Finding the right MRO

Effective aircraft ownership and operation are critically dependent on the quality of chosen maintenance, repair and overhaul activities. Matching needs and capabilities, including developed alternatives, is key to successful outcomes.

By Don Van Dyke
Fokker F28, Bell 222
Pro Pilot Canada Technical Editor

West Star Aviation was voted Best MRO by Pro Pilot readers in both the 2014 and 2015 PRASE Surveys. Services include powerplants, airframe, avionics, interiors, paint and modifications for Bombardier, Citation, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream, Hawker, King Air, Learjet aircraft.

Resilience of the corporate aircraft market underscores the fact that competitive organizations often use travel to create corporate advantage. The global business fleet, currently comprising just over 31,000 aircraft, is projected by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) to grow to 38,000 by 2025.

According to Honeywell, of the 9200 business aircraft purchases planned during this period, 52% will be large cabin models with the remaining segment nearly evenly split between midsize and small cabin models. North and South America will continue to provide the greatest demand.

The corresponding 10-year maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) requirement will amount to $121.8 billion. The task of satisfying this challenging need will fall to a global workforce of nearly 280,000 maintenance personnel.

Relatively few corporate operators have in-house MRO departments, and these find it challenging to remain relevant in an increasingly OEM-centric world. The dominant position of engine OEMs will soon be joined by the airframe manufacturers, the principal drivers being cost-of-entry factors such as tooling and expertise.

Professional pilots who understand aircraft ownership, operating and maintenance models can clarify concepts and jargon which decision makers may find complex and confusing. Given the high-values of engines and airframes as well as associated maintenance costs, such understanding is critically important to the selection of suitable technical support.
This article suggests a basic strategy to match business aviation operating profiles and the aircraft inspection and MRO market that seeks to serve them.

Operator needs

Elliott Aviation is a family-owned business that has been in operation since 1936. Factory-authorized solutions provided range from aircraft sales, acquisition and management to engine mx, avionics and interiors for business aircraft such as Citations, Embraers, Hawkers and King Airs.

In favorable economic conditions, an aircraft owner seeking to upgrade may sell before the OEM warranty expires in order to retain the aircraft's marketability and value. Conversely, when an economy is weak, an owner may elect to keep the aircraft, even beyond warranty expiration. But in that case, operators must find MRO providers experienced in out-of-warranty airplanes.

Low fuel costs, which dropped over 55% during the past 24 months, will continue to significantly influence the operating and MRO supply chain. Declining fuel prices more than offset the higher maintenance costs of older airplanes and improve their relative operating cost advantage versus new-generation types. This may delay retirements of older aircraft, keeping them in service longer and spurring MRO demand with their engines, components and airframes.

Operators must meet this need with choices from among a worldwide field of over 4700 civil MRO firms, 80% of which are small and medium enterprises (SMEs)—some affiliated to OEMs, others independent. How does one choose? A brief review of inspection and MRO concepts, from a pilot's perspective, may help in identifying appropriate candidates and in making recommendations.

The maintenance process

This table provides an overview of business jet evolution by presenting those in production as well as those currently in development. Information provided here may guide decision-makers to formulate mid to long-term plans for maintenance support.

Regular inspections and preventive maintenance assure airworthiness and appreciably avoid operating failures and equipment malfunctions. Aircraft items are controlled by flying hours, calendar time, landings/cycles, an extension limit, or a combination of limits, according to schedules approved by the State of Registry.

Inspections: The aviation industry refers to inspections as checks for different levels of maintenance. Industry practice is to phase these activities to improve availability, but the following terminology and inspection types are still common:
• Line checks. An A Check inspects the aircraft's landing gear, control surfaces, fluid levels, oxygen systems, lighting and APUs. The B Check inspects internal control systems, hydraulic systems, and cockpit and cabin emergency equipment, as well as A Check items.
• Base checks. The C Check opens the aircraft for inspection of wear, corrosion and cracks. A D Check requires disassembly of the aircraft at a specialized facility to perform depot-level inspection and heavy maintenance comprising complete structural checks and restoration.
Maintenance: MRO providers offer combinations of airframe, engine, component, line, and modification maintenance as described in Table 2.


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