India’s engine MRO sector: Global interest and steps toward self-reliance

India’s aviation industry drives global interest in engine maintenance. Safran leads with a LEAP MRO plant in Hyderabad, while Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce consider establishing independent facilities, bolstering India’s MRO capabilities.

India’s aviation industry is rapidly expanding, poised to become the third-largest market globally. As passenger traffic soars, the government, airlines, and aviation stakeholders are fortifying the foundation for a robust aviation ecosystem. A crucial pillar underpinning this industry is maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO), which has recently garnered significant attention from global companies.

While India’s MRO sector has witnessed modest growth thus far, the post-COVID-19 era, marked by a surge in “revenge travel,” the emergence of new airlines, and government initiatives to bolster airport infrastructure, has propelled the MRO sector into a promising trajectory.


India’s engine MRO sector poised for growth amid rising domestic demand

India has established proficiency in line and airframe maintenance tasks, with domestic aircraft now serviced in-house. However, a substantial gap exists in component and engine MRO capabilities. Apart from AI Engineering Services (AIESL), no other MRO provider in India offers engine maintenance services.

The MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) sector in India had a market size of USD 1.7 billion in 2021, and it is projected to reach USD 4.0 billion by 2031, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9%, which is higher than the global average of 5.9%. In 2019-20, Indian airlines imported MRO services worth USD 1.26 billion, primarily sourced from countries like France, Sri Lanka, Germany, Jordan, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the USA. Over the next five years, the MRO market size in India is estimated to reach around USD 2.8 billion, with a significant portion expected to be procured from domestic MRO providers.

Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL) stands out as the only organization in India certified by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an engine repair station. AIESL possesses full capability for engines like CFM 56-5B/7B, GE CF6-80C2, V2500 A1, and PW 4000, as well as partial capability for GE 90, CFM 56-5B, and various Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) types such as GTCP 131-90, GTCP 331-250H, GTCP 331-500B, PW901A, and APS 5000A.

AIESL’s repair shop is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including CMM, CNC machines, a 5-axis milling machine, welding and plasma spray capabilities with a 9-axis robotic plasma spray machine. Additionally, they have a well-equipped and computerized test cell with a capacity of 100,000 lbs, enabling comprehensive testing and evaluation of repaired engines.

With India’s current fleet of around 700 commercial aircraft set to escalate to over 2,000 in the next five years, owing to recent orders from IndiGo, Air India, and Akasa Air, the demand for engine overhauls is expected to surge. Typically, jet engines require overhauls after 5,000 flight hours or 3,000 flight cycles, a process that takes 60 to 90 days. Presently, it is practically impossible to overhaul all domestic aircraft engines within the country, prompting the outsourcing of a significant portion to facilities abroad.

However, this scenario is gradually transforming, with major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) taking proactive steps to establish independent MRO facilities in India.

Safran invests in India’s engine MRO market with LEAP project in Hyderabad

Safran, recognizing the substantial opportunity in India’s engine MRO market, has embarked on an ambitious project. Capitalizing on the 2,200 LEAP engine orders from Air India and IndiGo, Safran has broken ground on a 15,000 square-meter LEAP MRO plant in Hyderabad’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ). With an investment of approximately $163 million, this facility, slated for completion by 2025, is poised to become one of Safran’s largest MRO facilities globally.

The plant will focus on manufacturing rotating parts for the LEAP engine from CFM International, while Safran’s Electrical & Power plant in the same airport zone will produce wiring for LEAP engines and the Rafale fighter jet. The MRO facility will service operators from India, South Asia, West Asia, and Africa through a 100% Indian subsidiary.

The Safran Group has been a pioneer in technology transfer to India and has a successful track record of fruitful cooperation with the country in strategic domains such as space rocket engines, helicopter engines, and inertial navigation technologies. Safran has established successful collaborations with major Indian organizations, such as the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), and defence public sector companies. These collaborations have spanned across various advanced technologies, enabling the transfer and development of strategic capabilities within India.

When it comes to commercial aviation, the decision to establish MRO facilities and expand operations will be driven by the demand for such services in the market. The increasing fleet size and growth in air travel demand will play a crucial role in determining the extent of Safran’s investments and operations in the commercial aviation MRO sector in India.

Safran’s long-term plans involve expanding the facility to support military engines used in the Indian Air Force’s Rafale and Mirage 2000 fighters, aligning with the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (Self-Reliant India) initiative. Additionally, the company is forging partnerships and establishing deep roots within India to cultivate a well-rounded MRO ecosystem, collaborating with entities like Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge, the GMR Group, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce to establish independent engine MROs in India

In 2023, The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in India urged Pratt & Whitney (PW) to establish an MRO facility within the country due to ongoing issues with PW engines used in Airbus A320neo aircraft. These engines have been experiencing problems over the past 5-6 years.

IndiGo, a major airline and one of the largest customers for these planes has been forced to ground 50 aircraft as they await replacement engines from PW. The situation has become a significant concern for the Indian aviation sector.

While Pratt & Whitney has expressed interest in exploring MRO opportunities in India, the company has also warned that hundreds of engines may need to be grounded globally for inspections and checks. This highlights the severity of the engine issues faced by the manufacturer.

The DGCA’s push for PW to establish an MRO facility in India is aimed at addressing engine problems more effectively and ensuring timely maintenance and repair services within the country. This move could potentially mitigate the impact of engine issues on Indian airlines and their operations.

With Safran announcing its plans to establish a major LEAP engine MRO facility in Hyderabad, other engine manufacturers like Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney are closely monitoring the changing aviation landscape in India. Media reports suggest that Rolls-Royce is interested in opening an independent MRO facility in India, given the volume and scale of work anticipated.

This interest from Rolls-Royce is not surprising, as the company recently signed a 100-engine contract with Air India as part of the Airbus deal. The order includes 68 Trent XWB-97 engines, with the potential for an additional 20 engines. The Trent XWB-97 engines ordered by Air India from Rolls-Royce are intended to power the airline’s Airbus A350-1000 aircraft. Moreover, Air India has also placed an order for 12 Trent XWB-84 engines, which are the sole engine options available for the Airbus A350-900 variant. This significant order makes Air India the largest operator worldwide of the Trent XWB-97 engine model.

This is the first time an Indian airline has ordered the Trent XWB, and the deal will make Air India the largest operator of the Trent XWB-97 in the world, presenting Rolls-Royce with a golden opportunity to establish an engine facility and base in India. However, the company is cautious about the market, as Kishore Jayaraman, the president of Rolls-Royce India, stated, “It’s not like you put up an MRO in every country.” He further clarified that setting up an engine shop is an expensive proposition, and Rolls-Royce is fully committed to providing engine monitoring support to Air India for the new A350-900 order.