Printed headline: MRO on the Go
The evolution of business models including Amazon Prime, Uber and Postmates has led to the average smartphone user having quick, easy access to products and services delivered to their doorstep on demand. The convenience factor of this business model is undeniable for consumers, but is it something that could be leveraged in the MRO space?
Engine repair and overhaul provider Dallas Airmotive thinks it can. The company says its F1rst Support field services model is targeted at providing the same type of instant satisfaction for customers needing help with aircraft-on-ground (AOG) events, unscheduled repairs and scheduled maintenance.
“If your aircraft is down in the middle of a desert or has to make an emergency landing in an unplanned destination due to an engine emergency, the operator only has to make a call or submit an online form to our website to get assistance, and our field service dispatchers will send a technician on-site as soon as possible,” says a representative for Dallas Airmotive.
The company says its field service technicians can be dispatched to an aircraft operator’s site within hours to provide engine repair, maintenance and troubleshooting support for business, general and military aviation as well as helicopter operators. The field service team is made up of more than 50 technicians who handle more than 5,000 field service events per year.
New Hampshire-based Pro Star Aviation provides a similar service called On-The-Fly Maintenance, which has seen the most success for AOG situations or avionics installations. Jeff Shaw, the company’s business development director, says many of Pro Star Aviation’s customers handle most maintenance in-house, but they do not have the ability to perform avionics installations. For these scenarios, On-The-Fly installations enable operators to combine scheduled maintenance downtime with avionics work such as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast or connectivity installations.
Shaw says On-The-Fly maintenance is much more sporadic, whereas On-The-Fly installations are very popular. The service is particularly appealing for larger aircraft less able to tolerate downtime, he adds, since multiple maintenance items can be completed at the same time without needing to reposition the aircraft and maintenance crew.
“It’s cost-effective because in almost all cases, you can bring a team of installers into a location for less than it costs to reposition the aircraft, and it allows you to get things done on a minimal downtime basis, which is always king,” says Shaw.
He adds that the service is also popular for helicopters due to their limited range. “Your typical helicopter is only going to fly 200-300 mi., so if we can come to their facility it saves a two-day trip in some cases. If you’ve got an aircraft that’s based 800 or 900 mi. away, that’s nothing for an airplane—but that’s a big event for a helicopter to fly it that far,” says Shaw.
Although Pro Star Aviation has the capability to provide On-The-Fly services internationally, Shaw explains that the service is typically performed only domestically due to other countries’ hesitancy to outsource work. Within the U.S., Shaw says the service becomes more appealing for customers the farther away an aircraft is located from Pro Star Aviation’s New Hampshire headquarters.
“Even if the money stops looking great as far as travel expenses versus aircraft repositioning costs, you still have their convenience at stake. Because if you have to send your own mechanic on-site to manage the project or babysit the airplane, so to speak, that means they have to be on-site for three weeks,” says Shaw. “If we go to their hangar, then they can go home every night, and that’s a big convenience factor.”
The convenience factor can also go both ways—Russian MRO S7 Technics recently launched a “mobile warehouse” project called KitCar that it says can save engineering and technical personnel more than 4,000 working hours per year while also providing efficiency benefits to clients. The KitCars are stocked with all the necessary spare parts, consumables and equipment needed for specific types of maintenance tasks, which are delivered to aircraft maintenance staff on the apron while cutting down on the time needed to locate these items. Technicians can use the KitCars as a mobile office as well, thanks to an onboard printer and climate control.
“The idea to create a fully fledged automobile office came into being at S7 Technics as part of our lean production tools implementation,” explains Artyom Ilyin, head of S7 Technics’ lean production department. Prior to the project’s launch in the summer of 2018, the company’s technicians only had access to vehicles with single-use functionality such as transporting tools, “but there was no possibility of fully supporting our apron work using one vehicle,” Ilyin says. “The KitCar project has successfully accomplished this task.”
S7 Technics is now using KitCars on a daily basis for line maintenance, where they average 28 “missions” per day. The company has five KitCars based at its Moscow Domodedovo Airport location, with two KitCars devoted to Airbus and Boeing aircraft respectively, one KitCar for cabin maintenance work and two KitCars to deliver technical fluids. S7 Technics plans to add an all-purpose KitCar at its Novosibirsk base this summer, which will contain spare parts for Airbus, Boeing and Embraer aircraft.
S7 Technics says it will be tracking KitCar statistics during its summer high season for the first time, to further evaluate how to best implement the project. For now, the company is using KitCars only for in-house maintenance on S7 Airlines aircraft, but a company representative says the MRO provider plans to expand KitCar functionality and its client list in the future.
Pattonair, meanwhile, is already targeting global customers with its Agile Warehouse, which it describes as a “warehouse-in-a-box.” Launched in 2018, the customizable product packs parts, tooling and instrumentation into a rugged box on wheels, so it is “mission-ready to fly anywhere in any suitable form of transport,” says Jim Smith, Pattonair’s commercial director for MRO.
Being self-sufficient and secure, the Agile Warehouse can stay at a station for as long as needed. “This makes it great for remote-site rescue, fly-away situations or away-from-main-base emergency repairs,” Smith says. “A big use of the Agile Warehouse is for remote-site development and experimental endurance, performance and cold-weather testing.” As an example, Smith says some of Pattonair’s Agile Warehouses have three complete sets of engine products for five different engine types.
“We also have applications where we can load the Agile Warehouse with a complete set of inventory to support a new engine entry into service or the first time a MRO shop has a new engine type in their facility. [There is] nothing worse than starting to rebuild and finding undeclared shortages that stop the job,” says Smith.
The Agile Warehouse features automated control over access to inventory, replenishment and stock reporting, and inventory can be replenished in situ or returned to Pattonair for replenishment. Overall, the product is aimed at global mobility and zero lead-time by reducing inventory-related downtime and operational disruptions.
According to Smith, interest in the Agile Warehouse has mostly come from OEM and MRO powerplant-related customers, but Pattonair has seen some interest from companies focused on component repairs, landing gear and rotables as well. “If I had £1 [$1.27] for every time people tell me, ‘I would love one for my garage,’ I could probably retire this year,” he adds.
Smith says the Agile Warehouse was designed to be “rapidly deployable and cost-effective, but customizable enough to meet bespoke needs,” so he is confident an “on-the-go” model like this for MRO is scalable, repeatable and sustainable. However, “the physical element you see every day is just like the tip of an iceberg," he stresses. “It is part of an integrated activity that makes the whole solution brilliant.”
In terms of the industry-wide feasibility of MRO on-the-go models, Pro Star Aviation’s Shaw sees the most demand in specialized applications like On-The-Fly avionics installations rather than more generalized maintenance tasks. “As a business model, I’m not sure that it’s something that would have lasting staying power. You can’t really do significant maintenance on the road,” he says. “That being said, the amount of times an aircraft is down for maintenance versus the amount of times that it’s down for refurbishment or an avionics upgrade is just not comparable. You might do a refurbishment once every 10 years and an avionics installation every five. You’re going to do maintenance every year.”
Shaw says airlines come to Pro Star Aviation fairly regularly to combine parallel downtime efforts for avionics work, so he does see value there. “But that’s not something that I would say everybody could do,” he notes. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a widely utilized model. I think it’s still kind of a boutique thing.”