After 30 years of building its reputation as a quality aircraft painting company, MAAS Aviation is poised to take off on both sides of the Atlantic. Michael Sommers spoke to Gerry Prizeman, VP of marketing and communications, about the European company’s plans to triple capacity and soar among the segment’s jumbo players.
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In 2012, when Airbus, one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers, made the important decision to set up shop in the United States, it issued a tender for a paint partner. The successful applicant was MAAS Aviation giving rise to it’s arrival into the US market for the first time.
Awakening to the Aftermarket
MAAS Aviation has been working with Airbus in Europe for several years , applying paint to its newly produced aircraft at the Airbus manufacturing facility in Hamburg and at its own base in Maastricht, Netherlands. The partnership proved beneficial to both parties and when Airbus decided to open a $600-million, 53-acre A320 Family manufacturing plant in Mobile, Alabama’s Brookley, Aeroplex, MAAS won the contract to design, construct, and operate its own on-site paint shop, on behalf of Airbus, at a state-of-the-art hangar next door.
MAAS had already earned renown for the quality of its work in Europe. However, Mobile’s extreme heat and humidity provided new challenges, necessitating investments in top-of-theline air-conditioning and heat management systems. Despite these climatic considerations, in 2015, the company completed the first of two planned single aisle paint shops on budget and on time, after 16 months of construction. Confesses Gerry Prizeman, vice president of marketing and communications: “Adapting to local conditions drove up the price, but it’s a price we need to pay. Anyone from the industry who has seen the quality of our hangar and our paint finish has been hugely impressed.”
Having initially located in Mobile in support of Airbus, MAAS decided, in 2015, to make an even more monumental move by branching out into the U.S. aviation aftermarket. With this goal in mind, the company is currently building a $13 million twin-bay hangar at the Brookley Aeroplex. Upon its completion in January 2017, the new facilities will be able to accommodate the Airbus 320 Family and up to Boeing 757 and any other single-aisle aircraft – up to 90 a year in total.
If MAAS is optimistic about its aftermarket future, it’s not solely because its 30-year reputation in Europe precedes it. What adds to the opportunity in it’s Mobile operation is the presence of VT Mobile Aerospace, a specialist in MRO (Maintenance Repair and Overhaul), which had already set down roots at the Aeroplex in order to refurbish jetliners being leased, sold to new operators or coming in for scheduled work. VT offers clients a full range of services, with the notable exception of repainting – which is where MAAS comes in.
The two companies – and neighbors – have joined forces, selling their combined services as “End2End”. “What this means is that if you fly an aircraft into Mobile for maintenance with VT, it can be painted by us – all in one location,” explains Prizeman. “There are two major upsides to this: Less time spent on the ground translates into greater capacity for dollar generation for the aircraft operator (because the plane is in the air and not on the ground). Customers also avoid the cost of flying to a separate location for painting.”
While MAAS recognizes the competitive advantages of such one-stop shopping, it’s also aware of the fact that it has to prove itself in the American market. “We’re already coming into Mobile with a strong reputation on the back of our history in Europe,” says Prizeman. “Our association with Airbus to paint their new aircraft testifies to our high-quality aircraft finishing and we want to sell this to U.S. carriers, thereby offering them the highest standards of finish available.
Lofty Standards and Expectations
Prizeman is referring to the standard of the paint shop’s quality finish as well as the expertise with which it is applied and the speed at which jobs are executed. In terms of coatings, MAAS often works together with paint manufacturers on new products trials. However, ultimately it’s the quality of the application that creates a professional finish, which is why the company invests heavily in training programs. In Mobile, for example, MAAS has established a paint-training school where applicants undergo rigorous training to ensure prep and finishing is carried out to the highest caliber. “There’s a lot of R&D spending in order to get a sharper product,” says Prizeman. “But even the best coating is no good if people can’t apply it professionally.”
Apart from highly trained and motivated staff, the company ensures quality paint application by investing heavily in its docking systems, which are exclusive. While many competitors use alternative access systems to work on the aircraft during painting, MAAS employs a proprietary fixed system whose solid base allows staff access to all parts of a jet without danger of impact upon the aircraft.
“We invest in, state-of-the-art hangars, air handling systems and docking systems because clients always expect more,” explains Prizeman. “We’re a very customer-centric company, working constantly with clients, and extremely mindful that they receive the quality finish they expect.” High client contentment has earned the company exceptionally strong reviews and has leveraged its progress with new American clients, who have been very receptive to MAAS’s arrival on the scene.
MAAS hopes that when both new hangars are in full operation, aftermarket clients will account for 50 percent of its total US business, with Airbus representing the remaining 50 percent. Prizeman points to the fact that both Airbus and Boeing are very busy, with many years of backlog market orders ensuring high production. “Over the last several years, aircraft have been ordered and produced at record levels. All of those aircraft will need to be painted and re-painted in due course.”
Indeed, the future looks so bright that MAAS is going on a building spree. In addition to the twin-hangars in Mobile, the company is currently constructing another Airbus hangar in Hamburg. Scheduled for completion in October 2016, it will double the company’s painting capacity of new A320 Family aircraft – to 100 planes a year. Meanwhile, in Maastricht, where the company concentrates its European aftermarket services, a new facility next to the company’s original hangar will see capacity there increase to 120 Single Aisle aircraft per year. Additionally, there are plans to build yet another hangar in Hamburg and expectations are that Airbus will soon need a second OEM facility in Mobile.
“By 2018 we could end up with a total of eight or nine paint shops; up from four currently,” says Prizeman. “This is going to near triple our business. Increasing our capacity on such a scale takes us into the realm of exponential growth in terms of revenue.”
Prizeman emphasizes the significance of the Mobile operation to the entire group by pointing out that, once production is at full capacity, U.S. operations will represent 50 percent of MAAS’s total business. Moreover, once construction of all new hangars is completed in 2018, MAAS will be painting over 400 aircraft a year.
“This is a company with a long history in Europe and a developing history in the U.S that is on its way to becoming one of the world’s largest aircraft painting companies,” declares Prizeman. “There are bigger players than us out there, but this growth plan really does put us into the big leagues.”