Today's Challenges In Creating An Aircraft Maintenance Facility

An aircraft maintenance facility can no longer be thought of as just providing a covered working space, but is part of a bigger picture.

An aircraft maintenance facility can no longer be thought of as just providing a covered working space, but is part of a bigger picture.

It must, in a competitive world, be part of an overall process aimed at an increased utilization of assets,  including the aircraft, personnel, buildings, equipment and materials, The ultimate goal  being to be part of a better business model, while providing an improved passenger experience.

To achieve this requires a focus on the maintenance process, the facility (building and equipment), the organization and the business needs as part of an integrated plan, which creates more of a challenge than the design and construction of a hangar as shelter.

The Challenge

The development of a facility to meet these new goals requires a synergistic team approach, which can go against some of the traditional bureaucracies created within an MRO organization.

This involves working across organizational silos, which could include; planning, engineering, the supply chain, properties, procurement, information technology and human resource functions – while keeping the ultimate goal in mind.

This further includes addressing the "I want" versus the "I need" attitude and the thought - “better ask for more since they will cut me back anyway”   - which makes the design-to-budget process more challenging.

A further impediment is the need to move the team from the tendency of repeating the past, while not being open to new and improved ways of doing things.

The management of change both in defining the project solution and the operation of the new facility is one of the biggest challenges in trying to achieve a more productive operation.

“All I need is a Hangar”

Previously a hangar was primarily considered a shelter in which to perform maintenance tasks.

However, the new operating models used in the aviation world require a rethink of some traditional approaches.

As an example, a line maintenance operation at a hub or gateway airport equates to more to a formula 1 pit stop, than to a traditional garage.

Line maintenance activities at such a location, which include both scheduled and non-scheduled tasks, are time critical in nature since they affect dispatch reliability.  This is compounded by the goal of maximizing the use of natural ground time.

Examples of projects which utilize new concepts and techniques to meet these requirements include the Air New Zealand Hangar 3 in Auckland (which received the MRO facility of the Year Award) and the Qantas project at LAX.

Qantas Hangar LAX

The characteristics of LAX as an intercontinental hub and gateway with resulting RON (Return Over Night) and ROD (Return Over Day) schedules drive the design characteristics of a facility at such a location.

As a result, the Qantas A380 capable hangar incorporates some unique design features which enable one capitalize on an aircraft’s natural ground time, in addition to minimizing both operating and capital expenditures.

The facility incorporates a central large span 100m (328 ft) fully covered area incorporating bi-level support space providing direct access to the cabin interiors, together with two adjoining AHS (Attached Hardstand) positions.  This enables the facility to simultaneously handle three large widebody aircraft.

The design, which accommodates a full range of widebody aircraft, facilitates RTA (Return of Aircraft) work including a focus on the cabin, which work has increased as a result of the more complex aircraft interiors and the goal of an improved passenger experience.

A tail dock able to handle the height of the A 380 has also been incorporated to facilitate work, on the empennage, for an aircraft in a tail in position.  The facility is therefore designed to accommodate aircraft in a tail in or nose in position, enabling the aircraft to be positioned in the best manner to perform specific maintenance work.

The design philosophy utilized on the project, addressed process, facility and organizational issues on an integrated basis, with the ultimate goal of supporting the “front line”  which includes the need to provide right materials and tools  for the individual maintenance tasks.

This further includes the goal of fostering a collaborative team approach by the use of visual management techniques.

The Qantas hangar, therefore does not just provide a covered working space but aims to create an efficient working environment best suited to perform the aircraft maintenance work at LAX.

Overall Hangar Characteristics

The characteristics of a maintenance hangar are a function of the type of work to be performed and the location of the facility, in addition to the goal of maximizing the benefits that can be derived from the investment.

New concepts and techniques are therefore being used in facility design, which require a new approach and thought process.  This considers both existing and projected future needs.

“The only thing for sure in this business is that things will change,” a reply to the request made to a Vice President of Technical Operations for a definition of the projected aircraft fleet and work tasks.

The “hangar” must be able to respond to a dynamic and changing work environment, while maintaining a control of both capital and operating costs. This is the principal challenge in the creation of a maintenance hangar today.

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