Like many divisions of businesses worldwide, the technical department of Thai Airways wants to become more than a cost center to the airline.
Khun Sombat Sornaray, deputy director of the Aircraft Overhaul Department at the Thai Airways Maintenance Center at Don Mueang Airport outside of Bangkok, doesn’t mince words when talking about the aircraft maintenance work being performed in the airport's enormous hangers: “Safety and customer service cannot be compromised.”
The airline hopes to convert the maintenance center from a cost center for Thai Airways to a money-making enterprise. The airline is seeking new aircraft maintenance customers among the airlines that fly into Thailand and among Thailand’s budget airlines, but will not sacrifice the safety of its employees or customers in the process, said Sornaray.
According to Thailand’s Board of Investment, the Thai aviation industry rapidly has grown over the past few decades as the country became more of a tourist destination and as Thai residents started traveling more. In 2013, Suvarnabhumi International Airport (where Thai Airlines also has a maintenance center) transported 50.9 million passengers, making it the third busiest airport in ASEAN, behind Indonesia’s Soekarno-Hatta and Singapore’s Changi airports.
As the number of flights and airlines coming in and out of the country increased, Thailand evolved into a regional aircraft service and maintenance hub, providing services such as refueling, repairing, maintaining and refitting aircraft. Many of those services are offered by Thai Airways’ Don Mueang Maintenance Center.
The center has 50 years of experience with structural, hydro-mechanical, engine, instrument, radio, electronics and avionics overhaul for all Airbus A300-600, A310, A330 and Boing B737, B747 and B777 series. The massive maintenance center at offers five hangers – six bays – large enough to fit a B747 and one bay large enough for a B737.
Combined, Thai Airways maintenance centers include airframe heavy maintenance customers Japan Airlines International, Nippon Airways, Lufthansa Technik, Air France, Siberia Airlines, MIAT Mongolian Airlines, Southern Air Inc., Thai Smile Airways and Nok Airlines Public Co. Ltd. The maintenance center is responsible for much of Thai Airways heavy maintenance jobs.
Of Thai Airways nearly 4,200 employees, more than 200 are assigned to the maintenance centers, but the airline hopes to increase that number so it can build more capacity and accommodate even more customers.
Employees undergo extensive training, including regulatory courses (human factors, electrical wiring, EASA part 145 and EASE-Aviation legislation, fuel tank safety and workplace safety, to name a few) as well technical training in basic aircraft mechanics and as well as ISO 9000-2008 and inspection techniques.
The center has approvals from a number of international aviation associations, including Thai DCA (Thailand), FAA (United States), EASA (European Union), JCAB (Japan), CASA (Australia), HKCAD (Hong Kong), (GCAA (UAE) and others.
While the majority of planes serviced belong to Thai Airways, other airlines are taking advantage of the competitive cost of doing business in Thailand and the close proximity of Thailand to some of their major travel routes.
"Many airlines fly into Thailand," said a manager at the Don Mueang Maintenance Center, "and it makes more sense in many cases for them to do routine and heavy maintenance here – if Thailand is their regular route – than to take the plane out of service for weeks so they can fly it back to the United States, Europe, Australia or other countries. We have trained, skilled workers; we have access to the same parts; and we are certified by the same agencies as maintenance facilities in their home countries."