Change at Cityjet is about more than mere job titles and officials business cards


AS Paddy O'Reilly hands you his business card he is quick to point out that is job title has changed.

Mr O'Reilly, previously chief engineer with Cityjet, is now the company's technical director. But the change is about more than merely job titles and business cards.

It is evidence of a much larger transformation which has created 11 jobs and, will involve about £1 million worth of import substitution per year.

When Cityjet was established two years ago the maintenance contract for the company's two British Aerospace 146 planes, which are known as Whisperjets, gas awarded to Hunting Aviation, which is based in East Midlands airport in England.

The larger checks were carried out in Britain while several Hunting staff were based in Dublin under a long term contract to undertake the more regular day to day maintenance.

However, Mr O'Reilly's new title means that Cityjet now complies with JAR 145, the international joint aviation requirement that deals with aircraft maintenance. The JAR requirements are an aviation industry wide set of standards and Cityjet must allow the regulatory authorities to make spot checks to ensure the stipulations are being met to the letter.

Matching JAR145 enables the company to carry out some of its own maintenance at Dublin airport, work that was previously undertaken by staff on contract for Hunting.

The largest full overhaul checks will still take place at East Midlands airport, but recently the Hunting staff in Dublin have been replaced by eleven Irish engineers who have been recruited and trained by Cityjet.

Cityjet, an Irish owned company which operates franchise from Mr Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic, currently has two aircraft, but will be expanding its fleet later this year as new continental routes are added. With each new aircraft comes additional maintenance requirements which will result in further cost savings due to the creation of its own in house maintenance division.

It took several months of intensive on the job training in both Dublin and East Midlands to bring the new staff to the JAR145 level, according Mr O'Reilly.

Despite the fact that the development was costing Hunting business, the British company played a major role in the training of the new engineers. The change in the working arrangements at the company will transfer about £1 million worth of business from the British group to Cityjet.

Almost all of the new staff had aircraft maintenance experience, many with smaller planes, having worked previously for companies such as Iona. "They were aircraft engineers, they just didn't know the 146," Mr O'Reilly said. Learning the ins and outs of the new plane took five months of intensive training.

Having won the certification, which is, in effect, an aircraft maintenance equivalent of a Q mark, or an ISO 9000, Cityjet is now in a position to bid for other maintenance contracts on WhisperJets, according to the company's chief operations officer, Mr Pearse Gilroy. "We can expand quite easily, but the training will always be a cost," he said.

Given that it owns maintenance division is still in its infancy, Cityjet has yet to bid for outside contracts. However, Mr Gilroy believes that there will work available for BA146 jets. "It's a market that has been growing."

The smaller Whisperjets, which are quieter than conventional jet aircraft, are used on many short hop routes in Europe. Four companies currently employ them on routes into Dublin include CityJet, Manx, Hamburg Airlines and Crossair.

Carrying out their own maintenance will save CityJet "several hundred thousands of pounds per year", according to Mr Gilroy. "It should help us reduce are maintenance costs by about 20-25 per cent, and it will also make us more flexible," Mr Gilroy added.

The Whisperjets have four engines and Cityjet always has, two spare engines at Dublin. But, with only two aircraft in its fleet, both of which are leased from British Aerospace, it is imperative that the company is able to change an engine as quickly as possible.

"We have to have the plane on the stand every morning," Mr Gilroy said. "If a plane is down due to maintenance it is very costly. If you lose a passenger, then he's gone for life." Mr Gilroy likens an engine switch to a pit stop in a Grand Prix - it has to be fast but all the safety requirements must be complied with.

Changing an engine can take up to 24 hours, according to Mr O'Reilly, but necessity is the mother of invention and the Cityjet maintenance team can replace an engine in five to six hours. "The pressure is always on us when there is a place down," Mr O'Reilly said.

Almost every part in an plane has a particular life span and must be changed or overhauled to comply with aviation regulations. "Our aircraft are about eight years old, but it's a new plane," Mr Gilroy said.

The high level of maintenance, combined with the service elements of an airline business, has persuaded Cityjet to ask the Government to consider it for the special manufacturing corporation tax rate of 10 per cent. "We have created 130 jobs and we are don't qualify for Government grants," Mr Gilroy said.