Everyone tries to get the right product at the right price. Procurement experts say it’s more important to get strategic about purchasing and inventory management.
Most procurement and inventory management departments, including those at MRO providers and airlines, traditionally have focused on assuring that parts and supplies are available when they’re needed, where they’re needed and at the lowest possible price.
The pricing of aircraft parts depends on inflation, productivity improvements in manufacturing, part quality enhancements and the balance between supply and demand. Prices to individual purchasers depend on the competition they face and the strategic choices they employ.
An AOG due to a faulty engine can be the worst and most expensive nightmare maintenance faces. A grounded aircraft can cost an airline tens of thousands of dollars per day in lost revenue. MROs and leasing firms will scramble to provide help, but existing relationships count strongly in how fast assistance arrives.
Applications come and go, but aircraft and maintenance data is forever. That rule is becoming more important in the digital age. Correlating maintenance with operational data can yield big gains in reliability, revenue and cost reductions. New aircraft will yield much more data helpful to maintenance. Unstructured data such as pilot and mechanic notes also can be exploited. New maintenance models, with technicians ready for problems as aircraft hit gates, require speed as well as power.
The latest news on FAA's NextGen air traffic control system is hopeful but worrisome. Progress has been made, conceptually and practically. The equipment for future ATC techniques is not terribly expensive but must be funded by many airlines and some governments that are themselves financially weak.
As airlines get ready for new electronic aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, MRO managers face another digital challenge. How do they bring older birds up to even the current standards for health monitoring data set by the Airbus A320 and Boeing 777? There are nuggets of financial and downtime savings in making these senior jets talk better, but mining that ore is not easy.
The most efficient way to perform airframe maintenance is nose-to-tail, with one aircraft after another of the same type moving smoothly through the heavy check lines. Hangars, tools and manpower are thus constantly employed. Labor works at tasks they are trained for and experienced at, for regular wages. Crucial turn-time commitments can be met with good planning and no unpleasant surprises.
Maintenance operates in a global world with an increasingly fragmented supply chain. Everyone has or is moving toward greater automation of data handling and transfer—but with widely different systems. How can all these systems talk to each other?
Nobody wants to do it, but most airlines will probably have to adopt new maintenance information systems eventually. Challenges abound. Fortunately so do choices, one of the most important of which is whether to go for a Big Bang or a phase-in approach. If the phased approach is selected, should it be by fleet or by function? Which functions should go first?
Commercial aircraft, especially their engines, have been providing maintenance-related data for quite a while. But the newest models will be much chattier, yielding larger volumes of data on a broader set of components. Manufacturers and independent software firms are scrambling to help airlines and repair shops make intelligent use of the data.