Editor's Note

Maintenance Case

By By James W. Ramsey | April 1, 2013
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Mark Heim, a Charlotte, N.C.-based US Airways aircraft mechanic,
works on avionics equipment aboard one of the airline’s Airbus A330.

The quest for known predictable costs, along with an emphasis on predictive or preventive maintenance preventing avionics and other component failures from occurring in-service is driving current airline maintenance trends. And while some airlines are operating their MRO organizations as “profit centers,” others prefer to concentrate on their own maintenance, outsourcing some of it to component specialists.

US Airways has established itself as a leader among the major carriers in effectiveness of its MRO as measured by flight dispatch reliability and deferred maintenance (MEL) statistics. It concentrates on its own maintenance.

And that maintenance network is poised to expand following the announcement of a $11 billion merger between US Airways and American Airlines, which, if approved, would create the world’s largest airline. (See sidebar on pg. 14.)

“I know from an MRO standpoint, other carriers take different approaches having an MRO operation that they market separately. Our belief is that we need to be good at maintaining our airplanes, to build an organization that looks to do that,” said David Seymour, senior vice president of operations for US Airways in January. “We need to put all our energy, all our focus on maintaining our fleet and ensuring it is the most reliable one out there.”

He believes in outsourcing work where appropriate, but said he still wants to retain a share of its own heavy maintenance. “I would never want to be in a situation where we don’t have to do any of my heavy maintenance because we need to have a touch, and control. But when it’s not time sensitive or critical, there are other people that are experts,” he adds.

As stipulated in its contract with its mechanics union, the airline does at least 50 percent of its heavy maintenance in-house with facilities in Pittsburgh and Charlotte, N.C. From a line maintenance standpoint, the carrier has concentrations at its major hubs of Philadelphia, Charlotte and Phoenix and has line maintenance in 16 other locations in the United States. In all, US Airways has 3,500 employees in its Technical Operations department. (The airline operates 3,200 flights per day serving more than 200 communities in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Central and South America).

The airline has avionics-specialized technicians at its hub operations. Its Avionics Engineering Group oversees all engineering aspects related to avionics equipment or systems on the aircraft, and has controllers that are avionics-focused at its Maintenance Control Center in Pittsburgh.

“While a very experienced A&P mechanic in my line operation might not necessarily be an avionics person, with the right direction from an avionics maintenance controller, they can get all the required work done,” Seymour says.

The airline has agreements with avionics OEMs including Honeywell and Thales whose service organizations do the repair and overhaul of its components.

“We have a variety of different agreements but we don’t try to blanket everything the same way. With agreements that are on a flight-hour basis, we tend to own spares. But if we run into issues due to our long relationships with these vendors they will support us with additional spares,” Seymour said.

US Airways operates the world’s largest fleet of Airbus aircraft. It currently operates 255 Airbus aircraft 239 are in the A320 family, the others A330s. Its Boeing 737 fleet will be retired by the end of 2014 and is being replaced by new A321s, leaving its domestic system operated by A320 family or Embraer E-190s. (The airline accepted 12 new aircraft last year, with 21 deliveries scheduled for this year.)

“Several of [US Airways’ A320s] were delivered before the world of GPS,” Seymour said. This year the airline will finish its upgrades to the multi-mode receivers (MMR) which will provide a GPS capability enabling the carrier to take advantage of Required Navigation Performance (RNP) procedures, Seymour says.

American Airlines operates a fleet of 608 aircraft, including MD-80s, 737-800s, 757-200s, 767-200ERs, 767-300ERs, 777s, 787s, and 737s, in addition to A320s.

Third-Party Providers

US Airways operates a mainline fleet of more than 345 aircraft, including 10 

Boeing 767-200ERs, above. It also operates the world’s largest fleet of Airbus aircraft.

US Airways, some 10 years ago, worked out an arrangement with Barfield, a Sabena Technics company, to do bench testing of components from its shop in Tempe, Ariz.

“Rather than ship these components to a facility on the East Coast, we set up an arrangement with Barfield where they would test the component, to confirm whether there was a fault or not, and If there wasn’t they could then recertify the unit and put it back in stock substantially reducing component turnaround time. This helped improve the efficiency of our operations,” Seymour said.

US Airways also outsources airframe heavy maintenance to third-party providers Aeroman, in El Salvador; AAR, in Miami; and ST Aerospace, in Mobile, Ala. Aeroman, a narrowbody MRO provider in Latin America, offers C-checks and engine overhaul specializing in work on Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. AAR has its major facility in Miami, and others in Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, and Hot Springs, Ark.

“When we look at the rest of our MRO portfolio engines, landing gear and other components, they are almost exclusively outsourced. Most engine maintenance is under contract with the OEMs Rolls Royce, International Aero Engines, Pratt & Whitney and GE.

While 2011 was an excellent year for fleet reliability and performance, Seymour expected 2012 to be “significantly better.” He points to 40 days last year when the fleet operated without any maintenance cancellations, and says “the deferred maintenance counts, or minimum equipment list where the aircraft can be operate for a defined period of time with a particular system or equipment inoperative were at record lows. We are operating a mainline fleet that is as reliable as any fleet out there in the world,” he said.

Additionally, the airline relies on agreements with avionics OEMs to provide product support worldwide.

Honeywell provides inventory management and maintenance for auxiliary power units (APU) for US Airways’ fleet of B757s and B767s.

“US Airways will save money through Honeywell’s spares pools, and reduce costs by avoiding delays and administrative work,” said Mike Madsen, vice president of airlines for Honeywell Aerospace. Honeywell’s Integrated Service Solution (ISS) is designed to reduce airlines’ upfront investment by providing spares support for critical dispatch needs. Additional equipment is held within Honeywell facilities to support rapid exchange of removed aircraft equipment.

David Seymour,
senior vice president 

of operations for
US Airways.

Another agreement, with Thales, includes long-term repair by the hour (RBTH) covering a wide variety of components on the carrier’s Airbus fleets. “We are responsible for performing all necessary repairs to installed and spare components. We help monitor their spares levels and provide recommendations for component upgrades. We also monitor on-wing performance to help optimize overall fleet reliability,” says Ed Senen, vice president/general manager of aerospace services worldwide-Americas, Thales Avionics.

The agreement gives its customer “predictive repair costs and an OEM repair source,” adds Senen.

Also, through a joint venture with ACSS, US Airways has certified its SafeRoute suite of software applications using Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADSB) technology.

Along with its current repair products, including fixed rate repair (FRR), or performance-based logistics (PBL), Thales offers predictive services.

“Under this program, we monitor the performance of all our customer’s components at a part and serial number level,” Senen says. “If the performance of a component or individual serial number is degrading, we take prompt action to correct it. Because we analyze part number reliability at a global level, we often make reliability improvement recommendations to a customer before they notice any performance issues.”

Merger to Create World’s Largest Airline

American Airlines and US Airways in February announced an $11 billion merger deal to create the world’s largest airline. The merger is expected to close in September.

US Airways told Avionics Magazine “its MRO organization will function as usual during the period before the merger closes. Planning will take place, but no details will be announced until then,” a US Airways spokesman said.

American Airlines Maintenance Services, the maintenance and engineering arm of the airline, operates three overhaul maintenance bases located in Tulsa, Okla., Fort Worth, Texas, and Kansas City, Mo., along with line stations located throughout its domestic and international network. The organization repairs and maintains America’s fleet of more than 600 large jets as well as aircraft for dozens of other carriers.

If approved by regulators and American’s bankruptcy court, the new American Airlines will become the seventh major airline merger in the United States since 2005. The merger would create an airline industry where the top four carriers — American, United, Delta and Southwest — are reportedly controlling about 70 percent of the domestic market. The new American Airlines would offer more than 6,700 flights to 336 destinations in 56 counties.

American Airlines has 21,100 mechanics, fleet service, store clerks, dispatchers, ground school/simulator instructors/technicians, and maintenance control technicians; US Airways has 3,500 maintenance and related personnel.

“By providing our customers with a broader network, more choices and better service, the combination of American and US Airways will give passengers a stronger competitive alternative to Delta/Northwest and United/Continental … System wide, American Airlines serves 130 cities not served by US Airways, 48 of which are within the United States. Similarly, US Airways serves 62 cities not served by American Airlines, 48 of which are within the United States,” said Stephen Johnson, Executive Vice President, Corporate and Government Affairs, US Airways, before the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law in late February. 

Maintaining the 787

Rockwell Collins has dispatch programs with six airlines that have ordered new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, including All Nippon Airways and China Southern Airlines.

The fixed price per flight hour agreement provides guaranteed dispatch levels through spares management, logistical support and component reliability improvements for Rockwell Collins suite of equipment. (On the 787, Rockwell Collins provides the primary flight displays, dual head-up displays, communications system, integrated surveillance system, which combines Traffic and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), terrain avoidance warning systems (TAWS), Mode S transponders and weather radar functions-and pilot control systems.)

With its dispatch programs, “we own the avionics spares assets and then we offer customized solutions to the customers,” says Kirk Weber, senior director of Service Operations for Rockwell Collins.

“Most frequently, we forward-position [the spares] to one or more of their hubs. Then we provide a guarantee of pool availability. Based on the reliability of the equipment, we maintain the appropriate amount of spares assets in their pool.” This can be a “closed pool,” just dedicated to one customer, or an “open pool,” that can be shared with other customers — and is usually located where Rockwell Collins has test facilities. For the Asia-Pacific region, its 787 test capability is located in Singapore.

Another 787 customer, China Southern Airlines — under a 10-year agreement — is provided with guaranteed spares availability, systems configuration updates, technical repairs and performance monitoring for Rockwell Collins systems. Spares will be located at the carrier’s main hub in Guangzhou. 

“The dispatch program delivers advantages on cost prediction and reliability improvement for aircraft maintenance, as well as aircraft on ground support,” said He Ai Yun, manager of aviation supplies, maintenance and engineering for the airline. Rockwell Collins has similar agreements with Air India and Hainan Airline, scheduled to begin upon delivery of their first Boeing 787s. 

“When airlines have a new kind of fleet — with a new type of spares assets — they have to make a decision on purchasing them, or do some kind of asset-based program with someone,” says Weber.

“We’re seeing a pretty good adoption rate on that — they don’t have to make that big spares purchase.”

He points out that “we hadn’t had any real clean sheet aircraft for quite some time, until the A380 and then the 787 came along. “This contrasts with a carrier “that adds some 737NGs to a fleet that already has some 737s with the same compliment of avionics. So they already have spares, and they aren’t going to do something different.”

Rockwell Collins guarantees a pool availability, with cost usually based on flight hours. But the agreements can be tailored to suit the customer. “If an airline goes with an open pool, and they have a small number of aircraft starting in their fleet, if you did the normal sparing model, you’d have to buy one of everything,” Weber says. “But with an ‘open’ model you can share that; you might have to have half for this airline and another half for this other airline, so you might only need one spare asset for the two airlines, rather than both of them buying one. I think there is a potential savings there for both these airlines.”

Rockwell Collins keeps its spares pools upgraded to the latest level “which is what the customer finds in an open pool,” Weber explains. But with a closed pool, “they get the latitude of deciding what they want upgraded, and there is a cost to that sometimes. That’s probably the reason some airlines want to maintain that control over that cost. But you decide what upgrades you get.”

Rockwell Collins operates 13 service centers throughout the world that offer avionics test and repair capabilities. —James W. Ramsey

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