Working for MTU around the world
Martin Köster has spent his entire career at MTU Aero Engines switching locations. As a project manager, he is always one of the first on the scene whenever MTU expands its worldwide maintenance activities.
04.2021 | Text: Nicole Geffert
Nicole Geffert has been working as a freelance journalist covering topics such as research and science, money and taxes, and education and careers since 1999.
Martin Köster has lost count of the number of construction plans he has rolled out and studied over the past decades. In recent weeks and months, the senior consultant at MTU Aero Engines has kept two plans in particular close at hand: the one for setting up EME Aero’s MRO shop in Poland and the one for building the test cell at MTU Maintenance Zhuhai’s second location.
Köster has spent his entire career switching locations. Over the past 30 years, he has worked around the world as a project manager for MTU, part of a team committed to setting up and expanding various MRO shops. MTU owes its successful position and its worldwide presence for its customers to the know-how, dedication and commitment of its employees. Köster is one of them; looking back, he says: “My career at MTU is intimately connected to MTU’s global growth.”
Köster began his career working on what was then a new test stand at MTU Maintenance Hannover, a location that was established in 1979 to launch MTU’s entry into the commercial engine maintenance business. He was always one of the first on the scene over the subsequent decades whenever MTU expanded its worldwide maintenance activities and its unique global footprint.
Site development in the analogue age
In 1989, Köster took over as project manager for the establishment of Airfoil Services in Malaysia—then a joint venture between MTU Maintenance Hannover and Malaysia Airlines, now a joint venture between MTU and Lufthansa Technik for the repair of engine airfoils. “In the late 1980s, we didn’t have the internet, e-mails or cell phones. Sometimes you just had to stand patiently by the fax machine as you sent documents to MTU headquarters,” he recalls of his first assignment abroad.
Foreign languages, different ways of living and working, an unfamiliar climate—none of these things were a problem for the MTU employee. Köster doesn’t even use the phrase “culture shock.” On the contrary: “For the most part, I’ve had nothing but great experiences. For example in Malaysia, where I was fascinated by the country’s cultural diversity. People are tolerant, with each religious group celebrating the holidays of the others. Not to mention the delicious food! Later I really enjoyed telling my family and friends about my cultural experiences there, all of which left a positive impression on me.”
On the job, too, the motto for him and his team was always to react flexibly, treat each other with respect, show consideration for local conditions, but also be persistent when it counts. And this attitude has brought him very good experiences over the years.
Breakthrough for global growth
In 1995, Köster was lured to the other side of the world by a new contract. In Vancouver, the task was to turn the former MRO shop of Canadian Airlines (now Canada Air) into a part of the MTU maintenance network—giving rise to MTU’s subsidiary MTU Maintenance Canada. “The founding of MTU Maintenance Canada in 1998 was a major breakthrough in the company’s global expansion strategy—and in a North American market characterized by fierce competition, too,” Köster says.
No sooner had the MRO activities in the Vancouver shop been ramped up than he left Canada in 1999 for China, where he applied his expertise to setting up MTU Maintenance Zhuhai, a joint venture with China Southern Airlines. “It was great to work on a German-Chinese team,” recalls Köster, who was then director of facility engineering. He adds that in China, employers have a special responsibility to their employees. This includes building a close social relationship and strengthening mutual bonds and cohesion. “It’s quite common to spend time together after work, too, to play sports together or get involved in community service,” Köster adds.
Test cell erected on piles in marshy soil
While Köster was working in Zhuhai, MTU built its largest and most modern test stand to date there. “Building it was a challenge, because the MRO shop in Zhuhai is built on marshland. This meant we needed a special design for the test cell: 50-meter-long piles with a diameter of 60 centimeters were driven into the ground to ensure that the soil would withstand the weight and vibrations.” A total of 30,000 piles ensure that the shop stands securely in the marshy soil of the Pearl River Delta.
“MTU Maintenance Zhuhai was then opened with a lion dance and a traditional opening ceremony,” Köster recalls. MTU had chosen the free trade zone in Guangdong province as its location. From the outset, the shop’s proximity to Hong Kong and Macau made it attractive to third-party customers. Köster was responsible for building up MTU Maintenance Zhuhai from its founding in 2001 until 2005, helping it become the number one engine maintenance provider in the Chinese market in the years that followed.
Köster’s family was in Zhuhai as well, and they went with him when he moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2005 to be part of a team setting up the new location of Airfoil Services Sdn. Bhd. (ASSB) Malaysia, a joint venture with Lufthansa Technik founded in 2003. The new plant, which opened in Kota Damansara in 2007, was four times the size of the previous manufacturing facility and provided space for expansion to increase capacity for the repair of blades in low-pressure turbines and high-pressure compressors.
MTU’s experts have long known what it takes to plan, build and commission a location—from the suitable plot of land to the perfect hangar layout, sophisticated building technology, and the procurement and installation of plant, machinery and tools. In Malaysia, they faced an additional challenge. “Moving the old company to the new shop was a mammoth project,” Köster recalls. “All the employees relocated, too, and we had to find new apartments, daycare centers and schools for their families.”
Innovative achievements with every construction project
In 2008, MTU management called Köster in Malaysia: “How soon can you be back?” And so Köster returned to Europe, specifically to Poland, to help set up MTU’s first Polish location, MTU Aero Engines Polska. Since its start of operations in 2009, this location has not only produced engine components, but has also covered the entire value chain—from development to manufacture and repair.
For Köster and his team, the jobs never become routine. “After so many years in project management, of course you benefit from your experience and know-how, but you’re also always learning new things,” he says. “MTU has expanded its engine portfolio, developed new repair techniques and built up outstanding engineering expertise. All this has enhanced MTU’s worldwide reputation. And every time we’ve built up or expanded a location, we’ve innovated as a company.”
A current example is the globally unparalleled assembly concept—developed and implemented by MTU specialists—in the MRO shop of EME Aero, the joint venture between MTU and Lufthansa Technik. Köster has been serving as a consultant on the establishment of this second Polish location since 2016. He is excited about the state-of-the-art maintenance shop for the advanced PW1100G-JM engines from the Pratt & Whitney GTFTM Engine Family. This shop entered into operation in 2020.
Köster is as enthusiastic as ever about the engine business. Until his retirement, he was also advising the team in Zhuhai, where an additional site is currently being set up. Now, after 42 years with MTU, the senior consultant has completed his professional journey around the world. Meanwhile, MTU is continuing its global growth—for example, MTU Maintenance Serbia, the new engine parts repair shop in Nova Pazova near Belgrade, will open its doors in 2022.