PRATT & WHITNEY RESEARCH FORGES AHEAD
Although most airlines do their own line maintenance, 60 per cent of the world’s carriers outsource heavy work to lower costs
Pratt & Whitney’s large commercial engines power more than 25 per cent of the world’s mainline passenger fleet.
IN THE AVIATION INDUSTRY, all engineering aspects have to be in perfect play for 100 per cent safety. There is absolutely no room whatsoever for any kind of error as the slightest of defect could have disastrous results. Hence, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) are critical components in airline operations. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has in a report said that the MRO sector is valued at over $45 billion and growing, considering that there are more and more planes coming into the market. While aircraft manufacturers are continuously working on increasing the uptime of an aircraft, there are always operational and technical issues which need to be attended to, besides the normal maintenance schedules to keep the aircraft in fine condition.
ACCOUNTS FOR NEARLY 15 PER CENT OF OPERATING COSTS. It is estimated that MRO usually represents some 12 to 15 per cent of operating costs. Although most airlines do their own line maintenance, 60 per cent of the world’s carriers outsource heavy work to lower costs. For instance, a huge chunk of MRO work goes out of India to the Middle East or South East Asia for want of an adequate and comprehensive MRO network in India. While Air India has made investments in MRO, there are other airlines which have to depend on third-party MRO which is very nascent in India. MRO requires huge investments in infrastructure which an airline can ill-afford, unless it has a large fleet of aircraft, going beyond 100.
According to Guenther Matschnigg, IATA Senior Vice President of Safety, Operations and Infrastructure, in the report said there is also additional pressure to find business from third parties in order to spread costs and generate revenue. “The need to get third-party contracts is growing all the time. It is estimated that about 30-50 per cent of MRO work is third party. So while some
airlines are getting out of MRO, others believe they can find economies of scale by bulking up the amount of work they do.”
IATA is smoothing progress wherever possible, trying to ensure MRO companies and airlines cooperate while maintaining operational excellence. The IATA Engineering and Maintenance Group has established guidelines on engineering best practice and the standardisation of technology, for example. In particular, its information exchange enables members to quickly and confidentially exchange information on any matter with technical implications.
AUDIT SCHEME. The big breakthrough, though, would be an audit scheme for MRO, along the lines of IATA’s Operational Safety Audit and Safety Audit for Ground Operations. Many countries require audits that cost airlines millions of dollars every year. “MRO companies are audited all the time,” says Matschnigg. “Anecdotal evidence from some of the major players suggests that there can be as much as one audit every week. We have to stop this audit frenzy—it wastes money and valuable resources.”
However, the MRO sector is awash with regulators and regulations, so satisfying all requirements will be a tall order. “But imagine what it would be like if a major MRO company only got audited once,” points out Matschnigg. “The cost savings would be enormous.” Chemical waste products from engine washes are a case in point. IATA has formed working groups to look at best practice and a means of disseminating this information to the industry. Then there is training. New techniques and standards could greatly enhance MRO performance. There are no current recruitment problems, although shortages are expected as the industry returns to growth.
QUALITY IS ALL THAT MATTERS. Quality, quality and quality is the only answer for MRO. Quality is defined as “inherent feature, a degree of excellence, having certain properties and grade.” While quality could mean different things to different people, aircraft maintenance organisations or MROs should define quality as a collection of processes designed and implemented to ensure adequate quality exists in both aviation maintenance processes and products.
Quality assurance (QA) is a component of quality management system and MROs have to incorporate that in their day to day activities. QA is closely identified with ISO-9000, Six Sigma and other such certifications. QA is a process-based system that places more emphasis on how something is made rather than the final product. The rapid evolution of computers and their widespread use in manufacturing has allowed the process to become the focus of quality assurance, because computers can perform the same function many times with little or no error.
AVIATION CHALLENGES ARE DIFFERENT. Chris Grosenick, a Quality Assurance Specialist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, states that in aviation the challenges are different and QA has to be that much more comprehensive. MRO is governed by several factors such as statutory requirements (the Federal Aviation Regulations), original equipment manufacturer (OEM) maintenance schedules and requirements (aircraft maintenance manual), industry standards and specifications and general maintenance practices. When a maintenance situation is not covered by any of these documents or procedures, the AMT must rely on either experience or guidance from another technician or inspector to accomplish the repair.
As a general rule, aviation maintenance should be done in accordance with the applicable OEM maintenance manual and the supporting OEM processes and procedures for general repairs. When this guidance does not exist, an AC 43.13 repair, or MIL-STD/MIL-SPEC procedure is warranted, depending on the certification system for the subject aircraft. An industry standard process can be used if no other information is available, and for certificated aircraft, a 337/field approval is one solution. Most of the time an OEM repair is available, and there is little need to find another solution. The reason an OEM solution is preferred is because an inspector/IA will use the maintenance manual set to perform an annual or sign off a major repair.
QUALITY AND SAFETY. Reiterating the importance of quality and safety is a must. Chris Grosenick states that it is not possible to have a safe aircraft without some sort of quality assurance programme. For many FBOs, that programme is one or two IAs in residence, and for larger operations it’s the QA department. Safety and quality are as much a state of mind as they are an office staffed with people, and all levels of management must work together to ensure both are addressed in the same process. The technician is on the front line in this process since it is they that have most of the exposure to the hardware and the maintenance functions, and it is most important that management and the technicians have the same mindset when it comes to the quality process.
On the other hand, a good QA programme is important to the AMT because it creates a workplace where the technicians can develop their skills and learn more about the maintenance process than just the nuts and bolts repairs. It creates mutual respect between management and the workforce, and more importantly, it creates a business with a professional attitude where customers will continue to their aircraft.
RESEARCH AND TRAINING. What should be included in quality training? Safety, procurement, configuration management, statistical process control, basic engineering, human factors, and core college subjects all provide a good foundation for a QA inspector. Non-college training and certification are available from organisations such as the American Society for Quality. Many larger companies have in-house training or acquire the training from independent consultants. For smaller operations, like FBOs and private shops, most QA type training revolves around information contained in the FARs and other regulatory systems, because a small operation does not need a complex quality assurance process.
Aviation QA is a mix of several occupations and abilities: technical and troubleshooting skill, engineering, psychology, philosophy, and diplomacy. It is a vital part of every aircraft maintenance operation, regardless of size. Quality assurance needs people who are both well versed in aircraft maintenance, and able to adapt to the quality culture embodied in ISO 9001. A well-managed quality assurance process, together with good aircraft design and proper maintenance are all keys to providing safe aircraft for all types of operations.
IATA,IN A REPORT SAYS THAT, THE MRO SECTOR IS VALUED AT OVER $45 BILLION AND GROWING, CONSIDERING THAT THERE ARE MORE AND MORE PLANES COMING INTO THE MARKET