Mario Araujo, vice president of engineering at TAP Portugal, talks with Inside MRO’s James Pozzi about how the airline’s aftermarket activities are being affected by its new ownership and the role that augmented reality fusing 3-D physical objects with data will play.
What are the key elements of TAP’s maintenance strategy?
The key elements of the strategy differ substantially when comparing the maintenance operation in Portugal with the one in Brazil. In Portugal, we retain a significant in-house capacity in terms of line and base maintenance, engine and component support and fleet technical and logistics management services for TAP Portugal’s 80-aircraft fleet. The objective is to provide the highest safety, availability and reliability of the TAP fleet and use spare capacity to deliver third-party services with the same standards.
In Portugal, we aim to keep the position of the center of excellence in the CFM-56 engine maintenance and overhaul and offer total fleet management services using our know-how, experience and human and material resources.
In Brazil, we aim to become the preferred provider of aircraft maintenance in South America, with a special focus on airframe, landing gear and components, because engines have relatively less capacity in terms of model coverage. Also, we look to partner whenever possible with other MROs and OEMs to find synergies, stimulate knowledge and pursue the best working conditions supported by well-managed and continuously improved processes.
How is TAP’s maintenance division gearing up for the entry of new Airbus aircraft into its fleet as part of a renewal plan?
Our teams are very well-prepared to guarantee and safeguard the supply chain ahead of delivery, avoid hidden costs and maintain a high performance standard in this activity. They already were prepared for the A350-900, which represented a more radical change, but as part of this agreement, the previous order of 12 A350-900s was replaced with the A330-900neo order.
Has going from a state-owned airline to a private one affected TAP’s MRO operations?
There’s a vast restructuring program going on across TAP Portugal since its sale to the Atlantic Gateway Consortium in June 2015, and as the outcome of its privatization process, the company announced before the renewal of the fleet that the cabins of almost the entire fleet of short- and long-haul aircraft will be upgraded to improve their overall onboard product appeal. This represents not only a huge workload for the MRO in terms of engineering and execution but a challenge to meet the delivery targets. We know from recent and direct experience that there are serious delays in terms of production and certification in the supply chain of interior equipment. On the other hand, the company is pushing for higher levels of dispatch reliability, stricter performance indicators, guarantees on a flight-hour basis and enforcement of new terms and contracts with more accountability driven to the TAP MRO.
What does TAP look for in a third-party MRO partner, whether it’s a supplier, logistics firm or service provider?
Combining our knowledge resources and our capacity to satisfy time, quality and regulatory requirements, we look for collaborative win-win partnerships with OEMs but also with other MROs in order to grow or gain market access. This definitely entails the need to foster collaboration during the implementation cycle of the partnership to build efficiencies and better engage customers. I call this “coopetition,” short for “cooperative competition,” because intellectual property can be shared, making things a lot easier—while the OEMs know the strengths of their products, the airline-affiliated MROs are very well equipped to know their weaknesses and provide support and maintenance functions based on the good judgment that comes from in-service experience. This is more important at a time of increased dispatch reliability of today’s aircraft and longer time on wing of engines and components, where MROs need more and more business to gain the operational scale, and the OEMs cannot harbor all the aftermarket work in-house.
What do you foresee as the next big challenge for TAP and its maintenance division?
On the airline side, the greatest challenge will be restructuring the cost base and keeping disciplined cost control, because in Europe, the pressure of the low- and ultra-low-cost carriers will only ramp up in the near future based on their order backlogs. Global airline profitability has been helped by the crumbling of fuel costs, which has been compensating for the weak pricing and revenue decline, but we need to be prepared for a future without this low-fuel environment. On the MRO side, there will be pressure on in-house maintenance, mainly in the engine and component maintenance segments where the aftermarket has remarkably become more OEM-centric. One challenge will be to make cautious investment choices in mature technology, enabling the gradual introduction of technical innovations that may counteract the general uptrend of the direct maintenance cost per flight hour, in spite of higher reliability and longer times on wing of the equipment in modern fleets and the used-part market surge.
How have you invested in IT in recent years?
TAP has a company specializing in information systems and technology. Traditionally, it has created and built in-house most of the IT modules and solutions for the TAP MRO. We use different technology platforms that combine data from multiple sources. We always have been looking at the opportunity to deploy additional capabilities such as wireless and mobile communications, cloud architectures and data warehouse solutions for the high volume of data a MRO produces. This process requires collaboration of skilled end users and IT specialists.
We have been working with the internal business intelligence team and using new tools like reports or dashboards that allow easy access and data sharing, delivering significant value to the end users and improving their decision-making process. The selection of data from the operational environment into the data warehouse environment requires changes in technology, as data must be extracted, cleaned and transformed before populating the data warehouse. This is the start-up point for knowledge discovery.
Which future technologies will influence TAP in years to come?
Augmented reality fusing 3-D physical objects with data will come to the hangar, enabling a technician to point a tablet to a particular aircraft and access manuals and schematics in different layers for any system under scrutiny. Wearable devices will run a wide range of applications such as one allowing technicians and engineers to examine faults, enhancing the productivity of the maintenance process.
TAP will be prepared for the storage, organization and application of the terabytes of data generated by the data-rich airplanes, taking advantage of the opportunities being brought by artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. They will translate these vast volumes of data into meaningful business information that can determine the condition of aircraft systems and parts, becoming ever more self-aware and smarter.
The application of machine-learning methods to data science (also referred to as analytics or big data) will identify signatures in big data flows, generating new data-driven knowledge using the relationship of service events, component degradation and component design. This will lead to the introduction of predictive tools not only in the maintenance domain but also in others, such as inventory or planning.
TAP Portugal Fact File
History: Founded as Transportes Aereos Portugueses in 1945 by Humberto Delgado, the airline began operating the following year under state ownership using two Douglas DC-3 aircraft servicing routes from Lisbon to Madrid and between Lisbon; Luanda, Angola; and Lourenco Marques, now known as Maputo, Mozambique. The airline has fluctuated between state and private ownership in its 71-year history, first becoming privatized in 1953 before being nationalized again in 1975. After changing its name to Tap Air Portugal in 1979, a decade of modernization followed in the 1980s. TAP has now returned to private hands following the acquisition of a 61% stake by the Atlantic Gateway consortium—fronted by JetBlue, WestJet and Azul Brazilian Airlines founder David Needleman—at the end of 2015. The airline now runs almost 2,000 flights a week to 88 destinations in 38 countries globally.
Fleet: TAP Portugal’s fleet comprises 80 aircraft, with 63 Airbus aircraft composed of A319s, A320s, A321, A330s and A340s. Following the Atlantic Gateway acquisition, TAP Portugal ordered 53 new aircraft: 15 A320neos, 24 A321neos and 14 A330-900neos. The remaining 17, run by the flag carrier’s regional subsidiary TAP Express, are eight ATR 72-600s operated by charter carrier White Airways and nine Embraer 190s.
In-House Facilities: The MRO has around 3,900 staff—1,900 in Lisbon and 2,000 in Brazil, distributed across two maintenance sites in Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre. At the Lisbon facility, TAP has three hangars, the largest of which can accommodate three widebody lines and two narrowbodies. The other two facilities can accommodate one narrowbody each. In Brazil, the infrastructure is more extensive: The only hangar in Rio de Janeiro, the biggest in Latin America, can house four widebody aircraft, while the second facility at Porto Alegre has capacity for one widebody and four narrowbodies, distributed in two hangars. In addition, the MRO has 20 workshops and laboratories for electrical calibration and chemical and metallographic analysis.
Third-Party Services: TAP Maintenance & Engineering offers a range of services, including heavy maintenance structural checks and complete cabin modifications. At its facility in Lisbon, it services A330s, while in Brazil, it works with South American and North American carriers operating A320s, A330s and A340s and Boeing 767 and 737 aircraft, along with Embraer E-Jets, ERJ 145s and ATR jets. The MRO also performs maintenance and overhaul on engine types including the CFM56-3, -5A/B, -5C and -7B and the CF6-80E1. The Brazil facilities mostly work on Pratt & Whitney PW100 and PT6 engines. Component capabilities in Lisbon include parts for the A320, A330 and A340. TAP has also became the first European airline to fully modify an in-service A320 aircraft by installing sharklet devices, which involved replacing 10,000 connecting parts and removing 20% of the wing’s metal structure to retrofit it with new, stronger components. The MRO has since created a center of excellence to make the service available to third parties.