23 Aug 2018
Since Christopher Whiteside returned to an executive role in 2017, AJW is approaching the market “smarter,” which is reflected in its profitability.
By James Pozzi
After having added new customer contracts along with new appointments to its management team, UK-based independent MRO provider AJW Group achieved annual growth surpassing 20% last year, according to its president and CEO, with its aviation segment seeing the fastest rise.
Christopher Whiteside, who resumed his executive role at the beginning of 2017, says the company spent the first year of his tenure making several internal changes, both in terms of personnel and its overall business operation. These changes included assembling a new executive team along with “focusing on efficiency, productivity and what usually comes after that: profitability," he says.
Among the executive changes was the appointment of new Chief Operating Officer Gavin Simmonds, who is also general manager of its Canada-based repair business, AJW Technique. The company, operating out of Montreal, is among the group’s strongest performers, growing at around 15% annually. Its leasing arm, AJW Leasing, headquartered on the UK’s Isle of Man and with an office in Dublin, has also seen robust growth despite its more unique day-to-day operation. “Leasing always delivers stellar numbers, but of course this part of the business is more than just pure finances, because assets are returned and are then remonetized,” Whiteside says.
One of AJW’s most high-profile parts programs in recent years is with easyJet. The agreement signed in 2015 covers repair, supply and management of the low-cost carrier’s components for its Airbus A320-family fleet. Whiteside says the contract marked “a complete change” for the business, but in the three years since it has been stable. “We were looking at budgets of around 276 aircraft in 2015 and are now looking at budgets of about 338 aircraft,” he says, noting the influx of Air Berlin A320s into the easyJet fleet and with AJW buying up inventory from Air Berlin’s liquidators.
Following this was an even larger agreement for supply chain management services with Bombardier, covering rotable inventory on business aircraft including the Learjet, Challenger and Global series, an agreement Whiteside says has further “moved the needle” for AJW.
When the Bombardier program reaches “a steady state,” AJW will look to expand the relationship into other asset classes, with discussions already involving commercial aircraft such as the Bombardier Q400. However, the Airbus A220, recently renamed from the Bombardier C Series following Airbus’ acquisition of the program earlier this year, is an unlikely option in the near future, the marketplace remains relatively small.
The consolidation trend for airframe manufacturers—such as Airbus buying the C Series program and most recently, Boeing launching a joint venture with Brazil’s Embraer—is not something Whiteside sees affecting AJW. “I believe our strength lies in our independence,” he says. “The OEMs’ desire to acquire more in-service revenue is something that the industry is cognizant of and recognizes, but AJW’s strategy is that of an enabler providing services to them, so we are happy to stand in front, alongside or behind them,” he says.
Contracts like those signed with EasyJet and Bombardier led to AJW expanding its 24/7, 365 days per year aircraft on ground (AOG) service this summer, following consultation with its airline customers. “These types of contracts require a true seven-days-a-week operation,” says Whiteside. He adds that the changes to the service were AJW essentially “getting smarter” about its AOG operation. As part of a company-wide efficiency review, it identified areas in which it had more capacity than demand and made changes to its website.
Challenges with staffing were also identified and led to changes in resource deployment. As AJW’s location is in Slinfold, near London Gatwick Airport, there is competition for talent, including from airlines such as EasyJet, British Airways and Norwegian as well as Boeing. “We find with some airlines there is a tremendous pressure on resources in this local area,” Whiteside says, adding that these factors can naturally affect an AOG operation.
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