Ten years before Qatar Airways became the newest LEAP engine customer with a $4 billion deal sealed in November, a series of other large engine orders first brought GE Aviation to invest in Doha.
In 2009, Qatar Foundation opened the Qatar Science & Technology Park to attract companies to invest locally, form unique partnerships and drive research and innovation, all factors for sustained economic growth. The business park offered a win-win opportunity for GE Aviation to collaborate with Qatar Airways in-region and offer customer support operations only a drive, rather than a transatlantic flight, away. GE committed to opening operations.
The GE Advanced Technology and Research Center (ATRC) joined Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) in Doha and at the site, GE’s aviation unit started an education and training center for commercial jet engine maintenance. Students attended their first class by 2010. At the time, Qatar Airways had selected GE90 engines to power its Boeing 777 aircraft on order, and in 2012, the State of Qatar’s airline was the first Middle Eastern customer to launch the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which it chose to power with GEnx engines.
GE Aviation then expanded the Doha site to open On Wing Support in 2012, providing Qatar Airways and other regional airline customers local on- and off-wing engine repairs.
“We committed to build our GE technology and training center at the QSTP to support the growth of Qatar as an aviation center of excellence. Today, it’s a great honor to see how far we have come and advanced together,” David Joyce, GE vice chairman and GE Aviation president and chief executive officer, said at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Qatar science and technology business center.
Qatar Airways and CFM International, a 50-50 joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, announced this past November Qatar’s 50 Airbus A321neo family aircraft would be powered by LEAP-1A engines. Along with the engine order was a CFM Services agreement for the maintenance of the new LEAP engines to be delivered beginning in 2020.
The $4 billion CFM deal is part of more than $10 billion in engine and service contracts reached in 2019 alone between Qatar Airways and GE Aviation and CFM International. Previously, the world’s top-rated airline also announced plans to be one of the launch customers for the world’s most powerful commercial aircraft engine, the GE9X, set to enter service in 2021.
Over the last decade GE Aviation has become Qatar Airways’ largest engine supplier, now powering more than 70 percent of the carrier’s airplane operations.
“Qatar Airways is a very unique GE customer in many ways, including its diversified fleet, route structure and a five-star airline brand,” said Rashid Khan, previously GE’s senior customer support manager for Qatar Airways. “This unique customer requires special support from its suppliers to maintain the brand reputation it has gained in the industry.”
And it’s why GE Aviation has taken a special approach.
“From on-site field service engineers effectively managing technical issues to a unique setup of an on-site customer support manager and sales director, it provides the right amount of locally-based core customer team support while ATRC engines training and the On Wing Support facility are aligned for quick responses and reduced time on engines repair. A large amount of technology and analytics engagement is also offered by the Middle East Technology Center based in Dubai to Qatar Airways’ technical operations,” Khan said.
The jet engine maker has what the local business leaders call an extended customer team in place.
“Having in-country resources is not just a contractual requirement. It is the cornerstone for a great business relationship,” said Omar El Nogoumy, senior sales director for GE Aviation based in Doha.
At GE’s Advanced Technology and Research Center, GE Aviation offers maintenance training on its advanced jet engines that power aircraft operated by Qatar Airways and other customers in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. Since the facility opened in 2009, more than 3,000 students from 54 airlines in the region have completed training courses, including more than 750 Qatar Airways employees.
“ATRC has become a regional hub, primarily because of the proximity to most of the airlines in the region,” said Andy Haileselassie, site manager and training leader for GE Aviation at ATRC. “We’ve supported most of the airlines’ entry into service by providing them with current trainings, as the human resources change from time to time. We ensure that the airlines are abreast of our current best practices.”
The On Wing Support team provides customers 24/7 engine support, as well as quick turn engine maintenance and overhaul on products such as the GEnx, GE90 and GP7200 engines. On-Wing Support staff have grown from 17 to 40 employees between 2017 and 2019 to support the expanding engine fleet in Qatar and the Middle East. By offering local services and commercial jet engine maintenance, Qatar Airways and other Middle Eastern airlines receive daily support to maintain flying operations.
GE Aviation employees have provided more than 60,000 hours of direct technical support to Qatar Airways per year since 2018 for engine maintenance. This in-country capability reduces the lead time of engine repair by as much as 30 days. That means an engine needing maintenance and repair could return to flight service 30% faster than an engine needing to be transported out of country for services. Without the local support, more engines would need to be sent to GE’s Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul sites located around the globe.
“We are meeting a few objectives here: being close to our customers, helping them grow, supporting the use of GE’s products by some of the best airlines in the world and doing our best to grow aviation in the Middle East,” said Damian Townsend, business leader for GE’s On Wing Support in the Middle East and Africa.