Building on more than 60 years of engineering excellence, 2Excel Engineering (2EE) has established itself as the partner of choice for Boeing and Airbus narrow-body aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul.
2EE has quickly cemented its reputation as a relevant, respected Maintenance and Repair Organisation (MRO) fit for the new reality. The business holds full Base Maintenance approvals for Boeing 727, 737 and 757 and all Airbus A320 family aircraft.
Chris Norton has led 2EE since taking over the business of ATC (Lasham) in late 2015. Before that he focused on strategic commercial development of sister company 2Excel Aviation since 2006, having previously served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force for 22 years.
We sat down with Chris to discuss his experiences and his outlook for the industry:
Tell us about yourself. How and why did you get into aviation?
‘For as long as I can remember, I wanted to fly. As a young boy in the 1970s, I avidly read books written by Second World War pilots. I went to air shows with my dad, who had a private pilot’s licence, and I did everything I could to go flying with him. At school, I joined the RAF section of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). I learnt to glide and went solo as soon as I was able to (long before I could drive) and got my private pilot’s licence one month after my 17th birthday. I joined the RAF as a pilot aged 18 and served for 22 years before leaving the Service to set up 2Excel. I have been hugely lucky to be able to have a career which wholly embraces my passion for aviation.’
What were you doing prior to joining 2Excel? And what did you enjoy most about the job?
‘I have had three (proper) jobs in my life. I was a motorcycle courier (dispatch rider) in London for nine months between school and university. I joined the RAF as soon as I arrived at university and did 22 years as a General Duties officer (pilot). Since then, for over 15 years, I’ve been at 2Excel.
‘I love flying and particularly being able to do things with aeroplanes at the limits of what they, and I, could do. I was particularly interested in how you could modify aircraft with technological innovations and use them to influence other peoples’ decision-making. As my RAF career developed, I enjoyed the challenges of leadership and, at the end of my career, strategic planning. At 2Excel, in addition to being able to help to build a fantastic team of people, I’ve been able to take novel ideas and make them a reality, even when that’s really difficult to do.‘
What’s the best thing about your role within 2EE? What gets you out of the bed in the morning?
‘What gets me out of bed in the morning at Lasham is the challenge of making 2EE work as a business. My role is to make it commercially viable for the long-term, to build its reputation and to ensure that it is a rewarding place to work. The best thing about 2EE is the team which, as an integrated group of very capable people, can do really cool things with aeroplanes.’
What do you think sets 2Excel apart within a highly-competitive MRO market?
‘The skills and experience of the 2EE staff set it apart from its competitors. No job is too difficult and, its great being able to say “yes” when everyone else says “no”. Our customers really appreciate that we deliver on our promises as well. We provide our services in a very open and honest way which builds trust and, in turn, strengthens our long-term relationships with them.’
What’s your take on the challenging situation the whole aviation sector is facing post-Coronavirus?
‘Coronavirus is a strategic shock to the airline industry. In February 2020, there were 29,000 airliners in service. Two months later there were just 13,200 and nearly 16,000 airliners were parked up. At the end of this year perhaps 2,500 will be retired forever. As an independent MRO serving owners and airlines without, or with insufficient maintenance capacity themselves, our job is to attract enough customers to match our capacity. We fill our order book by offering better quality, flexibility, transparency and value for money than our competitors. 2EE has spent four-and-a-half years transforming itself to become relevant to the modern world.
‘We have become used to adapting to rapidly changing commercial realities. Every aircraft operator in the market is trying to make decisions on what is best for them, holding onto cash for as long as possible to be more resilient in the face of what might come next. Being comfortable with uncertainty is a natural position for 2Excel. Throughout the pandemic, we have responded well, and swiftly, to changing customer demands; we have provided a hugely flexible service and our customers are grateful for that. There was not enough capacity in the MRO market before the Coronavirus; now, perhaps there is too much. 2EE’s services need to be relevant to the new reality.’
Where are the opportunities?
‘The vertical drop in passenger flying due to Coronavirus restrictions means many aircraft aren’t flying but they are still getting older by the day. Most maintenance is driven by calendar life so, it is still required and 2EE provides a flexible and capable MRO service to owners and operators across the sector. We support private individuals, governments, airlines and lessors and, while the amount of airline work has decreased, we know that that is translating into more work for the lessors.
‘Cargo capacity has dropped too (more than 40%) with the lack of hold space in passenger aircraft (because they are not flying). This has created even more demand for passenger to freighter aircraft conversions in the second hand aircraft market and 2EE has all the skills to help deliver that.‘
Tell us something about your life outside work.
‘I have four children in their 20s and I have to remain relevant to their changing needs too. Right now I am enjoying being their friend!’
About 2Excel Engineering
2Excel Engineering (2EE) is a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul business based at Lasham Airfield in Hampshire. 2Excel Engineering delivers service-oriented narrow body Boeing and Airbus Maintenance to Operators and Owners, Leasing Companies and Governments. To find out more, please visit: www.2excelengineering.com/ 2EE is part of the 2Excel Group which also encompasses 2Excel Aviation, an innovative aviation services business, working across a range of industries including defence and security, engineering, events and disaster response