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Airlines Want MROs To Help More With Data And Predictive Maintenance

“We need to be getting away from the ‘no trouble found’ that drives everybody nuts,” says Ahmad Zamany, the vice president of technical operations at Copa Airlines, the Panama-based carrier.

MIAMI BEACH—When it comes to “predictive maintenance” and using the huge quantity of data that state-of-the art aircraft generate, airlines want better performance from maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies and suppliers.

“We need to be getting away from the ‘no trouble found’ that drives everybody nuts,” says Ahmad Zamany, the vice president of technical operations at Copa Airlines, the Panama-based carrier.

Being unable to repeat in the hangar a fault found in line operations is a problem as old as airplanes, of course. But with modern health-monitoring systems, it is even more difficult—but more important, given airlines’ expectations—that MRO’s be able to determine whether a part should indeed be replaced. Just telling the airline “it’s still within spec,” will not cut it, he said. To put it bluntly, failure should not be the only option.

Zamany gave the example of an aircraft’s health-monitoring system showing a valve is opening and closing slower than it had been. Is it about to fail, or would some sort of servicing restore it to speedy operations? Airlines want help figuring that out.

Lance Applegate, the director of fleet engineering and programs at Delta Air Lines, said the latest airliners may capture 500 MB of data about its workings on a single flight. Operators want help in sifting it.

“It’s a matter of weeding out and deciding where you want to focus,” Applegate said. Zamany agreed, and added, “There are a lot of systems [health monitoring] doesn’t track. You still have to have hardcore engineering [capabilities].”

Those were among the points representatives of three carriers made on a panel at Aviation Week’s MRO Americas convention and exhibition on a panel called “Customers Speak Out.”

The MRO industry certainly heard about pain points and desires for better performance. But MROs also might have been reassured, hearing that carrier-MRO relationships are critical and that a good one is like marriage—both sides need to work at it, openly and honestly.

Discussing key performance indicators (KPIs) that many airlines use to scrutinize their suppliers’ performance, Zamany said, “A lot of time you look and the finger points back at you.” So, too, if an MRO is encountering difficulties, Applegate said, “we want to know about it.”

What is more, the basics will never change. Beth Medlen, the director of base maintenance at Virgin America, said carriers would always like MROs to improve on quality, cost and turnaround times. Staying on budget and meeting schedules is extremely important.

But of the three, she said, “We can sacrifice a little on budget. We can sacrifice a little on schedule. But we cannot sacrifice quality and safety.”

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