Wayne Thomas, American Airlines’ director of engines, led a team of Tulsa-based employees who leveraged their CFM56-7 experience to plan what it would take to bring the -5B engine inhouse—including how to restructure the shop, optimize the floor, and evaluate tooling and workscopes. The airline shop inducted its first CFM56-5B on Nov. 15.

How long will the first CFM56-5B engine overhaul take and how many engines do you plan to overhaul annually?

The first one out of gate will have a bit of a learning curve. We’ve planned a 110-day turn time to handle that learning curve, to ensure all tooling works, to fine-tune our parts supply and logistics, and to make sure we have all of the right processes and paperwork. We’re setting that rate for the first three engines. By the third quarter of 2019, we’re planning a 53-day turnaround time, which matches the -5B to the -7B turn time. To do that, we’re matching the -5 to our -7 heavy workscope processes (Level 3, GE’s heaviest workscope).

For a full-year volume, we expect 30-36 engines on the heavy side. If the engines come off at an average of three per month, we’re attacking the burndown rates of about seven days per month--to get from the 110 to the 53 days by the third quarter. 

How did the Tulsa Tech Ops team ramp up for the CFM56-5B?

It’s more in-depth than just the -5. The Tulsa engine shop has a long history and the oldest engine that we currently overhaul is the Pratt & Whitney JT8-219. We still have that capability, as well as the GE CF6-80C2. There were areas dedicated to those models so with the -5B coming in—along with the MD-80 retirements in late 2019 and the JT8 going away, as well as the 767s retiring in 2021 and CF6s not needing to be overhaul in the future—we needed to reorganize. So two years ago we started to optimize the engine organization, which includes restructuring the shop floor from a product-centric to a module-centric structure. We started that process knowing that the JT8 and CF6 were going away and that our future was in narrowbody engines.

We were taking our 50-year-old business, while maintaining the 53-day CFM56-7B turnaround time, and moving almost everything in the building. We reflowed all of the engines into a module structure. Then after the November 2017 announcement that we were going to add -5B capability, we gathered a team together to handle things like tooling—what was common between the two engines, what was unique, and did we have enough of the common. There are long lead times for tooling, so we needed to start the procurement process.

We also had to upgrade the test cell to be able to run the -5B. The test cell’s size was adequate but we needed adapters (basically the pylon that the engine attaches to, which attaches to the test cell), the programming and the correlation of the test cell.

On the training front, we had a team determine the differences between the -5 and -7 and then develop a course for each, as well as a differences course. If individuals haven’t had the -7 course, we’ll train them on the -7. For those with experience on the -7, we’re training them on the -5 and giving them the differences course. We’re also bringing about 80 people into the engine shop—shuffling staff in the Tulsa base to meet the engine shop’s needs—so those people will get the training as well. About 60 are coming over due to the -5, and the rest are needed for additional -7 volumes coming next year.=

How much are you investing in this?

We’ve spent about $5 million in tooling for the -5B and for some of the restructuring, and another $2 million for other shop optimization, included training.

(Editor’s note: American Airlines operates 151 CFM56-5-B powered Airbus A320s and expects that number to be about 154 by yearend.)

What savings do you expect to gain from moving this work from GE to your in-house shop?

GE is struggling with turnaround time, to 100-plus days. We expect to get to 53 days, so that’s a big improvement in turnaround time for the -5. That also provides us consistency, which is as important if not more important than the turnaround time. If your variation is two days, like it is with our -7Bs, we have a high confidence of when the engine is coming out of the shop. We can then preplan if we know what our engine spares levels will be and there’s very little risk to the operation of having an aircraft sitting without an engine. We will have way better control of our spares situation and engine changes. That gives us more confidence in our operation.

How long has the Tech Ops team been overhauling CFM56-7B engines at an average of 53 days?

Three years. Prior to that we bounced around, and even had a 35-day motor, but we didn’t have the consistency. We put in controls and processes to get that consistency.