Thursday, December 1, 2005
Tulsa's MRO Duo
The Aerospace Alliance of Tulsa, Oklahoma boasts nearly 300 members. Among them are Lufthansa Technik Composite Tulsa (see sidebar on page 50) and BizJet, which was purchased by Lufthansa Technik in 2000. Both companies are well embedded in this land of oil rigs, red dirt, and Indian tribal histories. And both have combined two diverse cultures to establish a comprehensive business aviation support center.
Bernd Kowalewski, Bizjet's president and CEO and an 18-year veteran with the parent company in Hamburg, Germany, is well aware of the two companies' differences and their similarities. He admits to geographical culture shock when he moved his family to the U.S. heartland last year. However, BizJet's company culture (since its founding in 1986 as an engine shop for corporate aircraft) proved a good fit with the values practiced at Lufthansa Technik. "These include a strong work ethic and emphasis on quality, productivity, investment in employee training, and involvement with the local and regional communities," Kowalewski said. BizJet personnel have an average of 10 years' employment with the company.
BizJet offers MRO services for a wide range of aircraft/engine models. On the engine side, one of Bizjet's strengths has always been the General Electric CJ610; BizJet was an early alternative to GE for CJ610 overhauls when it launched in 1986 and is an authorized CJ610 and CF700 overhauler. BizJet is Pratt & Whitney Canada qualified to overhaul the JT15D, a Honeywell-authorized major service center for the TFE731, and an authorized overhaul facility for the Rolls-Royce Spey and Tay engines found on older-generation Gulfstream jets. Through its relationship with Lufthansa A.E.R.O. in Alzey, Germany, just outside of Frankfurt, BizJet also services the General Electric CF34. For heavy maintenance events on the CF34, BizJet ships engines to Alzey.
Many of the engines that BizJet services are fitted to what Kowalewski calls "legend" airplanes, which are earlier-generation jets whose owners demand quality maintenance and that have been an area of focus for BizJet. The company offers maintenance, paint, and interior services for all business jet brands, including Gulfstream, Embraer, Dassault Falcon, Cessna Citation, Raytheon Beechjet and Hawker, and Bombardier Learjet and Challenger plus the more recently added capability for Boeing Business Jet engine and paint work.
Early last year, BizJet added a new 13,000-square foot engine test cell capable of testing engines up to 50,000 pounds of thrust. BizJet is doing more repair work for the BBJ's CFM56 engine, thanks to the large test cell. "For BBJs," said Kowalewski, "you need someone who has the corporate feel but can handle more complicated, larger aircraft. And Lufthansa has extensive expertise in the [Boeing] 737 family."
While most of BizJet's work is from U.S.-based operators, the company also has customers outside the U.S. "Aircraft seeking service can easily fly [back] to Canada or to South America from here," said Kowalewski.
One-stop, open shop
Kowalewski described his job as optimizing BizJet's heritage values with the "one-stop" and "open-shop" philosophies of Lufthansa Technik, "enlarging our portfolio of products and services." At the core of this effort has been the elimination of subcontracting and developing in-house capabilities with 220 experts in engine, airframe, avionics, paint, and interior MRO services. For services that are not available in Tulsa, BizJet can take advantage of Lufthansa Technik capabilities, for example, GE CF34 overhauls are available at Lufthansa A.E.R.O., and the range of Lufthansa Technik expertise is available to BizJet in the form of collaboration between facilities in training and technical expertise. The intent is to provide BizJet customers with convenience, reduced downtime, reliability, and satisfaction with BizJet's state-of-the-art facilities and skilled personnel.
An FAA A&P mechanic certificate is a minimum qualification for technical personnel, who are additionally sent both to manufacturer and Lufthansa Technik training courses. Though 98 percent of BizJet's structural work is in sheetmetal repairs, with the rest in composites, BizJet does train technicians to work in both media. "We want our mechanics to have as much versatility and cross-training as possible," Kowalewski said, "for aircraft models, as well as metallic or composite materials familiarity. It's our goal to avoid tunnel vision, across the board from management to the technicians.
"We can offer a good cost platform here in Oklahoma, which is important for operators in a cost crunch," Kowalewski added. In part this is due to the trained labor force available, both from the concentration of aviation businesses and Tulsa's educational resources (such as the A&P school at Tulsa Technology Center), which helps keep costs low by avoiding rework and delivering high quality in the shortest possible time. In greater part, BizJet has the support of Lufthansa Technik's global MRO network, as well as the partnership with sister company Lufthansa Technik Composite Tulsa for large-area composite repair and equipment.
The open-shop policy means that BizJet gives customers the run of the 350,000 square feet of facilities housed in five hangars, including the engine shop. "Customers can talk with mechanics on site while the work they need is on-going, which gives them an extra level of confidence," he said.
A tour through the interiors shop reveals an enticing palette of high-grade leathers for seats and exotic woods and finishes for cabinetry to gold-plated hardware. BizJet interior artists can create a highly original, new aircraft interior while simultaneously technicians can overhaul a customer's engines and install new avionics.
There are 14 people working in the interior shop and, said Kowalewski, "we probably have to hire some more." Interior craftspeople are not required to hold an A&P certificate, but do need special skills to fulfill customers' special requests for custom upholstery and cabinetry, work that is all done in-house at BizJet.
While the interior shop remains busy, the pace of interior refurbs has dropped since September 11, 2001, according to Doug Bressler, manager, cabin refurbishment, although he has seen his department grow from two people 10 years ago to today's 14. Before 9/11, average interior refurbs took place every three to six years, he said, but that number has grown to six to ten years. Financial scandals in the corporate world haven't helped, tending to have a negative effect on the interior refurb business. Finally, the past few years of avionics mandates have siphoned money away from interiors into the cockpit, but those mandates are now ended.
BizJet's huge 50,000-square foot paint hangar can fit a Boeing Business Jet. All stripping and other "dirty" work is done in one hangar, leaving the clean final-finishing hangar for the actual painting and detailing. Both hangars are climate-controlled.
Other advantages offered by BizJet include an inventory of more than 50,000 line-item parts, components, and subassemblies, as well as test cells to accommodate each engine serviced, including the new 13,000-square foot 50,000-pound thrust test cell.
One of BizJet's specialties is catering to the operators of mature or legend airplanes, such as older Learjets, Falcons, Beechjets, Citations, and Gulfstreams. "The challenges for legend aircraft entail certification issues, inventory, and cost," said Kowalewski. "You have to have committed legend aircraft owners, but we've found we can increase a legend aircraft's value through strategic retrofits."
This strategy includes offering to help customers certificate modifications to extend the life of legend airplanes, to breathe new life into older airplanes. Speaking about one customer with an older-generation jet, Kowalewski said, "We've been able to keep it operating safely and as originally intended in terms of reliability via our MRO technology." One example of this technology is BizJet's in-house plasma spray system, which allows the company to restore worn engine parts such as turbine and compressor blades that can cost up to $10,000 each. Customers can save as much as 30 to 50 percent off the cost of new replacement parts by having their parts repaired, according to Kowalewski.
Sales are improving at BizJet, said Kowalewski, and growth during the past few years has averaged 10 to 20 percent per year. "We're well out of the valley now that most corporate MROs went into after 9/11," he said. Engine work is steady and more heavy airframe work is coming in the door, he added.
Kowalewski said that one advantage of working with an independent MRO company like BizJet is that customers have a choice of facilities to patronize, from OEM-owned shops to independent companies. "Having choices is a fact in today's world," he said. "Why ignore that? Why not embrace it?" Kowalewski asked.
Lufthansa Technik's venture into the North American business aviation market is paying off, according to Kowalewski. "Lufthansa [Technik] has a large customer base in the U.S.," he said. "Therefore we feel a need for being here."
Composite Repairs Save Big Bucks on Parts
Tulsa, Oklahoma is also home to Lufthansa Technik Composite Tulsa (LTC), borne out of Composite International, established in 1987, then purchased by Lufthansa Technik in 2001 and renamed in 2002. The parent company's desire with this acquisition and restructuring was to enhance expertise in large-part composite repair on nacelles, cowls and fairings, and thrust reversers. Another goal: to create synergies in repair methodology, critical materials, and spare parts with the parent company's other MRO service facilities in China and Germany. LTC is an FAA repair station and a JAA-accepted maintenance organization and employs 122 people. Customers include major airlines in North America, Europe, and Asia, government and military aircraft, and fleets from Lufthansa German Airlines subsidiaries.
"We have been able to reduce transportation and overhead costs," said Norbert Marx, CEO, "and create an optimized process flow through our lean factory initiative here, along with both horizontal and vertical synergies with the other facilities." He estimates that LTC can save between 15 and 30 percent on average in composite material costs. In 2004, Marx estimates the company completed about 150 off-airplane repairs on major components and 600 to 800 smaller components. These included nacelles, nose cowls, thrust reversers, fairings, interior floor and side panels, and in the control surface area, flaps, spoilers, slats, ailerons, and rudders. "Our revenues were up 80 percent last year," he said, "driven primarily by the reverser business, but also with an increase in airframe activities."
Marx defines composite repairs conducted by LTC as encompassing different types of interfacing metals, reinforced polymeric materials, or a combination of metals and polymerics. An inlet cowl, for example, may involve a double-curved metal-to-metal lip skin, with an outer reinforced polymeric composite skin. LTC prides itself in the ability to build original tooling, rigging, and molds to handle issues such as correct springback compensation to achieve proper fit for the large, flexible cowls. The company also repairs all-metal, cone-shaped exhaust nozzles to structural repair manual specifications, which Marx said is about 33 percent cheaper than replacing the part.
Typical polymeric composite repairs involve carbon fiber/epoxy aft bondments approximately four by twelve feet in size on the nacelle trans fan cowls of Grumman and Lockheed Martin legacy aircraft. Glass fiber/epoxy belly panels and reverser blocker doors are other growth areas in polymeric composite repair at LTC. Marx attributes the company's good relationship with a local FAA designated airworthiness representative, who is an independent consultant, in helping to communicate with airframe manufacturers to facilitate these large-area repairs. LTC also takes advantage of engineering capability at Lufthansa Technik Engineering in Germany for complex repair development. Marx added that almost all the polymeric composite repairs are cured in the facility's 6- by 22-foot and 10- by 24-foot autoclaves. Batches involving bonds include a test panel, and the company is unique in providing systematic destructive testing of process-control panels for repaired flight control components.
In an on-site chat with LTC technicians, Aviation Maintenance learned that making a wet layup repair on the batwing panel attached to the fuselage of a Challenger 601 or 604 requires the ability to assess damage in multiple contours. Glass/epoxy prepreg (20-ounce cloth) with Nomex honeycomb core that is 0.25 inches thick at the edge is used for this repair. Repairs with carbon fiber/epoxy and DuPont's Kevlar aramid fiber are also performed. Technicians have been trained to make repairs with Heatcon hot bonders and use Wichitech electronic tap hammers for sonic inspection.
--By Vicki P. McConnell