The enormous wave of inflight connectivity installations that will start sweeping Europe this year will require a huge amount of MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) work. Within the next three years, the Lufthansa Group alone will require the equivalent of up to three to five aircraft-years of installation time.
Sitting with Lufthansa Technik’s director of aircraft modification Michael Zeisig and head of aircraft modification international Lukas Bucher during a recent visit, it was clear that the company is excited to ramp up such a large inflight connectivity installation program. With over 150 Airbus A320 family aircraft in mainline Lufthansa alone to initially be outfitted with the Inmarsat Global Xpress (GX) Ka-band connectivity system, Zeisig emphasized that “we are in a close partnership with Inmarsat together with Lufthansa Systems”.
The first A320 family aircraft to be fitted with GX broke cover in June, after Lufthansa Technik secured Supplemental Type Certification.
“This is the kickoff for a huge, huge campaign for connectivity within the European market. It starts with the Lufthansa fleet, and we are talking about up to 300 aircraft to be equipped in the next two-and-a-half to three years. So this is really a huge campaign,” stressed Zeisig during our discussion.
The Lufthansa Technik executive outlined a plan that will support an equipage rate of between eight and ten aircraft per month across the Lufthansa Group fleet. Lufthansa Technik has plenty of experience in installing satellite-supported connectivity, of course, as it has played a crucial role in the Panasonic eXConnect installs on Lufthansa and sister carriers’ longhaul aircraft.
“The most crucial thing for an operator when you have a big fleet is time to market, and what influences time to market is the down time you need for installation for an aircraft, Zeisig said. Four days is the promised timeframe for GX installation, including equipage with the Honeywell-provided GX antenna, and the cabin network system, with potentials to get it down.
But it’s possible to equip more than one aircraft at a time – “going parallel to even double up speed to get it done faster”, explained Zeisig, adding:
One big advantage of us is the big network for base maintenance which we have. We can put part of the planes into base maintenance parallel to C checks, or whatever it would be, but even more importantly the ones an airline operator wants to get done outside of the normal routine.
Once you have decided to go for connectivity for instance, but for cabin modification in general, the key factor is time to market — how much time does it need to get all aircraft equipped? Lufthansa Technik comes into play because we are set up as a MRO company, but we are more than the classic MRO: we have the design capabilities, 21J capabilities, we have really proved in the past that we can handle huge programs, to organize all the logistics, and finally to install it into the aircraft. The advantage to having a great network all over the world for base maintenance is quite important.
Yet Lufthansa Technik also plans to carry out Global Xpress installations outside its half-dozen European base network locations.
“Especially talking connectivity, do you really require a base maintenance facility to do that type of modification?” Bucher asked rhetorically. “Obviously no…” Especially if there is an opportunity to lessen the pain for the operator “because they would not have to ferry fly the plane”.
And when will that kind of non-base location installation be available?
“At the point where we believe we are reliably able to return the plane after a certain time, agreed and accepted by the operator,” Bucher said definitively this spring. “There is nothing more painful to an operator then receiving the news on Wednesday afternoon that the plane is not ready to go back into service on Thursday morning because something did not happen as indicated.”
“There is a big wave approaching,” Bucher added. “There is a desperate need for many operators to get planes modified. We are already trying to make them have [non-base installations available] as soon as possible but also only when we really feel that we are ready for it.”