Premier Aviation expands maintenance capabilities for large regional aircraft

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Premier Aviation has been strengthening its large regional jet maintenance capabilities for Bombardier and Embraer aircraft and intends to add the Bombardier Q400 to the list of aircraft on its heavy maintenance capability list, says Ronnie DiBartolo, president and chief executive of the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) firm.

The Trois-Rivieres, Quebec-based MRO began training several months ago for the aircraft type and is in negotiations with clients for maintenance work, DiBartolo says. While there is not a firm timeline for adding the capability, he says there is a "very good possibility" that it would add the capability in 2013. The maintenance centre now has capabilities for older DHC-8 series turboprop models.

The added capability comes as Canadian operators are starting to increase their Q400 fleets. Jazz Aviation has added six of 15 options for Q400s to operate on behalf of Air Canada, in addition to an original order for 15 of the aircraft type placed in 2010. WestJet's regional Encore subsidiary is planning to receive its first Q400 in June and will add five more throughout the year, with firm orders for 20 of the aircraft and 25 options.

In addition to the Q400s, Premier started performing ATR-72 maintenance in January to add on to its existing ATR-42 capability.

Premier also added Embraer 175 and E-190 capabilities in 2012 following the bankruptcy of Aveos in March 2012, when it invested roughly $5 million in 2,000 pieces of heavy tooling and equipment after the maintenance facility shut down. In addition to the Embraer models, Premier added Boeing 767, 777 and 747 tooling to expand its services for those aircraft types.

Premier has since performed more than 16 heavy maintenance visits on E-175 and E-190 models at its Trois-Rivieres facility, including work under a long-term agreement for maintenance on part of Air Canada's fleet. The flagship carrier operates 45 E-190s after transferring all 15 Embraer 175s to Sky Regional.

But Premier is not the only Quebec-based MRO eyeing maintenance of larger Embraer regional jets. Discovery Air Technical Services says it is also in the process of preparing to add E-170 and E-190 maintenance at its Quebec City maintenance facility in addition to its Embraer ERJ-135 and ERJ-145 capabilities. It also performs Dash 8 maintenance and has also shown interest in expanding that capability to the Q400 model.

Premier has about 679,000ft2 (63.1 m2) of hangar space across three facilities, including a 379,000ft2 overhaul centre in Rome, New York purchased in 2010. The maintenance centre opened its largest location in Windsor, Ontario in September 2012.

The three facilities have a total capacity to maintain 18 narrowbody aircraft simultaneously. DiBartolo says the Trois-Rivieres facility is booked for the year, and there is open capacity in Windsor for one or two more lines of heavy maintenance and three to four narrowbody lines in Rome, New York.