For everyone who says, “small is beautiful”, there are those who prefer to say “the bigger, the better”. When it comes to aero engines, both have their supporters but surely no-one could think that an engine whose diameter is greater than the diameter of a Boeing 737 is anything less than impressive.

Anyone seeing large aero engines at airports on a regular basis might become blasé about them, but these machines, which could suck all the air out of a squash court in a couple of seconds, represent some of the greatest engineering in any industry. To get the best out of them though, their maintenance at every stage of their working life need to be carefully planned.

It is said in some industries that rather than making a product very expensive to acquire, more money can be made by selling the product at not too high a price whilst also enticing the buyer to enter into a support deal for the length of time they expect to use the product. And that argument has certainly been levelled at the aero engine sector.

The former part of that hypothesis may or may not be true for aero engines. There is veracity, however, in the value to the customer brought by the practice of having top quality through-life support programmes.

Before delving into the subject, it is worth noting that in these days of on-condition monitoring, complete engine removals and overhauls mostly take place when the engine condition demands it. Thus, while an engine will obviously be examined when an aircraft comes in for a check, its own full overhaul schedule remains largely independent of the regular maintenance checks on the airframe and other systems.

All the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of large engines have suites of support programs from which aircraft operators can select the modules they require according to their own needs. Early iterations of these focused on smoothing out the maintenance costs for engine operators in relation to the amount of flying an engine did and resided in trademarked names such as GE’s Maintenance-Cost-Per-Hour (MCPH) and Rolls-Royce’s Power-By-The-Hour (PBH).

The development of engines, however, has meant considerable improvements in the ways that they are treated, hence the introduction of the aforementioned suites of services. For GE Aviation, this is the TrueChoice suite, comprising TrueChoice Flight Hour (the successor to MCPH), TrueChoice Overhaul, TrueChoice Material, TrueChoice Transitions as well as Digital Solutions for TrueChoice.

Emirates, for example, has a TrueChoice Flight Hour agreement for the MRO of GE90-115B engines on its Boeing 777-300ERs, an agreement which has been extended from the original deal.

All Nippon Airways (ANA), meanwhile, is in the middle of a five-year TrueChoice Material agreement which is delivering high-quality serviceable OEM parts to the airline plus repairs and upgrades, all for the CF6-80C2 engines on its Boeing 767-300s.

More recently, British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) exhibited best practice forward-planning for the Boeing 777-9 aircraft it will start to receive in 2022. IAG has placed 18 firm orders for the 777-9 with options for an additional 24, all to be flown by British Airways. On placing its order, the company also signed up a 30-year TrueChoice Flight Hour services agreement for the GE9X engines which will power the fleet.

As noted, all the powerplant OEMs have service suites for their commercial engines, Rolls-Royce having its TotalCare program and Pratt & Whitney offering EngineWise. These offer similar elements from which the airline can choose appropriately.

The bulk of the work done under each of the OEMs suites naturally involves the many years of work with the engine at or near its best, which is reflected in the length of the contracts signed by operators. The OEMs, however, also have modules in their programs to deal with the transfer of engines when an aircraft lease ends, and it moves to another operator, and also to ensure that operators get the most out of older engines particularly those in the final phase of their operational life – all designed to help the airlines implement best practices.

At Rolls-Royce, for example, TotalCare Flex is described as recognizing the need to minimize costs, “whilst releasing all of the engine life you own before the aircraft is retired from service”. Meanwhile, GE’s TrueChoice Transitions claims to offer “a broad range of options across the entire engine lifecycle”.

The value of these end-of-life services will no doubt be seen on the large engines exiting the fleet over the next few years, particularly by airlines set to say farewell to their Boeing 747s as the “Queen of the Skies” is slowly phased out of service.

While that process may be sad for some, the good news is that the next generation of large engines – including the GE9X, GEnx, Trent 1000 and Trent XWB – have next generation solutions ready for them to achieve optimum lifecycle management.