Landing-gear shops should be busy in the next few years as commercial jet aircraft ordered in 2004 and 2005 begin to require gear removal and overhaul.

The Aviation Week Intelligence Network's forecasts show demand for overhauls of nearly 4,100 nose gear and more than 4,000 shipsets of main landing gear for that fleet from 2013-15. The forecast spans Airbus, Boeing, Douglas and McDonnell Douglas mainline, and Bombardier, Embraer, Fokker and BAE regional jets.

Approximately 80% of main landing gear overhauls will be performed on mainline jets, the rest on RJs. Roughly three-fifths of mainline overhauls will be on Boeing models, about one-third on Airbus jets and the remainder on older aircraft.

Nearly half of all RJ gear overhauls will be required for Bombardier CRJs, and more than one-third will be done on Embraer ERJs. BAE and Fokker will split the remaining sixth of overhauls roughly evenly.

Within mainline fleets, narrowbodies generally dominate, more strongly for Airbus than Boeing. More than half of Boeing overhauls will be required for main gear on 717s, 727s, 737 Classics and 737NGs. Almost one-third of all Boeing landing-gear overhauls will be on 737NGs alone. For Airbus, the narrowbody share is nearly three-quarters of total Airbus overhauls.

Among Boeing widebodies, about a quarter of total Boeing overhauls will be for older 757s and 767s. The newer 777 will account for less than 10% of total Boeing main-gear overhauls.

For Airbus, newer A330s and A340s together represent about 15% of total Airbus gear overhauls, while A300s and A310s combine for more than 10%.

Regionally, the picture is a changing of the guard, albeit slowly, because landing gear come into shops long after delivery. North America will demand fewer main-gear overhauls each year, but its total over three years will still be nearly half of the global total. Europe similarly shows a declining trend by year but accounts for almost one-quarter of total demand in the period.

Rapidly growing Asia-Pacific airlines will account for nearly a fifth of demand in 2013-15. The Middle East and Latin America, with growing but still young fleets, will together account for less than 10% of total demand. Africa will represent about 4%.

Overhaul shops appear ready for the work, with perhaps some concern about the spare landing gear necessary to support overhauls.

Messier-Bugatti-Dowty prefers to focus on gear for newer models, investing in new technologies and spares to add value in overhauls, says Alan Doherty, VP for sales and business development. Airbus A300-600s will be flying for another 5-6 years, however, and Messier will support them.

The company is busy maintaining several gear lines and Doherty expects this fast pace to continue.

Its core business is the A320 family, and Messier is the leader in this market with a 35-40% share of landing-gear overhauls. The company also leads in supporting A330s and A340s with around half the market.

Messier is heavily involved with 777 gear and has a Boeing service center in Asia. The ability to overhaul 777 and 737 gear allows Messier to provide a complete suite of services to carriers that fly both Airbus and Boeing jets. On 737NGs, the company is active in Mexico and Latin America.

“We are the only MRO shop that can do the full line of landing gear in each of three regions, Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific,” Doherty stresses. “Others have to ship gear between regions.” With two shops in Europe, one in Mexico and one in Singapore, Messier needs to ship landing gear across oceans only when a peak in demand stretches regional capacity.

China generates plenty of demand, but Messier also sees increasing work from low-cost carriers in Asia and the Pacific Rim. “That will increase dramatically in the next five years,” Doherty predicts. “Like others, we are keeping an eye on India, trying to figure out what is going on there.”

Messier has been very successful with the Airbus fleets of major Middle Eastern airlines, which it supports from either Europe or Asia.

The North American and European markets are large, but flat. Messier just started overhauling landing gear on Delta Air Lines' A330s.

Overall, Messier overhauls 40-50% of Airbus landing gear and a significantly lesser share of Boeing gear.

The company competes with some airline overhaul capacity, mainly Lufthansa Technik, but also Ameco Beijing and Gameco in China, TAM's A320 shops in Latin America and Madrid Aerospace, an Iberia joint venture with ST Aerospace. “American Airlines is getting out of landing-gear overhaul. “Actually, most airlines are,” Doherty observes.

Old models like 737 Classics offer only a small and commodity-like market. “There are so many parked you can take one off and fly it for a few years,” Doherty says. “And the market is very competitive because there are so many providers.”

Overhaul shop capacity is plentiful for all models, and the critical restraint on capacity is thus spare landing gear. This sometimes requires adjusting the timing of landing-gear overhaul, which average 10 years for old models and 12 years for new ones.

Michael Secord, general manager of the landing-gear aftermarket for UT Aerospace Systems, says UTAS overhauls three kinds of gear: the complete line of Boeings from 737 Classics to 777s; military gear; and gear on Bombardier CRJ700s and 900s and Dash-8-Q400s. All these are products that UTAS or its predecessor company, Goodrich, manufactured.

Secord says demand for overhauls of landing gear on Bombardier regional aircraft, -700s, -900s and –Q400s, is quite high now as the models are in the middle of their 10-year, time-between-overall period. Goodrich is actively talking to most operators of these aircraft to help them through their overhaul cycles.

For gear on Boeings, Secord says there is an overhaul lull now, because there was a pause in deliveries 10 years ago, after the 9/11 attacks. However, he predicts demand in this segment will pick up in the next 3-4 years, driven by the renewal in deliveries in 2004-05. “Then, on top of that, older Boeing aircraft will come in for their second overhauls. The overall demand could double in the next three to four years,” says Secord.

In the past, some of the largest carriers invested in facilities to conduct landing-gear overhauls in-house. But this means major investment in plating and tanks and, now, the new high-velocity oxy-fuel thermal-spray technology that is replacing chrome in new models. Secord says even some larger airlines are considering exiting landing-gear overhaul business and he expects outsourcing to grow.

When outsourcing landing-gear overhauls, carriers typically look at their whole fleet and seek long-term deals of 4-5 years. UTAS has about 80% of the market for landing gear on Bombardier aircraft, but a lower share of the Boeing market, due to more competition in this segment.

Supporting mostly North America fleets, UTAS has two North American shops, one in Burlington, Ontario, and one in Miami. Transportation cost can be significant for the larger gear, depending on where the gear is removed and how it is transported. Secord says some airlines provide their own transportation, while others hire freight forwarders.

Being able to manufacture replacement parts and provide spare gear to support a carrier's overhaul needs may be particularly important in coming years. As Boeing ramps up production of new models and overhauls of gear on older models increase, there could be pressure on both replacement parts and rotable landing gear. Boeing has an exchange program for small airlines that do not buy spare landing gear, and UTAS has the spares to guarantee its customers' needs.

Secord sees no lack of shop capacity, given the ability of shops to increase shifts.

“2012 was a little soft,” notes Ernie Kiss, VP of quality and compliance for AAR Landing Gear Services. “But we see an uptick starting in the second part of 2013 and continuing probably at least through about 2016, in some regions much longer.” Kiss expects very significant growth in overhauls for China out to 2018 and AAR's shop in Kuala Lumpur is ready for the surge.

AAR has been overhauling landing gear for a quarter century and is now the largest independent shop, says Kiss. It works on all Boeing models, Airbus models up to the A340, and most common regional jets. Kiss sees more overhauls on the Embraer 170/190s as they come up for overhaul cycles. The A320 family and 737NGs also should be part of the pending uptick.

Carriers increasingly do not want to hold expensive spare gear assets, so AAR has its own spares and can arrange an exchange program to support a series of overhauls. The recent soft market has helped build up spares for this purpose, Kiss notes.

AAR's three-year-old Lean program also has produced gains in reduced turnaround time and costs and improved quality, Kiss says. For example, instead of bagging and tagging parts, then untagging and unbagging them for rebuild, AAR now puts them in carts and saves a half a day.

Top 10
Landing Gear Overhaul Opportunities In 2013 Out of 1,366 Predicted Landing Gear Events
Airbus A320-200 166
Boeing 737-800 111
Bombardier CRJ100/200/440 86
Embraer ERJ 145 82
Boeing 757-200 79
Airbus A319-100 68
Boeing 767-300ER 62
Boeing 737-700 56
Boeing 737-400 52
Boeing 737-500 46
Source: MRO Prospector