Is African Business Jet Maintenance Support Improving?

How well is Africa’s business jet maintenance infrastructure developing? How can African aircraft owners and operators work with the available maintenance network to ensure minimal delay when requiring MRO support? Jane Stanbury asks the experts…

Jane Stanbury  |  10th May 2023
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    Jane Stanbury
    Jane Stanbury

    Jane has over 30 years’ professional experience working in the media, communications, Business...

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    How is Aircraft MRO developing in Africa

    As Africa’s business aircraft fleet grows in size, maintenance needs are amplified. In the last decade, ground support capabilities have developed across the continent, including access to maintenance. Yet, the internal network remains relatively limited when compared with mature Business Aviation markets.

    What should aircraft owners consider to help ensure their aircraft receives the quality of maintenance when it’s needed, on schedule?

    Are there additional logistics for African owners and operators to consider? Can required services be provided locally? Or is positioning to a different continent necessary? We’ll look to provide some answers here.

    Some fifteen years ago, Africa was home to some of the oldest aircraft in the global Business Aviation fleet, but as economies have strengthened, domestic and international investment has grown. As a result, new aircraft are entering the fleet, while pre-owned airframes provide valuable solutions for owners seeking competitively priced access to Business Aviation.

    Maintenance support is a pre-requisite for optimized use of business aircraft, so the need for “love on the ground” (a phrase coined by Affinity Aviation’s CEO Andy Hoy) has expanded.

    African Business Aviation owners and operators, and the continent’s Business Aviation association, AfBAA have been lobbying for local support from OEMs and MROs for a decade and, as a result, access to reliable maintenance is slowly becoming a reality, although it comes with caveats.

    African MRO Support: Easy to Find, Harder to Access

    “It’s a chicken and egg situation,” says Jonathan Deutsch, Sales Director for JSSI in Africa. “Do you buy an aircraft type because you know support is available, or do you buy the aircraft you need for your mission, finding the support after?” The sentiment indicates that while maintenance is not difficult to find in Africa, it is not always easy to access.

    “Access to maintenance is way better than, say, five years ago and with more and more aircraft operating so, new maintenance options are coming online,” says Deutsch. With Bombardier, Dassault, Embraer and Gulfstream airframes augmenting the African fleet, the OEMs are acknowledging the support need and adding authorized service centers.

    The weighting reflects the most active Business Aviation hubs in West and South Africa, with Nigeria and South Africa hosting comprehensive maintenance resources.

    Stefan Buschle, Head of MRO Sales (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) for Jet Aviation, highlights that a number of the Business Aviation maintenance centers are privately owned and focus on the owner’s fleet type, adding that maintenance centers in Africa tend to conduct lighter maintenance.

    “There are still less options for access to heavy maintenance outside of the major hubs (of Johannesburg, Lagos), and many owners and operators still prefer to take aircraft outside of the region for the seamless experience at centers such as our maintenance hubs in Dubai, Basel and Geneva,” Buschle says. Indeed, for operators in north and east Africa, European and Middle Eastern options are physically closer.

    Dawit Lemma, CEO of Addis Ababa-based Krimson Aviation says when seeking out a maintenance provider, it is important to consider more than just their location.

    “An MRO with a reputation for quality work is good, but you also need to know that they can deliver the service on time and have the relationships with the required suppliers to facilitate the necessary tasks.”

    Causes for Aircraft Maintenance Bottlenecks in Africa

    Where maintenance bottlenecks do occur, it can often be unrelated to the lack of MROs, but is instead a result of unfamiliarity with the industry. It is still the case that the perception of Business Aviation affects the process.

    “We had one client that needed a new tire,” Lemma recalls. “It was delivered to customs, but it was much smaller than the type of aviation tire the customs guys were used to. They predominantly work with commercial airliner-sized parts. Consequently, they were reluctant to admit it as they were not convinced it was for an aircraft.” 

    Deutsch notes that one of the more inventive solutions to the customs situation is showcased at Lagos airport, Nigeria. The Quits Aviation Services Free Trade Zone is the first of its kind located at a Nigerian airport and accommodates enterprises including ExecuJet Aviation Nigeria and the Legend Hotel, which is part of the Hilton Collection, as well as operators including Anap Jets, Gyro Air, among others.

    “The maintenance teams encounter less problems thanks to the initiative,” Deutsch says.

    He also advises that maintenance for aircraft not on warranty can be harder to source, than for those that are, or that have signed up for maintenance or engine programs.

    “If you are on an engine program, then you are entitled to a loaner engine [to keep you flying while the aircraft’s engine is removed for maintenance work]. This means that your aircraft will be down for maybe three days rather than two months.”

    This works well for large jets, but for smaller aircraft it may be more cost-effective to explore a parts program as with currency fluctuations these can be more cost-effective.

    Registration can also affect maintenance schedules with specific registrations requiring licensed maintenance providers to carry out maintenance work.

    While the perception of African-registered aircraft not being correctly maintained remains strong, those registered, for example, on the Nigerian 5N registry, must be maintained by a licensed MRO. These are mainly in Europe, but local options are increasing.

    Citing Nigeria Deutsch says, “We are seeing more locals working at the Lagos maintenance facilities. This is good all around, as local labor reduces costs. The technicians have been trained by expats, and a local community of experts is evolving.” The value of this enhanced human resource should not be underestimated.

    BizJet Maintenance in Africa: Planning Tips

    The professionals agree that access to business jet maintenance is improving in Africa, although it is still constrained. With business jets operating in an increasing number of diverse African nations, there is still a long way to go to match the established European and North American networks.

    Nevertheless, rigorous planning can go a long way to streamlining the process. Following are some tips to consider to help you plan ahead for your upcoming aircraft maintenance needs…

    • Ensure early planning of all scheduled maintenance tasks for the 12 months ahead.
    • Request several quotes early in the process to ensure a fair price.
    • In addition to maintenance, consider other cosmetic or functional tasks (e.g., cabin connectivity) that could be undertaken simultaneously, helping reduce aircraft downtime.
    • Enlist the help of a specialized maintenance planner. Alternatively, a Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization manager can ensure an effortless experience.
    • Clarify what activities are covered by any quote (a maintenance planner can help with this too).
    • Be selective, ensuring you seek out a maintenance partner you can trust.
    • Support regular maintenance by keeping on-the-shelf spare parts at the bases where you fly to and from most regularly.
    • Keep a minimum equipment list (MEL), simple items like batteries can be difficult to source, so an MEL will help manage this.
    • When registering an aircraft explore what maintenance options are available on your preferred registry.
    • Consider signing up to a parts, engine or maintenance program to spread the costs of maintenance.
    • Prepare for unexpected maintenance by establishing maintenance contacts before they are needed.
    • Work with companies who have a global network to support Aircraft On Ground needs outside of Africa too.
    • Support your regional Business Aviation association. They will be advocating to improve the maintenance landscape and human resources across the continent.

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