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Friday, August 1, 2008

Maintenance News

GE Completes Acquisition of Walter Engines

GE-Aviation has announced that it has completed the acquisition of certain assets of Walter Engines, a Czech Republic-based manufacturer of small turboprop engines and high-precision machined parts for the aviation industry. The acquisition broadens GE’s offerings for aviation customers and enables the company to enter the fast growing small, twin-engine turboprop aircraft market segment. Walter Engines is a $28 million company manufacturing aircraft engines since 1923. According to the company it has produced more than 37,000 engines, and its Walter M601 turboprop engine family has more than 1,500 engines on more than 30 aircraft types. The first M601 turboprop engine was manufactured in 1975 and has accumulated more than 16 million hours since its introduction. "Walter’s deep industry experience in turboprop applications is a complementary fit with GE’s strategy to better position GE-Aviation in this growing segment," says David Joyce, president and CEO of GE-Aviation. "Through this acquisition, GE will help Walter with investment funding as well as technical knowledge of materials, turbine design and 3-D aero modeling. Walter will help GE better understand the business aviation segment and its customers’ need to simple, straightforward design." The assets have been acquired by GE Aviation Czech s.r.o., which is part of GE’s Business & General Aviation division, and will trade under the name Walter Aircraft Engines, a division of GE-Aviation. Walter employs 400 people in Prague, Czech Republic.

Gulfstream Celebrates Anniversary of London-Luton Service Center

Gulfstream Aerospace recently celebrated the five-year anniversary of its London-Luton Service Center. The facility is the first and only Gulfstream-owned service center to be operated outside the United States. Gulfstream bought the maintenance center from BBA Aviation in April 2003. After its first year of operation, the U.K. facility doubled its hangar space from 28,000 to 56,000 square feet. That same year, it became the first Federal Aviation Administration-certificated aircraft maintenance center outside the United States to be awarded the FAA’s Aviation Maintenance Technician Diamond Certificate of Excellence. It provides maintenance for the Gulfstream G550, G500, G450, G350, G200, G400 and G300 as well as the GV, GIV-SP, GIV, GIII and GII. The facility has received approval to work on a variety of Gulfstream aircraft from the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Industry, the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department, the United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bahrain and United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority. In 2007, the center and its nearly 100 employees serviced approximately 1,350 Gulfstream aircraft.

Cessna Expands European Citation Service Center Capabilities

Cessna’s European Citation Service Center, located at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, is moving toward round-the-clock support for aircraft-on-ground (AOG) situations and expanding its capabilities for unplanned maintenance. "With the Citation fleet growing in the European market, we believe it’s the right time to step up our service levels for unplanned maintenance and AOG situations," says Cessna’s Senior Vice President of Customer Service Mark Paolucci. "Within a year we will be offering the 24/7 level of service that Citation owners experience in North America." Mobile unplanned maintenance teams will travel throughout the region to minimize downtime for Citation owners and operators. The teams will respond to AOG situations, carry a specialized parts inventory and arrange for timely delivery of other parts as necessary.

A400 Challenges Airbus but Promises Maintenance Simplicity

The news from Seville has not been good. The southern Spanish city is home to the Airbus A400M turboprop airlifter production line. The aircraft has suffered delays since the project got underway in 1982. Foot-dragging over order sizes by the four development partner countries of Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Spain has not helped things.

The most pressing issue now is to resolve the technical problems being encountered as the first prototype is assembled. Amassing the necessary flight hours on the aircraft’s Europrop TP-400 engine has been difficult following setbacks integrating the engine on to a Lockheed Martin C-130K test bed by Marshall Aerospace in the UK.

The delivery date of the first A400M to its launch customer, the Armée de l’Air (AdlA/’French Air Force’) is now scheduled for 2010 (it was originally planned for 2008). "We’re working hard to get the first aircraft up and flying this summer," said Tom Enders, Airbus chief executive officer, earlier this year.

Tom Williams, executive vice president programs at Airbus, says that it is not just engine challenges, but also problems with the aircraft’s wiring which is slowing the A400M: "We’ve had to get the architecture of the aircraft right," the difficulties are, "to do with the way we manage the loads on the aircraft. It’s to do with all the integration of the overall architecture of the aircraft."

To date, the order book stands at 60 A400Ms for the Luftwaffe (‘German Air Force’), 50 for the AdlA, 27 for the Ejército del Aire (‘Spanish Air Force’), 25 for the Royal Air Force, ten for the Türk Hava Kuwetleri (‘Turkish Air Force’), ten for the Suid-Afrikaanse Lugmag (‘South African Air Force’), seven for the Force Aerienne Belge (‘Belgian Air Force’) four for the Tentara Udara Diraja Malaysia (‘Royal Malaysian Air Force’) and a single airframe for Luxembourg. This translates into over 190 aircraft which Airbus Military will have to support once they enter service.

Both Airbus Military and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) companies are turning their thoughts to the A400M’s demands once it enters service. Back in 2006, Lufthansa Technik and Air France Industrie who are already partnering in Airbus A380 component provision via their Spairliners initiative, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide spare parts support to "all A400M operators worldwide." Fast-forward to January 2007 and Lufthansa Technik were in the bidding for a $1.4 billion contract to provide maintenance support for the German A400Ms once they enter service circa 2011. The German company, which is partnering with Switzerland’s Ruag for its bid is up against Airbus Military itself, Diehl (which is partnering with Thales and Liebherr) along with Sabena Technics, Boeing and Marshall Aerospace. The German Ministry of Defence expects to announce the contract winners at some point in 2008.

Airbus’s philosophy to provide logistics support for the global fleet of A400Ms rests on its Customer Services Directorate (CSD) which was established in 2005 to provide a dedicated customer service portal for A400M operators. All logistical needs for the aircraft will go through the CSD, but Airbus Military will also have CSD representatives at each customer’s A400M operating base. The CSD will handle the provision of spare parts, documentation relating to the aircraft; repairs and maintenance, and technical support. Airbus Military will maintain the aircraft in a ‘holistic’ fashion, taking responsibility for all components, including the engines. This support can be paid for per-flight-hour or by another arrangement negotiated with the customer.

Airbus Military aims to provide these services ‘in country’ by partnering with local MRO firms, as witnessed with the German contract. This is designed to eliminate the operators having to fly their aircraft all the way back to Europe for upgrades or major modifications; an important consideration given that two A400M customers (South Africa and Malaysia) are based outside the continent. It also places the spare parts supplier much closer to the operator.

To reduce the costs for supporting the A400M, Airbus Military will be able to distribute parts around the world to operators via the existing Airbus civil aircraft logistics support network. Airbus already has logistics centres based in Hamburg and Frankfurt, Germany, Washington DC, Beijing and Singapore.

In terms of the aircraft’s maintenance, much of the aircraft’s ground support equipment can be used with other Airbus airframes. This could help to reduce costs for the Royal Air Force, AdlA, Luftwaffe and Spanish Air Forces which will not only operate the A400M, but which will also operate Airbus A330-200 tankers (in the case of the British and the French) A310 refuelers in the case of the Germans and the Spanish Air Force’s A310-300 V.I.P transports.

The A400M will be fitted with an Aircraft Integrated Monitoring and Diagnostic System (AIMDS) which will check the aircraft’s performance and download that data into a portable Ground Support System. This information can also be transmitted through a PC and satellite datalink.

Airbus Military has worked out a basic maintenance timetable for the A400M, but stresses that this could differ between operators once the aircraft starts to stretch its legs in service.

Broadly speaking the company says that the aircraft can operate for 15 maintenance-free days using the aircraft’s integral Short Deployment Kit for servicing. These operations can be taken up to 150 days or 500 flight hours with the air-transportable Ground Kit and Long Deployment Kit. As the aircraft goes through its life, it’s A-Check will be performed every 500 flight hours, or between every five-to-eight months, C-Check every 24 months or 3,000 flight hours, plus a corrosion inspection every six years. — By Thomas Withington

Meeting the Global Demand for Technicians

The problem of shortfall of technical workers is just as acute in Europe as in the United States. "We have turned to the motor industry before now and offered potential trainees high quality jobs with better money than they can earn, but they have rejected us and the aviation industry," says Ray Flower, Technical College manager at KLM UK Engineering, suggesting the industry has an image problem.

Martin Collins, engineering training manager at Monarch Aircraft Engineering UK, believes also: "It has a lot to do with modern society as youngsters today are encouraged to stay in school for much longer now and engineering apprenticeships are not seen as most attractive careers." Stefan Wiegenman, general manager Sogerma Training at Bordeaux, France agrees: "This is the change in aviation legislation, where training can take much longer now because of the qualifications required for different licences."

Much work is being done by the industry at large to deal with the problem. As a case in point, KLM UK Engineering Technical College is graduating 120 maintenance trainees a year, and in partnership with London’s Kingston University conducts a Foundation Degree course in aircraft engineering to JAR 66 B1 standard. This is a two-year course, of 2,400 hours, and since 2001, when the program was launched, has graduated 400 students. KLM Engineering is a component part of the Air France-KLM Engineering group and operates under the jurisdiction of KLM at Schiphol, from where students are regularly sent to Norwich, England. The College is also fully approved as a Part 147 Examination Center.

"We prefer to train people who can work on the shop floor and work under fully qualified engineers," says Martin Collins, the Monarch philosophy being that once trained, mechanics will hopefully stay with the company that employs them. This has been Monarch’s own experience, for adult trainees have been trained to fully qualified standard over a two-year period and stayed with the company thereafter and are still there today. Monarch Aircraft Engineering is unique in the UK in that it was established first as an engineering services provider in 1966 and created the airline operator Monarch Airlines one year later, now one of the country’s biggest.

"New and more advanced aircraft coming along, such as the A350 and Boeing 787 (of which Monarch Airlines has ordered six) may require less maintenance and ultimately fewer engineers, but in the short term the evidence is that the world will still be using a lot of aircraft which require maintenance in the traditional manner," says Collins.

The search is still on for tomorrow’s technicians and may be partly alleviated by new technology, in the view of Stefan Wiegenman. "I think the problem will be resolved because everyone is putting effort into finding the right people. We have, for example, invested substantially in a new training system which reduces the time required in type training and also reduces the time required in training on the actual aircraft, which can be valuable, for working on aircraft always raises the sensitive issues of safety and security," says Wiegenman. This is the virtual reality and environment system created by Airbus as the AACT, or Airbus Active learning and Competence-focused Training concept. "This is much better for students because they are familiar with the aircraft even before they see it, and from the virtually real environment created can move towards a task and work on it immediately," he continues. As with Sabena technics, Sogerma is now a part of the French TAT group, and whose name remains, for the time being, Sogerma Services Training. The company has two training schools, one at Bordeaux and the other in Brussels, and is currently training to fully qualified standard 1,200 technicians annually.

Lufthansa Technik made provision for a likely shortage of engineers several years ago and maintains it now has no problem. "We recognized there could be a shortage around the world in a few years’ time so we looked to the future," Christophe Meyerrose, head of technical training at Lufthansa Technik, Hamburg says. "The capabilities of Lufthansa Technik are quite considerable and we didn’t want to waste this capability. We knew that a shortage of qualified personnel would jeopardize the business and so we made a business plan. Over the period 2002-2004 we saw other companies cutting the number of their trainees, but we didn’t. We also worked with the various employment agencies in Germany to offer training and the placement of interested candidates in a five-year window, because it takes five years to train a fully qualified engineer," he continues. "We are well-placed while continuing to look ahead."

Lufthansa Technik is currently training no less than 16,000 engineers a year. The company has 14 training schools worldwide, four of which are in Germany with others in countries including Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, etc. Trainees come from 40 different countries, with basic training, training in line maintenance, type training and to fully qualified engineer standard given as required. Virtual reality training is increasingly used. "This optimizes the training and can make understanding better rather than making training easier," says Meyerrose. "New technology is taking many forms, and in the Airbus A380, for example, you can say that there is a maintenance engineer in the cockpit once again."(Lufthansa airlines is scheduled to receive the first of a fleet of 15 A380s in August 2009, training of engineers on which type will commence in October 2008). Overall, Lufthansa Technik invests some €40 million ($63 million) annually in training. — By Roy Allen

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