When an MRO provider or an airline’s technical division assesses its capabilities, normally to accommodate new services involving a new aircraft, engine or component type, it is common for it to upgrade equipment and review internal processes along with ramping up its training to meet the new requirements. But in doing so, the retooling and accompanying retraining processes can pose different types of challenges.
However, there are variables to consider. Miroslaw Galus, president and CEO of Polish MRO LOT Aircraft Maintenance Services (Lotams), says the challenges that arise from retooling depend on whether it involves mature or new fleets. In recent years, Lotams has extended its approval to include Boeing 777 line maintenance and 787 line and base maintenance, both of which needed some retooling. “In both cases, lead time, cost and ongoing maintenance of tooling are obvious factors, and then the challenge becomes deciding exactly what tools or equipment to buy,” says Galus. “With the more mature aircraft types, which have been in service for a longer period of time, it is less of an issue. We take experience from other MROs, operators and the OEM to help us make a decision on what exactly we should buy or rent for the scope of service we plan to offer,” he adds.
Others put lean approaches at the forefront of the retooling process. Swiss MRO SR Technics, operating from its main facility at Zurich, introduced a new lean process to its operations earlier this year when starting new cabin-modification projects that included work for Scandinavian Airlines on 12 Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft. “Based on years of experience working with clients who are eager to minimize both costs and ground time, we have incorporated the principles of lean to all of the aircraft service functions within our organization,” says Jose Olano, SR Technics’ head of aircraft support and training for its aircraft services division. He identifies stricter requirements for type approvals as well as new demands from both carriers and passengers for modern cabin layouts and inflight services as recent challenges when retooling its operation. “To carry out new and sophisticated cabin modifications, technical know-how is obviously important, but engineering and planning expertise is becoming more and more critical to the process,” Olano adds.
Communicating and embracing such challenges effectively with staff is integral to the retooling process, says Maksimilijan Pele, CEO of Slovenia’s Adria Tehnika. “It has to be communicated throughout the company so the participants in the process embrace the challenges,” Pele explains. “The action plan of changes and improvements needs to be clear and show results. The MRO has to adapt to changing market conditions, constant pressure to be efficient and leaner processes that result in shorter downtimes [while] not compromising the quality.”
NEW ENGINE LINES
A similar predicament was faced by Pratt & Whitney’s engine services center in Singapore. The site holds capabilities for overhaul and heavy maintenance services for the PW4000 and GE90 engines. In addition, it was named as the first engine overhaul shop in Asia for the G7200 engine powering the Airbus A380, along with being designated as an overhaul site for the GP7200 low-pressure compressor (LPC) in July 2016. Pratt says it began retooling for the GP7200 engine in mid-2015, with its teams studying engine specifications and identifying required tools and equipment over the course of one month. “Although the GP7200 engine was derived from the PW4000 and GE90 engines, specialized tools for the new engine, such as fixtures, stands, lifting devices, removal and installment tools, are still needed,” a Pratt representative tells Inside MRO. “We are also bringing in specialized machines such as a rotor-balancing machine specifically for this new capability. To date, we have received 80% of the tools required for the LPC and are commencing on the same journey to retool for disassembly, assembling and testing capability.”
But having committed to a $5 million automation and infrastructure investment to carry this through, some obstacles arose. “A key challenge was that many of these automation systems were not available off the shelves and required us to work closely with the equipment manufacturers to adapt hardware to our specifications,” Pratt says. In addition, the software for the systems had to be customized for specific tasks, as Pratt says its automated inspection system is the only one of its kind in the world used for aerospace MRO purposes. Previously, Pratt had also retooled for work on Engine Alliance GP7000 engines by embarking on a space-optimization exercise. This included consolidating the Singapore site’s disassembly and assembly areas for the PW4000 line, which freed up approximately 238 m2 (2,562 ft.2) of space, providing increased capacity for the GE90 and GP7000.
GEARING UP FOR NEW AIRCRAFT
A different scenario was faced by the technical division of Latvian low-cost carrier AirBaltic when welcoming new aircraft types into its fleet. Andris Vaivads, senior vice president of technical operations at AirBaltic, retooled some of its capabilities in the past few years in anticipation of the Bombardier C Series aircraft. Due to the newness of the Canadian-built CS300 aircraft, which first arrived in AirBaltic’s fleet this year to replace all of its Boeing 737 aircraft by 2017, Vaivads says sufficient preparation in the retooling and retraining processes are crucial. “When introducing a new aircraft type that has never flown before, there is a need to be very careful when selecting the proper spare parts and training the people for this,” Vaivads says. “Because the aircraft has yet to fly, it’s difficult to find the people out there to do the relevant jobs, so taking this into consideration is essential.”
Retooling and retraining on new aircraft is something Lotams’ Galus can relate to, with his company’s experience while ramping up 787 capabilities. “In terms of aircraft that are still to enter service or are in the very early stages of operation, the OEM-recommended tooling list can be very comprehensive and contain many nice-to-have items that need to be rationalized against the actual requirements to fulfill the scope of the work permitted under our Part-145 approval,” Galus says. “We did an in-depth review of tooling for the 787 prior to its entry into service, and I have no doubt this analysis resulted in significant savings. He added that other key considerations for a new aircraft type include the expected utilization of each tool, which led to a decision to rent certain tools on a case-by-case basis rather than purchase items that would be rarely used.
When reviewing training preparation for aircraft that entered its fleet before the CS300, Vaivads says the Q400 posed few issues, but the 757—which AirBaltic retired in 2014 after six years—presented challenges around training. “We were waiting for the type course for a couple of months before it was available because there’s a small number of 757 aircraft on the market,” he says, explaining that, in comparison, available training courses for the Q400s were more readily available. Vaivads adds that all practical training on airframes is done in-house, while retraining for different aircraft types remains relatively inexpensive, particularly for Boeing aircraft, due to the expansive market for available training courses.
But Lotams found gaining access to training slots in terms of new fleet types provided a test. Prior to the 787’s entry into service, the MRO found that general training demand outstripped supply by the OEM, thus limiting training slots. This was problematic for Lotams due to the prerequisite for sufficient numbers of trained staff when issuing a Part-145 approval. “The knock-on effect from that is the backfill of staff on training, as we had to take what we could get in terms of training slots, which did not necessarily fit with our production plans,” says Galus.
Meanwhile, Pratt says the key challenge it faces when retraining employees is finding the best trainers and technical support to facilitate the training. To remedy this, Pratt has formed training partnerships with regional centers in the Asia-Pacific region. In the case of the new GP7200 engine overhaul capability, it was able to utilize its existing ties with SIAEC, an Airbus-certified training center for engines on the A380, to train teams for the new capability, it says.
Meanwhile, stricter legislation from government regulators has presented challenges when retooling and retraining for SR Technics. In order to successfully navigate these demands, it maintains a continuous training process to keep technicians up to date on the latest aircraft type approval requirements and maintenance procedures. Most recently, it has provided Part-145 training for its employees after conceding that just Part-147 type training does not suffice. “Some of our training is now web-based but we still utilize the classroom setting, depending on the contents and group size,” says Olano. “Considering the fact that communication is one of the most important human factors aspects when it comes to learning, we are using classroom rather than web-based training to ensure that the important messages of safety and quality are properly addressed and understood.”