Korean Air to Build Asia’s Largest Engine Maintenance Facility

Engine problems have significantly impacted numerous airlines in the past five years, especially those that were early adopters of next-generation aircraft like the Boeing 787 and 737 or the Airbus A320neo Family. The introduction of new technology engines has faced challenges, leading to hundreds of aircraft being grounded due to engine reliability and durability concerns.

Korean Air is managing its operations independently. With the resurgence of travel, there was a rush to return stored aircraft to active service, further straining engine performance. The lack of maintenance facilities, availability of spare parts, and skilled technicians led to prolonged groundings of aircraft.

Establishing the largest engine maintenance facility in Asia

Korean Air engine maintenance facility Asia
Photo by Shim Hyun-chul via Korea Times

Instead of lamenting its situation, Korean Air is proactively ensuring its engines remain operational by establishing the largest engine maintenance facility in Asia near Seoul’s Incheon International Airport (ICN), set to open in 2027.

On the previous Thursday, Korean Air commenced the construction of an engine maintenance hub in Unbuk, South Korea, aiming to enhance its engine maintenance capacity and solidify its aviation MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) operations. The groundbreaking ceremony for this comprehensive complex took place on March 14, with a strategic location next to the Engine Test Cell (ETC) that has been in use by Korean Air since 2015.

This upcoming complex will include seven levels—five above ground and two underground—covering over 140,000 square meters (approximately 1.5 million square feet). Kolon Global is constructing it at a cost of 578 billion won ($438.2 million). This facility is designed to integrate all aspects of engine MRO services, previously conducted with engine maintenance at the Bucheon site and final performance evaluations at the ETC in Unbuk.

Korean Air stated that this strategic integration aims to streamline operations and boost efficiency by centralizing all engine maintenance stages at a single location.

Korean Air engine maintenance facility Asia
Aerial view of Korean Air’s future engine maintenance cluster in Unbuk, Yeongjong Island near Incheon International Airport, South Korea. Photo via Korean Air

“The engine is like the heart of the airplane. Korean Air pledges to uphold the highest standards of safety and is committed to elevating Korea’s competitive edge in a highly specialized sector of aviation.”

Korean Air Chairman and CEO Walter Choo

Returning to the essential aspect of expanding engine MRO capacity, Korean Air is not only increasing its capacity but is also diversifying the types of engines it services. This expansion positions it as an increasingly appealing MRO provider throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Upon completion, the new facility will have the capacity to service approximately 360 engines each year, significantly up from the current capacity of 100 engines annually.

A Comprehensive Suite of Services

Currently, Korean Air provides engine MRO services for six engine models, including Pratt & Whitney’s PW4000 (for Airbus A330) and Geared Turbofan (GTF) (for Airbus A220, A320neo, and Embraer E2), CFM International’s CFM56 (for Airbus A320, Boeing 737, and others), and General Electric’s GE90-115B (for Boeing 777).

The airline is also considering expanding its services to include engines used by Asiana Airlines, which it plans to merge with. This expansion could encompass the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB for the Airbus A350 widebody aircraft, as well as CFM’s LEAP-1B and GE’s GEnx engines. Korean Air stands as the sole specialized engine MRO provider in South Korea, with a history dating back to 1976 when it began overhauling Boeing 707 engines.

Since its inception, Korean Air has overhauled nearly 5,000 engines for its fleet, its subsidiary Jin Air, and for other carriers like Delta Air Lines and China Southern Airlines. It holds certifications from 13 domestic and international aviation regulatory bodies, including the Korean Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA, EASA, and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

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