Imagine you are a carrier with a diverse worldwide network. This network will necessarily include stations that are providing you with a less-than-ideal setup to carry out maintenance work for a variety of reasons that can be internal and/or external in nature.
And now imagine an aircraft being grounded (AOG) due to a complex fault that requires your full maintenance resources, which can already be a stretch, even when you’re at your home base.
Depending on your maintenance setup and capabilities, possibly yes. But this can become even scarier if you’re a smaller airline, because then not only will you be faced with all the challenges to get your aircraft fixed, but a single AOG incident can have major implications for your whole operation and therefore really hurt you financially if it is not promptly resolved.
So what are the challenges, and how can you manage them?
First, of course, you have to establish what the problem really is.
Depending on what your local maintenance capabilities are, this represents your first good chance to set yourself up for an extended AOG.
Get the initial troubleshooting and ensuing fault identification wrong, and you may end up with the wrong spares, the wrong mechanics, the wrong tools or any combination thereof in a remote part of the planet, which are all the ingredients required for a nightmarish AOG experience.
But let’s assume that you’ve got the initial work right and have identified the problem correctly. If you think you’re out of the woods, think again!
For instance, you will need to get your whole supply chain really geared up, because even if you have all required tools and spares in stock (which is far from being guaranteed), you will have to deliver these to your AOG site. You’ll also need to have the right maintenance personnel available there. And to top it off, you’ll possibly have infrastructure requirements that are difficult to meet—ever tried to do gear-retraction tests without a proper stand?
You will also face numerous legal requirements, such as customs regulations and airport access, which are all solvable but add an extra layer of complexity to an already challenging situation.
So what do you do in order to make these situations as painless as possible?
Your first order of business is to avoid AOGs at outstations altogether, which really comes down to having a well-functioning maintenance department. Smaller or financially less robust airlines may struggle here. But make no mistake—trying too hard to save money on the maintenance side of the business will sooner or later bite you operationally.
Even the best maintenance department can’t avoid AOGs at outstations altogether. And when these happen, the true robustness of your maintenance setup surfaces and decides if you’re living a nightmare or if you can demonstrate that you’re really up to the challenge at hand.
This is because having the right mix of internal capacities and externally contracted MRO capabilities, together with the right logistics setup for spares availability, can make big differences in AOG duration, which can possibly be measured in days.
Here the true quality of third-party MRO providers is key, as their set of capabilities at outstations is decisive.
Contracting someone who can provide only the bare minimum for a turnaround check may be cheaper than engaging a more capable partner, but you’re setting yourself up for trouble if should you ever need more.
Your spare parts availability policy also will decide how painful your AOG experiences are. Yes, spares are expensive, but not having a part readily available can quickly become even more expensive.
Third-party MROs and OEMs can play a crucial role and be of great help if they’re appropriately integrated into your overall approach to outstation maintenance.
The key to avoiding such nightmares lies in the optimal mix of internal capabilities and the right external partners to have what you need when you need it. Simply put, there is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to being prepared for AOG.
Marc-Philippe Lumpe is speaking at the “Manpower and the Future of Workforce Challenge” session at MRO Europe.