We are active with engine MRO in the Brussels airport for 24 years. We want to retain these people and their technical know-how.” From its side, Brussels airport wanted to expand its cooperation with Safran Air Engines Services as part of its strategy to expand its real estate activities and develop the northern side of the airfield into a cluster for aviation services.

The new SAESB facility follows a €50 million investment, announced in December last year, in a new 10,000-sq-m production plant for aircraft engine compressor blades and vanes in the Walloon region of Belgium. Safran Blades will produce more than 2,000 blades and vanes a day, claiming innovative, autonomous real-time quality control at every critical stage of production. It will become operational in 2025 and employ about 100 people. Safran Aero Boosters controls a majority stake of 56 percent in the new venture, while the investment vehicles of the Belgian and Walloon authorities each hold 22 percent.

Along with developing its own network of Leap maintenance sites, Safran is expanding its so-called Leap open MRO network with third-party providers. “We want to replicate what we did with the CFM56 and offer operators choice and competition as the Leap fleet grows,” said Haquin. Safran has inked three CFM Branded Service Agreements for Leap-1A and Leap-1B engines—with Delta TechOps, Lufthansa Technik, and Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance.

Safran and GE Aerospace delivered 1,136 Leap engines and 60 CFM56s last year. That compares with 845 Leap and 107 CFM56 powerplants in 2021. Last year, Safran boasted what it called a “solid” civil aftermarket activity, which contains its spare parts and MRO business; revenue rose 29.3 percent year-over-year thanks in part to strong spares sales for CFM56 powerplants.

For this year, Safran projects a full recovery of narrowbody capacity, a 50 percent increase in Leap engine shipments, and an increase in civil aftermarket revenue of “in the low twenties.”