An MRO's perennially prickly problem is presenting itself at precisely the most inopportune of times. That problem is lack of manpower, and it's manifesting itself during an era ripe with demand for outsourced MRO. The issue seems particularly acute among at some independent North American MROs.
At the same time, customers are calling on those MROs to offer nose-to-tail services, and more. In this environment, it's not just the strong that survive, it's the supple.
No longer relegated to supplying mere nuts and bolts, parts manufacturer approval (PMA) is providing more of the flight-critical constituents of some of the industry's most popular powerplants. Many carriers are not just accepting the non-OEM parts, they are actually pleading for more product. Still, persistent pushback to that product persists. For all the strides the industry has made, PMA market share is mired at about 5%–even in the face of robust growth.
The call by carriers to standardize composite training certification, techniques and material mounts by the minute, with the Boeing 787 an operational fait accompli, and the Airbus A350 XWB waiting to take wing.
Green, lean, flexible. These are the trends propelling the ground support equipment market into the second decade of the new millennium. Impelled by environmental regulation, and motivated by the nonstop need to cut costs, the industry is developing evolutionary products that will alter what we see scurrying about the ramp in coming years.
GSE manufacturer JBT AeroTech and a host of other players are moving ahead with initiatives designed to render ground support gear more environmentally friendly.
Transiting the customs landscape can be decidedly confusing for shippers of aircraft parts and components. Some regions, such as the European Union, offer predictable, patterned portals, moving equipment through customs in good time, while other areas, such as Brazil, are more challenging.
Out there, just over the horizon, is what Chris Field calls “the sweet spot” of maintenance planning. Because we inhabit an age in which lots of aircraft are leased, that means they go back to the lessor some day. “You get some fairly strict return conditions for aircraft,” says Air New Zealand's manager of engineering and quality. This makes it imperative that airlines manage their maintenance to optimize their investment when they return flying machines to their owners.
It just doesn't pay to assume anything in this business. A case-in-point is Southwest Airlines Flight 812, a Boeing 737-300 that suddenly depressurized at altitude on April 1. The initial assumption was that the 39,781-cycle, 737 was the latest craft to succumb to the popular media's venerable villain: the aging aircraft syndrome. It seems that may not be the case. While no probable cause has been established, the focus has shifted to manufacturing issues.
In the world of modern MRO, complexity layers upon complexity. All these convolutions have to be chronicled—every move, every time. Few industries on earth are so dependent on airtight documentation. To prove regulatory compliance, operators must unambiguously connect the documentary dots.
The lines separating major carriers from regional carriers continue to blur, and that's having an impact on the way the latter look at maintenance. Consider that larger regional jet aircraft such as the Embraer 170 and 190 family and Bombardier's forthcoming CSeries are—or soon will be—ranging farther afield. These types supplant major carriers' mainline jets on routes that were once a sole province.
Take a look around the cabin the next time your flight reaches 10,000 ft., when that familiar "ding" descends from the PA. As passengers unpack their laptops, iPhones and portable DVD players—among the most common carry-on personal electronic devices or PEDs—and plug in, consider where that power comes from and whether the supply will be plentiful enough for you to have any.
New market forces are shaping the once-staid realm of cabin interiors, sparking a slew of new services and product offerings.
Boeing 787 delivery delays and the yet-to-fly A350 have created a bit of a cabin chasm for carriers. “They’re facing the need to find alternatives before their [current crop] of aircraft are replaced,” says Jean-Jacques Michel, senior VP of engineering and aircraft modification for Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance. “They’re in a situation where some of [their present] kitting becomes totally obsolete.”
Few paint the near horizon in shades of untempered optimism. But, there is sufficient faith in the future that MROs are ferreting out places to put new facilities. The present expansionary push doesn’t take in vast swaths of canvas. Instead, it pinpoints targets of optimum opportunity—“plug-and-play” sites, loaded with potential and precisely located.
Expansion “definitely takes a geographic tone,” says Rich Bergmann, Accenture’s global lead for manufacturing.
Look beyond the bad news and you’ll see a slew of strategies by parts manufacturers and distributors—strategies for survival, strategies for growth. Whichever way markets move, they create opportunities. Here’s how some players are seizing them.
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