Can you pinpoint one or two industry trends that emerged in 2013? One could argue that the debates about OEMs' increasing penetration of the aftermarket became more vociferous this year. But did they? While safety issues will be mainly black or white, many MRO issues have shifted to shades of gray.

Consider ST Aerospace, which logged the most airframe maintenance man-hours, 11.5 million, in Aviation Week's latest Top 10 MRO Survey (AW&ST MRO Edition June 24, p. MRO4). While ST Aerospace President Chang Cheow Teck recently told me in Singapore that he sees increasing OEM competitiveness and consolidation in the aftermarket, the independent MRO became the inaugural service provider for UTC Aerospace Systems' nacelles on the Boeing 787.

This follows an announcement that the Singapore-based aftermarket company will provide nose-to-tail support for the electrical and air management system components on that aircraft. This is a good example of how independents are partnering with OEMs to provide support for next-generation aircraft and components.

But in parallel, Chang wants to invest in designated-engineering-representative approvals and in-circuit testing to work further up the avionics aftermarket value chain. It's not an either-or scenario.

However, he says ST Aerospace is “cautious about growing capacity” because during the next five years the older aircraft fleet will drop off and the newer-generation aircraft will require less maintenance.

One exception is China, where the MRO will open ST Aerospace Guangzhou Aero-Technologies & Engineering this month to support aircraft components and spares.

But as the global fleet transitions, and aircraft such as the Airbus A320neo and A350, Boeing 737 MAX and stretched 787s, and Bombardier CSeries enter service, MROs will need to retool and develop capabilities to support these nascent fleets.

As Lim Serh Ghee, ST Aerospace's chief operating officer, asked the audience during our MRO Asia Conference, will maintenance checks become more equalized so MROs will provide lighter checks—almost on-demand—at major airports where customers fly but the MRO doesn't have a base facility? This is definitely a shade of gray.

Given today's fleet mix, pundits predict the parting out of decade-old aircraft and engines will most likely continue during this transition period, assuming capital remains relatively easy to acquire. So young can still be old enough to tear apart because the demand for used, serviceable material remains high (AW&ST MRO Edition Nov. 11, p. MRO3). Again, there are many nuances and gray areas in this piece of the dynamic market.

Even as the lines between manufacturing and MRO blur, companies such as ST Aero are investing in additive manufacturing and 3-D printing for castings, to decrease the time it takes to develop molds for parts-manufacturer-approval interior parts.

The nuances are plenty.

—Lee Ann Tegtmeier

Chief Editor MRO