In the world of real estate, the mantra of “Location, Location, Location” is regularly chanted as the part of the discipline of property deals, helping to define the desirability of a property. So pervasive is the phrase that television programs with that title have been made in more than one country.

It can easily be argued that the same applies to where aircraft engines are maintained. Whenever an engine is removed for repair or overhaul, if the quality given by providers is roughly equal, it would clearly be better for it not to have to travel too far for specialist MRO services. The price of shipping and the added cost of the time taken for the engine to reach and return from the MRO shop all add up.

As with many a decision of this nature, a certain amount of evaluation is required. If an operator (without its own engine maintenance department) believes one MRO provider further away is better than a more local provider, the operator has to balance the value it gets from the better provider, with the overall cost of sending an engine further for servicing.

It has been a trend for some years now that the OEMs have been increasing their presence in the aftermarket. In fact, the engine manufacturers have been among the leaders in this movement. And one of the key reasons was precisely to provide service centers closer to their customers.

Almost all of the big players have gone down this route, be it with wholly-owned centers, joint ventures or authorized/recognized service providers/centers. And as the global fleet continues to grow, so does the number of service centers.

GE Aviation, for example, has expanded its network recently in a variety of locations. While Cincinnati might be its commercial engine manufacturing base, it is down the road in Florence, KY, near Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, where the company is about to expand its On Wing Support with a new 68,000 ft2 facility. The new center is more than twice the size of the current facility located in Hebron, KY and will join seven other repair stations in the On Wing Support worldwide network.

Such investments have also been occurring in other parts of the world. Late last year, GE Aviation put a further $80 million into its engine service facility in Subang, Malaysia. The long-term tenancy agreement which was set up will add capabilities designed to support the servicing of the CFM LEAP engine.

The growth in Malaysia had itself come shortly after GE and SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC) created an engine overhaul joint venture based in Singapore. The agreement has GE holding a 51% stake in the JV, with SIAEC holding the remaining 49%.

The new center focuses on the GE90, but is also preparing to handle the GE9X engine which has been selected for the Boeing 777X aircraft, which is scheduled to make its maiden flight in 2020, with entry into service not long after. When announcing the JV, GE emphasized that it would utilize “best practices from GE's ‘Brilliant Factory’ concepts, combining advanced technologies and lean practices with digitization and data analytics to enhance productivity”.

As noted, networks of service centers also include those whose work satisfies the OEM and thus earns them status as a “recognized” or “authorized” facility. At this year’s Paris Air Show, Rolls-Royce added a new independent Authorized Maintenance Centre (AMC) to its network in a deal with Abu Dhabi-based Sanad Aerotech. The new AMC will specialize in overhaul services for the Trent 700, the engine on first generation Airbus A330s.

Similarly, earlier this year Pratt & Whitney expanded its global network of service providers for the PW1500G engine used in the Airbus A220 family. MB Aerospace, Schaeffler Aerospace Canada, Schaeffler Aerospace GmbH & Kg Co., MDS Coating Technologies and Exotic Metals Forming Company were all added to the list of MRO providers for the Geared Turbofan (GTF) engine.

Support networks of facilities don’t only have to be for complete engines, though. GE Aviation subsidiary, Dowty Propellers, has its own network of authorized repair and overhaul facilities for the R408 propellers on De Havilland of Canada Dash 8-400 (formerly Bombardier Q400) aircraft. Just last year, Ethiopian Airlines, a major operator of the type, was announced as one such facility for the African continent.

With recognized/authorized service facilities, there is two-way value. For the OEM, it enables the tentacles of their aftermarket offerings to spread into new geographical areas without a very high level of investment. For the selected MRO providers, the system enables them to be seen as a quality provider. Quite a number of third party MRO centers are authorized by different OEMs, enhancing their brands even more.

The big players’ networks have been built over many years, but, as shown, the need to keep expanding is still there. Their importance can be underlined by looking at aerospace companies without such networks, perhaps from newer OEMs trying to break into the global market. They may have impressive products, but if global support is not there, the chances of long-term success are slim.