As cutting-edge technology renders powerplants exponentially more reliable—able to shun shop visits in a fashion earlier engines never could—cooperative agreements among OEMs and MROs are taking off. That is the irony of it.
Aviation maintenance professionals are not an overly superstitious lot. But they do believe in ghosts. The “ghosts” in question here are phantom components, whose very existence is shadowy, ethereal.
They manifest themselves when MROs and airlines go looking for parts. Sellers say they have the part on hand, but in reality, “they do not have the quantity they represent, or they don’t even have the part,” says Brian Tolley, president of PartsBase.
Most airlines do it, but the MROs that maintain their flying machines don’t necessarily like it. The issue? Customized maintenance programs. More specifically, MROs must figure out how to keep turn times short and efficiency high while adhering to airlines’ differing directions.
“In most cases, you’re going to work under [a specific carrier’s] maintenance program—work off their cards, their package. And that is a real problem for an MRO,” says Jim Ganopulos, Delta TechOps’ general manager of fleet management engineering for Boeing 757s, 767s and 777s.
There’s a continuous, almost cacophonous, call out there today that commands commercial aircraft main-tainers to demonstrate compliance to regulators, customers and accrediting agencies. The chosen instrument is the audit, and some claim the industry is all but awash in them.
Consider the potential and the reality of using robotics in MRO. One researcher dubs the chasm between the two “The Valley of Death.” Another insists the “color of money” is to blame. Either way, what is increasingly clear is that maintenance, repair and overhaul lags behind other industries when it comes to automating key processes.
Shifting, or some say unsettling, dynamics dictate new and different leadership skills among independent MRO and airline maintenance and engineering executives. That is the gist of a just-completed survey conducted by executive recuitment firm Spencer Stuart and Overhaul & Maintenance.
Do not blink. Over the next decade, the ways we monitor, mend and map aircraft could fundamentally change. From inflight systems that redefine “on-wing” reliability to composite algorithms that pinpoint problems and techniques that meld metals more strongly, researchers from North America to The Netherlands are making bonafide breakthroughs.
Certainly the volcano beneath Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier had a demonic effect on European air travel this past spring. Ironically, O&M spoke with Aircraft Window Repairs’ Robert Cupery shortly before the eruption hit stride. He said that the airborne effluent from the June 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (the largest of the 20th century) has finally abated.
Despite high-profile windscreen cracks that temporarily grounded a Qantas Boeing 747-400 in April, “cracking is really pretty rare,” says Michael Singley, VP of Pacific Aero Tech, a major window repair shop. He says the windscreen design in question was “almost 20 years old.” And although there’s never been an issue with it, he says, “nothing’s bulletproof. At some point [a problem] is going to rear its ugly head.”
In the aircraft disassembly and parting out business, this is both the best of times and perhaps the most challenging. “Parked aircraft are at historic levels,” says Steve Connolly, president and CEO of GE Capital Aviation Services’ Asset Management Services division. “There are about 2,900 aircraft that are currently parked worldwide,” echoes Tom Stewart, president and CEO of Stewart Industries. Historically, Stewart says about 80% of aircraft that enter a storage program never emerge whole again. “They’re parted out and eventually scrapped.”