Aircelle, the nacelle specialist in the Safran group, is seeing its maintenance activities growing fast and is investing to make subsidiary Aircelle Europe Services a full-fledged MRO service provider. Early in October, the company inaugurated a 48,000-sq.-ft. workshop in Pont-Audemer, France. The facility should especially help Airbus A380 nacelle maintenance, and provide for the CFM-powered A320neo and the A330neo in the near future.
The 5-10% annual increase in Aircelle’s MRO business is partly due to global traffic growth. For nacelles, this means more frequent damage at increasingly busy airports. Another factor has been the rising number of aircraft for which Aircelle is supplying an entire nacelle, as opposed to thrust reversers only.
The new expansion is loosely valued at €1-2 million ($1.3-2.6 million), more than doubling the existing space, Jean-Francois Pichon, Aircelle Europe Services general manager, emphasizes. It will help accommodate more employees, as the 90-strong workforce is pegged to grow by 30% in five years.
This is part of an ambitious plan to give Aircelle Europe Services more autonomy, while giving it original technical data. The availability of such data from the nacelle manufacturer is a real competitive edge, executives believe.
The first repair engineer has just been hired in the new Pont-Audemer facility, reducing dependence on headquarters. “We do not want to be based at the Le Havre factory because we do not have the same production organization,” Pichon explains. But it is close enough to allow easy information flow. Le Havre-based design engineers regularly visit to see real-life damage on in-service nacelles.
The existing network is to be strengthened. The three repair stations are SIA Engineering Co. in Singapore, the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co. in Hong Kong and Applied Composites Engineering in the U.S. In addition, a spare parts warehouse was recently created in China. The Aerostructures Middle East Services joint venture company with AFI KLM E&M is located in Dubai.
The latter company and the repair stations are to be raised to “centers of excellence.” At stake are a dedicated inventory of spare parts, a number of tooling assets and the right extent of commercial autonomy. “We do not want our repair centers to be entirely autonomous but we do want them to act faster,” Pichon tells Aviation Week. They will be able to offer an integrated solution to the customer. Pont-Audemer may then be seen as a technical and operational point of reference, the “nerve center in the network.”
This may help A380 air inlet repair, for example. Due to its size (it is wrapped around a 116-in.-dia. fan), an air inlet is difficult to store and transport. Aircelle still does both and has added a third solution. Stored in two parts, an air inlet can be put together on site by a specialist from Aircelle. The company supplies nacelles for both the Engine Alliance GP7200 and the Rolls-Royce Trent 900. A380 thrust reversers, an Aircelle design, feature the first electric actuation system on a commercial jetliner. The nacelles and thrust reversers from Aircelle are used on engines for 20 aircraft types. Recent additions include the A330neo. Aircelle supplies the entire Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 nacelle; it was responsible only for the thrust reverser on the A330’s Trent 700.
In fact, nacelles are on-condition equipment, without a scheduled maintenance program. Most damage comes from collisions with ground service vehicles and bird strikes. Therefore, Aircelle has had mixed success in offering by-the-hour programs.
However, Aircelle has signed a 25-year agreement with British Airways to cover 12 A380s, ensuring the availability of key Trent 900 nacelle components—including thrust reverser, fan cowls, air inlet and exhaust system—stored at the airline’s technical base at London Heathrow Airport. In addition, Aircelle has created a field service office at Rolls-Royce’s Hatton Cross/Heathrow facility. This close relationship recently enabled the MRO company to take preventative action on all A380 nacelles after a problem was detected on one of them.
The company is making the most of inspection and repair technology, using a tool called Presto to measure the temperature composite parts have been exposed to, to help prevent delamination. To remove rivets, technicians will use electro-erosion. It can be five times faster than conventional drilling on hard metals such as titanium.
Aircelle Europe Services has a 95% target for on-time delivery performance, now at a claimed 93%. The usual repair lead time is in the 45-60- day range. Sometimes, dozens of hours of engineering can only suggest a too-expensive repair. The customer then elects to replace the component or subassembly. Airlines regularly send experts to Aircelle’s workshop so they will better understand the damage.
Logistics is key, too. A minor $100 part, requiring 15 min. of work, was missing on an otherwise-repaired, much more expensive part. Under a Six Sigma process improvement approach, a Green Belt project is improving the definition and availability of the required fasteners for a repair job. There are 2,150 fastener part numbers at Aircelle Europe Services; this will be cut by 20%.
A version of this article appears in the December 1/8 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.