Just a few years ago, the word Brexit didn’t exist. Nowadays, particularly for those in Europe, this term concocted to describe the United Kingdom’s planned exit from the European Union is ubiquitous. Not a day goes by without it being mentioned.
When the idea of Brexit going through without the UK having ratified a Withdrawal Agreement is broached (a no-deal Brexit), many industries warn against the move. One of the major fears if such an occurrence took place, with no trade agreements in place, is that supply chains would be severely hampered.
Aviation is often then held up as one of the examples of an industry with a finely tuned supply chain which operates on a just-in-time basis. The number of aircraft parts transferred around the world to fill the gaps on the shelves of parts stores as they reach the minimum number required for stock, is huge.
Think of the thousands of parts needed for an aircraft – and while a country which did the design and development of an aircraft can indeed claim it is their product, the reality is that the parts required are provided by companies from all around the world. Those same parts need to be sourced in the same way when it comes to replacements, and with aviation’s safety regulations plus customs paperwork, this is a real challenge. This situation is, however, helped by manufacturers having their own warehouses in a variety of countries as well as authorized service centers similarly spread across the world.
While not all parts are mission critical, engine parts certainly are, so getting them to the required destination rapidly is vital. Otherwise an airline may find itself in an AOG situation, with one of its aircraft unable to do its job and earn money.
Engine manufacturers have comprehensive support programs which include logistics management and parts pool services. For example, whether for on-wing or off-wing maintenance, Rolls-Royce offers these services as standard elements of its TotalCare and SelectCare products. They are also available as options when purchasing from the OEM’s Foundation Services (the short-term, event-based services delivered either without or alongside a long-term services contract).
Some slack is given to the supply chain by the engine manufacturers with the development of systems which monitor how well a part or module is performing. Data from these systems enable airlines maintenance departments or third-party MRO providers to predict which parts will soon need to be replaced. Stores departments can thus ensure that their stocks are ready and adequate.
With this predictive capability, the supply chain will only become taut when “unplanned events” occur, such as an unpredicted and abrupt failure. A swift reaction might then be required to access replacement parts and components and the more rapid the delivery requirement, the higher the shipping cost.
Overall though, planning of the maintenance schedules will be improved. Any cost savings can be passed onto the customer, who also benefits the reduction in delays which means better operational performance.
To some extent, Brexit will affect every airline to some degree, but the smart operation of current aviation supply chains is going to help in minimizing disruption.