Chennai airport could soon become the hub for dismantling and repairing aircraft

Chennai could soon become the hub for dismantling aircraft as parts harvested in the city from abandoned aircraft are being sold to refurbish other aircraft around the world.

“The market is huge,” said Pandian Sokku, managing director of Chennai-based maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) company Nano Aviation India Pvt Limited.

Being the first in India to dismantle a Boeing 777 plane by the Jet Airways, his company is now flooded with calls to dismantle aircraft from across the country. “I have dismantled seven aircraft in Chennai and getting more orders,” he said.

Being the first in India to dismantle a Boeing 777 plane by the Jet Airways

Used Serviceable Materials (USMs), which are taken out of abandoned aircraft and are installed in active commercial aircraft, are experiencing a high demand worldwide owing to their ability to lower the maintenance cost.

Notably, several MRO providers around the world are extensively using USMs owing to a rising number of ageing aircraft. As such, a majority of aircraft spares in the market are recycled ones.

They are sold after getting a certification from the authorities concerned. Many airlines use it, Pandian said.

Several MRO providers around the world are extensively using USMs owing to a rising number of ageing aircraft.

Earlier in India, spare parts of leased aircraft could not be imported or exported. Now, however, RBI has changed Foreign Exchange Management Act framework to allow Indian players to export leased aircraft, helicopters, and engines, either fully or knocked down.

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Chennai Airport Director Dr Sharad Kumar said there are two categories of aircraft — one that is turned into scrap due to its being grounded for a long and the other, recoverable. Recently, the Airport Authority of India auctioned four F-27 aircraft of the erstwhile NEPC Airlines. Scrap dealers bought these planes.

A B-777-300 ER, grounded by the erstwhile Jet Airways for over a year and belonging to the second category, however, was dismantled by Nano Aviation. There were also seven ATR 72-500 aircraft of the King Fisher Airlines, grounded in 2012.

Airport Authority of India auctioned four F-27 aircraft of the erstwhile NEPC Airlines. Scrap dealers bought these planes.

Three of them have been attached by the excise department for non-payment of taxes. Of the four aircraft, two have been purchased by Nano Aviation, said, Dr Kumar.

The dismantling of the Jet Airways plane took three months and provided jobs to 100 people, piquing the government’s interest. “It also generated huge revenue and foreign exchange. As such, the government is looking to develop this sector similar to how it did with the Alang Ship Breaking Yard in Gujarat,” said Pandian.

On Chennai’s suitability for the sector, he said having a port nearby makes transportation easier. “I can’t do it in Hyderabad or Bengaluru as I have to transport the spares by road to the port. In Chennai, the port hardly takes two to three hours away. About 90% of aircraft spares export is done via the sea,” he said.

The MRO will be set up over 3,000sqm by the side of the secondary runway.

The Airports Authority of India has begun the paperwork to build a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility near the second runway to encourage airlines to maintain their planes and turn Chennai airport into a hub.

The plan was suggested as part of the airport expansion project, which includes adding more facilities like the MRO, a fuel farm and more parking bays to equip the airport to handle passenger and aircraft traffic in the coming years as plans for a second airport are progressing slowly.

The MRO will be set up over 3,000sqm by the side of the secondary runway. The land has been earmarked near a set of parking bays and hangars. A tender has been floated to identify a contractor who will build and operate the facility for 30 years.

Aircraft and their parts can be stored, scrapped and recycled.

Firms interested in bidding will be visiting the airport in the coming weeks. The project is to be completed in a year. Sources said the MRO’s hangar will come up in front of a set of remote parking bays where planes can be parked. An airline hangar is also nearby.

Airliners are typically operated for 20 to 30 years. Corrosion, metal fatigue, and low availability of new spare parts are problems encountered in greater frequency the older a machine becomes.

Eventually, these factors, alongside improvements in fuel efficiency and reduction in maintenance cost of newer machines, reduce the economic viability of the operation of older airliners. Consequently, they may be stored, or scrapped and recycled.

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