Awaiting the Uber of engine maintenance

Provision of consumer services is being transformed by the likes of Uber and Airbnb, and now eyes are turning to the commercial aviation industry to see if it can do the same.

On the face of it, engine maintenance seems a poor candidate for the ‘open-source’ generation. After all, it’s a service where less choice, rather than more, is becoming the norm; Oliver Wyman, a consultancy, estimates that 50 per cent of aftermarket work is now in the hands of manufacturers, a share that will likely rise in the near future.

Yet several factors could conspire to challenge that dominance: increasing customer sophistication; additive manufacturing; PMA parts; and new technology.

Admittedly, disruptive change of the type pioneered by Amazon and eBay for retail will take at least 10 years to occur, by which time the engine MRO market will be worth around $45bn.

In the intervening period airlines will continue to refine cost analysis, adding specialist staff and data mining tools to improve their assets’ lifetime cost models.

“As the influence of this maintenance perspective increases, airlines will likely demand more control over maintenance costs and could begin favoring engine platforms that offer greater aftermarket flexibility or at least a broader set of parts, repair, and overhaul options,” Tom Cooper, VP of the CAVOK division of Oliver Wyman, tells MRO Network.

On the materials side, some hope that 3D printing and PMA parts will break the manufacturers’ stranglehold on the aftermarket – exerted through strict controls on intellectual property and spare parts provision.

Right now, though, that looks unlikely, with PMA restricted mostly to low-value parts and 3D printing barely present in the shops of independent maintenance providers.

While the experiences of Uber and Airbnb only contains limited lessons for maintenance, those companies have at least proved that when disruptive technologies gain traction, market dynamics shift almost overnight. Developing innovations like the Internet of Things open more opportunities in this respect, especially for industry.

For a deeper discussion of a potential transition to open-source service in engine maintenance, subscribe to the forthcoming issue of The Engine Yearbook.

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