Just as Emilia-Romagna is renowned for its cheesemakers and Tuscany for its sangiovese vineyards, Puglia is recognized for its many contributions to Italy’s aeronautical industry. For instance, the Salento area, and Brindisi in particular, is well known for the overhaul and maintenance of engines that power the Italian Air Force. And about 230 miles northwest, in Pomigliano d’Arco, near Naples, Avio Aero is expanding its component production for GE’s new generation engine programs, as well as its component repair and overhaul capabilities.

Throughout the 1970s, Pomigliano was home to an important overhaul center for the commercial engines that powered the legendary DC-10 or MD80 planes. But just as Pomigliano has become the industrial hub of future aeronautical propulsion and has perfected its position as an MRO center specializing in highly complex civil and military engine components, now Brindisi is officially transforming itself into one of the five GE Aviation world service hubs for the CFM56-7B and CFM56-5B engines, which power the most widely used airliners on the planet: the Boeing 737NG and the Airbus 320 family. (CFM56 engines are produced by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines.)

All of these sites have evolved over time to meet the needs of a fast-changing industry.

“In 1996, we acquired what was then Alfa Romeo Avio,” recalls Pierfederico Scarpa, now the strategic marketing, growth and commercial operations leader at Avio Aero. “At that time, the overhaul market had already become very aggressive and global operational changes were playing into the hands of airlines and large OEMs. Thanks to the traditional Avio culture—capable of adapting to the market and of being very resilient—Pomigliano has changed over the years and has grown astoundingly. Today, Pomigliano has a deeply ingrained industrial vocation with top design skills. At the same time, Brindisi enters the civil service market with a solid, active position, built on an outstanding experience in the service of military engines, which require very high levels of performance and reliability.”

Above: The CFM Service team in Brindisi posing in front of the huge test cell that hosts supersonic military turbojets testing. Top: A CFM56-7b engine at the last Paris Air Show.

Earlier this year, the CFM56 fleet achieved one billion engine flight hours, making them the most reliable commercial engines ever. More than 33,500 CFM56 engines have been produced thus far, transporting an average of 7 million people around the world every day. Brindisi joins the four other GE service and maintenance centers located in the UK, United States, Brazil and Malaysia.

The Brindisi site is already in a flurry. A highly diversified team, in terms of expertise and individual skills, is expanding to accommodate the first engines by spring 2020—engines from the British airline TUI, which will be followed in time by several other operators. Within five years, more than 80 engines will cross the threshold of the facility each year.

“This is the result of the work performed in Brindisi over recent years,” comments Roberto Bertaina, Brindisi Plant Leader. “For its global service network, GE Aviation knows that it can count on a plant strongly oriented towards continuous improvement and innovation, where lean and digital concepts are actually our daily way of working.”

The entire GE Aviation service network overhauls about 2,500 engines per year. “This year our team has just over 70 employees and we estimate that we will reach about 200 gradually as the incoming engines progress,” says Antonio Marchesano, who has considerable experience in industrial production and quality management through his 12 years at what is now BHGE. After filling managerial roles at BHGE plants in Texas, he moved to Brindisi in 2016 to be the maintenance repair and overhaul center leader.

The new industrial transformation plan covers an area of almost 4,500 square meters and calls for about $20 million of upgrades for the reception, disassembly, assembly and maintenance areas, the engine test cells, and the enhancement of digital systems.

The CFM56-7b at Le Bourget static display in 2019 equipping a Boeing 737-800 cargo by Prime Air.

“Our systems will be aligned with those in GE Aviation. We will communicate digitally with the entire network,” continues Marchesano. “So, we will use the most advanced and optimized systems and digital tools in the world for the overhaul. We will address this challenge by preparing for a cultural and professional leap with humility—we will apply the Lean concepts that dominate our production thinking of civil aviation overhaul. All this will be done without losing sight of the customer’s needs and with our expertise and the quality of our staff.”

The advent of the fifth global service hub for CFM56 engines in Brindisi was greeted with enthusiasm and was strongly supported by Alan Kelly, the general manager of CFM Services, as well as Maria Deacon, MRO general manager at GE Aviation. They’re both certain that this is a fantastic opportunity for Brindisi and the entire network.

“In addition to expanding, we will enhance our capabilities through the exchange of best practices and the latest technologies, providing potential for other airlines to turn to Brindisi,” says Deacon.

History repeats itself, once again.