Keeping planes in the sky

GAMCO, has built a client base that extends from BA to DHL for aircraft from Airbus, Boeing and Lockheed. The company serves as MRO to the UAE air force and has expanded to other industries as well.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  July 2, 2003

I|~||~||~|The Gulf Aircraft Maintenance Co., GAMCO, had its start back in 1987. Back then, the main reason to get the company underway was Gulf Air: it needed an organisation to provide it with MRO. Today, the story is very different. Although GAMCO still serves as Gulf Air’s primary MRO, it is a diversified company with a wide customer base that is growing both in terms of turnover and capability.

GAMCO is mostly owned by the Abu Dhabi government. The actual ownership is 60% government and 40% Gulf Air. “But now the Abu Dhabi Government owns 33% of Gulf Air after Qatar pulled out, and there are only three countries, so the government has effectively increased it share,” says Mohammad Al Sirhan, an aeronautical engineer and assistant manager, engineering, with GAMCO.

This structure ensures a steady flow of Gulf Air and UAE defence work through the company’s hangars and workshops on its campus inside Abu Dhabi International Airport. GAMCO could have sat back on this assured business; but it has chosen to build on this stable foundation and it has built a world class MRO facility that has customer airlines from all over the world.

The core business provides maintenance, repair and overhaul for all Airbus types and all Boeing airframes, except the 777 and 737. But in the two and a half years since HE Dr Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saif Al Nahyan arrived to take over GAMCO from his stint running Gulf Air, the company has been put on a path of aggressive expansion. New hangars have been built; more engine types have been added to the portfolio; new military business has been added, and GAMCO now also undertakes the overhaul of industrial gas turbines, the Rolls-Royce Avon and GE turbines used in the oil & gas and electricity-generation industry.

The company’s latest addition of which its executives are very proud is a new hanger built specially for the A380. Some 18 months ago, “we took the dimensions of the new airplane and gave them to the consultants who designed the hanger. Today, it is ready,” says Al Sirhan. The company is, Al Sirhan thinks, the first MRO in the world to have a hanger built and ready to take the Airbus 380.

The hanger is large enough to take just one A380 at 10 000 m2, but you could squeeze three wide body jets and one single-aisle into it. At present the hanger is being used to service Tristars. GAMCO is in fact one of only three MROs in the world that is capable of fully maintaining the Tristar, and it has an excellent reputation for doing so. Just a little more than five years ago, the company won the contract to maintain the UK RAF’s nine Lockheed Tristar L1011 tanker/transport aircraft from an MRO based in England, and, last year, “it was renewed for another five years,” says Al Sirhan. It was a major coup for the company to win, and then win again. “The RAF found us more competitive and the fact they renewed for another five years shows that they are getting a good deal from us,” he adds.

GAMCO is able to provide a complete package for the aircraft that it supports, from the nose to the tail, including engines. This is done up to and including D checks with major modifications and refurbishments.

The company has four hangers, two engine test cells, and workshops, engineering support and a non-destructive testing department that together could just about build a plane from scratch. The main hanger and the new A380 hanger is where civil aircraft go when they come in for maintenance.

||**||II|~||~||~|Structural repairs to airframes are an essential part of that complete package. “Typical repairs are made to flaps or engine cowlings. But most repairs are done in situ on the airplane because the damaged part is not removable. It is the people in the structure shop who do it. Wear and tear, corrosion, cracking and damage. This is really important to any airline,” says Al Sirhan.

The sequence often starts with NDT, non-destructive testing. Every hour spent testing an aircraft can lead to 60 hours of repair work, and it is an essential part of maintenance. GAMCO’s NDT capability includes the five main ways of inspection: magnetic particle, penetrant, ultrasonic, radiography and eddy current. Also the company can use thermography, specifically for A320 elevators, for which it is the only approved method of inspection.

Once a part is inspected and in need of repair, it is sent to engineering planning, who issue a repair card. This details all the steps that are required to salvage the part. The part then goes through the processes it requires: cleaning, machining, plasma wielding, plating, final machining, NDT and then it returns to inspection. “They inspect it again to ensure that the job is carried out according to requirements. If the part is acceptable, it is released and sent back to the parent shop” says Al Sirhan.

If the part cannot be repaired, GAMCO can make it. “We can manufacture some of the airframe, but we cannot do rotating parts. That is not to say that we are not able to, but that we have to get permission from the OEM to make the part on a case by case basis. If we have a requirement for a part that, say, Boeing does not have or cannot do in time, we usually get their OK to make it inhouse and they give us the drawings etc. We always abide by industry ethics and laws. We do not copy unless we get the manufacturer’s permission,” he says.

That the company has the capability to work to the tolerances required is certain: “We do, for instance, manufacture most of our own tools and jigs for assembly fixtures. Jigs have to be very accurate,” explains Al Sirhan.

Given its maintenance function, GAMCO is ideally placed to act as a consultant to airlines. “We assist the airline when they are buying a new aircraft as there are so many options on new planes,” says Al Sirhan. “Typically, we assist the airline in the analysis of the options, in terms of technical advantages, advancement, price, reliability and product support. All this counts when you are selecting the product,” he adds. Take brakes, for instance. Acting on GAMCO advice, Gulf Air uses Messier-Bugatti air brakes on all its aircraft, regardless of whether they are Boeing or Airbus, and GAMCO overhauls the brakes as and when needed.

||**||III|~||~||~|And if you want your plane repainted, GAMCO has a dedicated paint hanger that will house a widebodied jet. The reasons for having just one plane at a time in the paint shop are obvious: “You do not want paint meant for one aircraft drifting onto another perhaps at a different stage,” explains Al Sirhan. It is a limitation that sometimes becomes a problem though, especially when its principal customer, Gulf Air, changes its livery and launches a new airline as well.

“This year and last we had enormous demand for painting to the extant that Gulf Air this year were unable to accommodate all of their planes in the time that they wanted. Now they have planes going abroad to Shannon in Ireland and to Hamburg,” says Al Sirhan. It is a situation that GAMCO is starting to address.

Once the airframe is fixed, aircraft engines are a major priority. The company has long had the capability to provide complete overhaul, refurbishment and modification for Tristar RB211-22Bs and 524B02 turbofans as part of the complete package associated with the RAF contract. Also, the GE CF6-80C2 engine and CFM International CFM56-5A3 for Gulf Air’s 767-300ERs and Airbus A320-200s, respectively, have been in the portfolio for some time. This year should see the complete integration of engines for Gulf Air’s A330s. GAMCO has just last month contracted Rolls-Royce to support a TotalCare agreement for Gulf Air’s fleet of six A330-200s, which are powered by Trent 700s.

Under the terms of the agreement, GAMCO will manage the contract on behalf of Gulf Air. “We are preparing for the Trent 700, which is used on the A330s. We are still working on it but I expect it to be completed in September,” Al Sirhan says. The company has two test cells, one of which is being set up for the big turbofans, and will test the Trent 700. From a new control room, engineers can ‘fly’ the engine and monitor it. The really advantage of the set up is though that engine types can be switched just by changing test programs.

Much of what is needed to make a plane and its engines good are spare parts, which have to be stored. “We are building a brand new store warehouse, which is to be ready very soon. We mainly provision the manufacturers’ recommendations for each airplane type in Gulf Air’s fleet. But for third party planes, we provision mainly consumables parts: parts like nuts and bolts, fasteners, seals oils. Rotables, heavy items like pumps etc., have to be supplied by customers themselves,” he explains.

Spare parts are not everything. The company’s ability to do what it does comes from its workforce. “There are maybe 70 or 80 different nationalities working at GAMCO. A makeup that is quite different to that of other MROs. In Europe, for instance, the majority of the workforce would be European or same-country nationals. But here our very versatile workforce means that people come to us from different cultures, different airlines, and with different expertise. So you can image the advantage we have. We have people from Canada, Europe, Asia, from the Middle East, from all parts of the world,” says Al Sirhan.

This mix of nationalities gives Gulf Aircraft a wide skills base. It is, for instace, the only non-destructive testing shop in the region that has full approval to UK Civil Aviation Authority regulations. It also boasts the only Level III approved personnel, who act as consultants to other airlines in the area, so giving them the ability to do non-destructive testing.

GAMCO also invests in that workforce. Training is carried out in a brand new facility for full approval, refresher or familiarisation courses on airframes for Boeing 767, Lockheed L1011 and Airbus A320, A330 and A340; CF6, CFM56 and PT6 engines and various auxiliary power units. There are also courses provided for non-destructive testing, calibrations; aircraft welding and industrial safety.

Al Sirhan says that there are no plans for flight crew training, but does not dismiss the idea: “Maybe in the future we will be talking about this.”

There is not doubt, however, that the GAMCO will continue to grow in other areas in the future. Just this year it has integrated the A380 hangar, set up new training facilities and a bespoke stores facility. The company will expand further yet as and when it can.

“Gulf Aircraft has always followed the market. If there is a genuine need for expansion, this is justified to the top management and typically we see expansion matches the growth of the business that comes into the company. We started with the main hanger, and now have about four big hangers. Basically every four years, we have a major expansion, we build a new hangar,” says Al Sirhan.||**||

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