U.S. Airlines Detail 2016 Fleet Changes, MRO Projects

U.S. airlines outline key MRO projects, fleet additions and retirements, at MRO Americas 2016.

American Airlines Integrating Tech Ops

American Airlines hopes to fully integrate legacy US Airways and its own tech operation divisions in 2018, says Dec Lee, vice president for engineering, quality and training. “We are operating with a significant degree of commonality,” including key front-line impact items, “but [integration] is not complete,” he says. The lack of unified labor agreements and information technology systems are the last primary constraints.

More than 60% of American’s fleet sports the new livery, and by the end of the year all legacy US Airways narrowbody aircraft should be finished. Regional aircraft will receive the new livery in the first half of 2017, and legacy American narrowbody jets should be converted by the first quarter of 2018, says Lee.

While American evaluated new systems—including Mxi  Technologies and SAP—for its maintenance operations, it selected Sceptre, partly because one-third of its fleet already is in that system. Lee also thinks Sceptre will deliver operational benefits faster due to quicker implementation time and reduced change management challenges, among other reasons.

David Seymour, senior vice president for technical operations, noted the carrier achieved record profits of $6.3 billion in 2015, but “as an integrated company, we need to ratchet up our operational performance,” he says. For instance, American’s completion factor of 98.4% lags the industry leader at 99.6%, “so we are focused on enhancing maintenance programs to make sure aircraft are ready to fly,” he says. That involves evaluating deferrals management, focusing on widebody aircraft reliability, and investing in parts, people and decision-support tools.

FedEx Expands Fleet

FedEx operates 349 aircraft and has 16 Boeing 777s and 74 Boeing 767s on order. It also expects to receive 11 more 757 passenger-to-freighter conversion aircraft, which ST Aerospace is completing in Mobile, Alabama, and Singapore.

In addition to the 757 conversions, some of its other technical operations projects include installing large display systems on its 767s, enhancing the MD-11 flight management system features and making reliability enhancements across its fleets.

Southwest Airlines Plans Boeing Fleet Changes

Southwest Airlines expects to retire 118 Boeing 737-300s and 11 737-500s by the end of 2018, says Kent Horton, director of aircraft engineering. It also plans to add 36 new 737-800s and 17 used -700s this year.

The airline has taken in 83 used -700s to date. Aviation Technical Services is providing a turnkey technical fleet integration service to assist Southwest with introducing these midlife aircraft.

Horton says the first 737-8 is on schedule to be delivered in 2017. The airline has firm orders for 30 -7s and 170 -8s. 

Southwest also expects to reach some aging-aircraft thresholds on with 737NG fleet within three years. On the operational front, it plans to go live with Mxi’s Maintenix system in 2017.

Another major project is to create an aircraft reliability index to identify aircraft systems that are driving fleet reliability. Instead of an alert system based on reported defects, this new program combines defects, aircraft delays and cancellations, gate returns and irregular operations to rate system performance.

United Focuses on New Fleet, 100-Seat Aircraft

United Airlines is working on entry-into-service preparations for three aircraft: the Boeing 777-300ER, Airbus A350-1000 and 737 MAX, according to Mike Arata, managing director-engineering. United expects to see the first 777-300ER, a 747-400 replacement, later this year. Expect the 747-400s to retire by the end of 2018. Some of its 767-300s are getting life-extension modifications in Hong Kong.

The carrier has “a great focus on the 100-seat market” now, according to Arata, as it moves some flying back into mainline operations.

This is why United is starting to induct used Airbus A319s from China Southern and Spirit Airlines—after the aircraft finish fleet standardization modifications.

Its existing A319s and A320s are flying beyond their original service goals—some are approaching 80,000 hr.—but expect United to keep this fleet for a while.

A few of its technical-operations priorities this year include completing the Sceptre migration, securing an agreement with its IBT-represented technicians, creating a solid component health monitoring program and shifting to a more seasonable base maintenance visit strategy to maximize aircraft availability during peak times. 

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