Meiltje de Groot, director of Twente Airport, and Ron Nuwenhof, team manager Tech at Oost NL, explain how the former military airbase is being transformed into Aircraft Maintenance Cluster Twente.
- Twente Airport has always been a military airport, but it is now a place for innovative companies, high-tech initiatives and events.
- The aviation sector has been hit hard by the corona crisis, but it also gave Twente Airport many opportunities.
- Many aircrafts go to Twente Airport for maintenance so that the aircrafts remain certified.
Twente Airport proves that a site can overcome its former function. The former military airbase is now the place to be for anyone involved in aircraft engineering and maintenance. A brief overview of previous years: the site has been renamed to a residential area and business park. The business park is called ‘Technology Base’, and it has space for innovative companies, high-tech initiatives, an events area and Twente Airport.
Many things regarding aviation take place at Twente Airport, except for freight transport and commercial passenger flights. What does happen? De Groot briefly describes the business at Twente Airport: “Business jet traffic; many well-known Twente people leave and land here. Aircrafts are also here for long-term parking. During that time, they can be serviced here. Some models are taken apart by the Aircraft End-of-Life Solutions (AELS, ed.) company, after which the parts are deployed elsewhere.”
Six large aircrafts from Lufthansa are now stationed here, and more will come in the coming months. In fact, a new hall is being built for Boeings 737 and Airbus A320s. The so-called C-check can take place there, which is a thorough check-up for planes. The airport offers top-notch facilities. “There is a 3-kilometre runway. This is the longest runway in the Netherlands after the one at Schiphol,” says Nuwenhof.
The aviation sector has been badly affected by corona, but the global crisis did offer opportunities for the activities at Twente Airport as well. “The aircrafts are on the ground right now, but they must remain certified. This requires maintenance,” explains De Groot. Lufthansa Technik, the maintenance company that works for both Lufthansa and third parties, is currently working on the aircrafts at Twente Airport. “Think of it as a kind of hibernation; an aircraft like this is kept in a resting position. It is, however, necessary to occasionally check whether vital components are still working to keep the aircraft certified,” explains De Groot.
The intention is that around fifteen companies will be working with the aircrafts parked in Twente in the long term. “Sometimes a certain technique or expertise is needed,” says De Groot. “This is why the network is being expanded here. Oost NL is really good at that. We are currently in contact with an independent KLM maintenance branch, and they now help Lufthansa when necessary. We want to expand that ‘open source collaboration’ here. It also offers space for companies such as Asito; they clean Aircrafts and can take on jobs like replacing seats.”
The Aircraft Maintenance Cluster forms the basis for the activities at Twente Airport. All kinds of parties that have something to do with aviation technology are involved. From Thales to Dutch-Shape. Educational institutions as well, such as Deltion college, which delivers dozens of aircraft maintenance students each year. And the company TKH Airport Solutions, which makes innovative runway lighting with LEDs. One idea that De Groot wants to realise is a workshop for parts. “We could have students remove parts from aircrafts that are to be dismantled. Supervised by an expert who has a Part-145 certification, of course, because that’s essential in this sector.”
These and other ideas will be implemented at Twente Airport in the coming years; the airport will have the status of ‘start-up’ until 2023. The location, which is owned by the municipality of Enschede and the province of Overijssel, will gradually grow through the development phase and into maturity in 2030. According to De Groot and Nuwenhof, the initiative has every chance of success.
In any case, the aviation sector is growing. There is a dip now because of corona, but air traffic continues to grow because transport demand keeps increasing globally. This means that the need for maintenance is as well. “Space and good staff are scarce,” says De Groot. “We offer a solution to this problem. The space here and the cooperation with all kinds of companies and education institutions should bring and keep professionals here.” Nuwenhof also sees an excellent connection to the national ‘sustainable aviation table’. “They look at the electric propulsion of planes, flying on hydrogen, those sorts of things. One of the things they focus on is ‘retrofitting’, i.e. adding new technology to old systems. Think of a sustainable engine in an existing aircraft,” says Nuwenhof.
The activities at Twente Airport help to distinguish the east of the country from other regions. “Everyone thinks of Schiphol Airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport and Woensdrecht when it comes to aviation technology. We can add Twente Airport now,” says Peter van Houten, logistics project manager at Oost NL, focused on internationalisation. “We can have companies from abroad join this airport. An initiative like this strengthens the appeal of the region of Twente as a whole.” Eddy van Hijum, representative of the province of Overijssel, adds: “Twente has a central location in Europe, and it is easily accessible by road, water, rail and air. Plus, we have a government here that is very considerate of entrepreneurs who want to establish themselves here.”