In terms of unit costs, Copeland is confident that the company will be competitive, in spite of having its facilities in the high-cost U.K. The lower labor rates available elsewhere may not translate into lower costs overall because of productivity shortfalls. Productivity is one key element of in-house heavy maintenance and the decision not to offer it to others: Copeland believes it works even with a U.K. base, but only if there is a large common fleet that provides the organization with a consistent flow of nearly identical aircraft.
Because of that strategy, BA is not exploring joint ventures in Asia. “So far, that has proven to be a good solution,” Copeland says.
Its core business promises to be exciting enough over the next few years. BA Engineering is preparing for servicing of the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380, as both models are scheduled to join the British Airways fleet in 2013. “We are using them as a catalyst to get to the generation of airplane maintenance,” Copeland says.
That leads to refinements in training and the skills that are subsequently available. BA Engineering needs to prepare for composite repairs, upgraded electrical systems and issues such as health-monitoring that are present on current-generation aircraft and are being brought to the next levels on the 787 and A380.
On the other hand, the fleet renewal program means that a lot of older aircraft, such as 747s and 767s, will be phased out in the next few years. Preparing them for the next owner requires a lot of work, as well. The last 747s are expected to leave the BA fleet around 2020, while the 767s are likely to be retired earlier. Once they are no longer part of the fleet, BA Engineering will likely lose the capability of serving those types over time. “I don't see much sense in keeping them for aircraft in their declining years and in a high-cost environment,” Copeland notes.
BA also has four cabin refurbishment programs upcoming, adding to the workload for its MRO subsidiary.