Going places: Kaunas carves out an aviation and MRO niche
With a history of technical expertise in the aviation and maintenance, repair and overhaul industries, Kaunas has built a niche for itself in this field, aided by its international airport and adjacent free zone, as Natasha Turak finds.
Engineering talent has put Lithuania in a prime position to attract a broad spectrum of technical industries. One such industry that Kaunas hopes to thrive in is maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) in the aviation sector.
A further attraction for investors in the aviation sector is Kaunas International Airport, the second largest passenger airport in Lithuania, which saw its highest number of travellers in 2016 at 750,000. While this pales in comparison with capital Vilnius’s airport, which saw 3.8 million passengers in that time, Kaunas International Airport officials are not worried – their goal is to develop Kaunas as an industrial hub for cargo and technical services.
“We have potential for technical maintenance and MRO activities, and we want to expand this,” says Jurate Baltrusaityte, chief commercial officer at Kaunas International Airport. Lithuania boasts more aviation technicians per capita than Germany, France and the UK, and MRO companies in the country currently employ 1200 people and maintain more than 300 aircraft per year. In Kaunas, the presence of major industry players such as Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair, Danish MRO provider Dot LT and Lithuania’s FL Technics – as well as a close proximity to Kaunas Free Economic Zone (FEZ), with which the airport shares a common border – gives the city a unique advantage both within the country and Baltics region.
In 2015, Kaunas International Airport developed a new taxiway and parking area specifically designed to enable MRO organisations to establish their operations there, according to Ms Baltrusaityte. The airport is also planning to develop Aerohub Kun, an area dedicated to MRO business development.
“We want to see more hangars being built for technical maintenance and the extension of this taxiway to Kaunas FEZ territory to provide direct access to customers who need it,” says Ms Baltrusaityte, who adds that the FEZ is ideal for air logistics, warehousing, manufacturing and small aviation companies.
Lithuanian FL Technics, part of Avia Solutions Group and the largest MRO company in the country, provides line, base and component maintenance for A320 and B737 aircraft services in its hangar in Kaunas Airport. In total, the company has more than 24,000 square metres of hangar space with a workforce of some 800 people.
Ryanair opened its Kaunas base in 2010 before establishing its Kaunas Aircraft Maintenance Services (KAMS) two years later. KAMS operates 3500 square meters of MRO facilities in two bays, employing about 150 MRO staff. Cargo is serviced by APCargo, which owns 5500 square metres of warehouses and provides cargo handling services for global shipping companies UPS and TNT. And in 2016, the airport welcomed European low-cost carrier Wizzair, which introduced five new direct destinations.
“Last year the growth of the overall Lithuanian passenger market was more than 13%,” says Ms Baltrusaityte. “Our technical maintenance customer base is also growing – we see aircraft coming in from the Ural region to several carriers working in South America on a regular basis.” Working with local logistics partner Hoptrans, the airport also receives cargo charters from China transporting goods from around Europe.
Ryanair plans to add 200 new aircraft to its fleet over the next seven years, and will therefore be looking for facilities for its technical services expansion, according to Kaunas International Airport officials. They feel they offer an ideal MRO destination for the international carrier.
“We’re working on aircraft technician and mechanic training programmes with our universities because there is a need for that personnel. So academia responds to the needs of business,” says Ms Baltrusaityte. “With the advantages we can offer here – the labour cost, labour pool and Kaunas FEZ, we believe Lithuania and Kaunas, with its deep engineering knowledge, could be the place for aircraft technical services development.”
Source: fDi Intelligence