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Maintenance

Waiting under the wings

AAR Landing Gear Services is using its long experience to find success in the international MRO market and is anticipating an increase in activity
 

The AAR Landing Gear Services shop in Miami, FL, is long established and has capabilities across a wide spectrum of commercial and military aircraft types, says Scott Ingold, Vice President & General Manager.

 

Over half the work is generated from North American airlines but the customer base is spread worldwide – the most recent customer being Asiana Airlines in South Korea, which has signed a five-year agreement covering landing gear assemblies and sub-assemblies for Boeing 767-38EF-300 and 777-200ER aircraft.

 

The latter type is a good example of the investment that needs to be made by MRO facilities like AAR. The large size of the gear dictates the footprint of the building, he explains, as well as the need for larger support equipment, such as deeper plating tanks. Miami also has extensive CNC machining capabilities, including the production of bushings, and can inspect and certify actuators.

 

Workload is dictated by aircraft delivery patterns, as the overhaul cycle is generally between seven and ten years, although some operators can hit flight hour limits earlier if they are operating shorter range, higher frequency schedules. At the moment, the industry is coming out of a soft period that has lasted since 2013 and the ramp up has started for a busy three-year period from 2017. This will involve the Airbus A320 Family and the Boeing 737 Classic and NG, 767 and 777. However, he cautions that most of the deliveries were made in the Asia-Pacific region. At the lower end of the market, with Bombardier CRJ and Embraer E-Jet families, he says throughput is pretty consistent, although an increase in CRJ700 work is anticipated from next year.

 

One of the challenges of a soft period is to make the most efficient use of the staff. In this case, AAR also has an aircraft heavy maintenance facility in Miami. This is a 21,000m² three-bay hangar that can accommodate up to nine A320/737 aircraft, so Landing Gear Services personnel can be transferred to the airport location if necessary.

 

Although it might seem that having an overhaul shop close to the hangar is a competitive advantage, he says an airline may well have a separate maintenance contract and will want to ship the landing gear to another location. However, there is constant close contact between the two facilities. Sometimes, Landing Gear Services can visit the hangar to troubleshoot problems or even to establish the best way to manage the check.

 

Another part of the operation is the Tiger Teams, who provide 24/7 AOG support and can be en route in under four hours to anywhere in the world. The team comprises an engineer and a technician, both with platform specific skills, who are capable of carrying out minor repairs or to satisfy an SB or AD. They are also qualified to self-certify their work. If necessary, they can deploy with NDT equipment as a further check. While the teams are in action every week, they can also use a client’s paperwork to determine whether there is a major problem or not – it may be that a particular gear is not included in the AD/SB requirement.

 

Landing gears have a large number of Life Limited Parts (LLP) and Ingold notes an increasing demand from airlines for ‘back to birth’ tracing. Once again, the larger AAR Group comes into play as there is a division devoted to parts and supply chain. It is active in purchasing inventory – up to complete landing gear sets to provide exchange items – and accurate records can be compiled before the item is delivered to Miami.

 

OEM relationships are always important in third-party maintenance and Ingold says the company actively seeks to be a partner. It is easier to access IP than in other areas of business as the two main players, Boeing and Safran, have clear cut subscription services for Component Maintenance Manuals (CMM). There is a cost for SBs but ADs are free as they are issued by the FAA. The role of the company’s Designated Engineering Representative is more limited as repair schemes go straight to the OEM for approval, where there are slight differences between the manufacturers. A slight drawback is that a repair scheme is generally approved for a particular serial number so, if another leg has the same problem, it needs to go through the same process. If there are enough occurrences, OEMs do sometimes add the scheme to the CMM.

 

Deciding which market to enter is a bit ‘chicken and egg’ as the barriers to entry can be quite high. The investment needed for the A380, for example, has to be offset against whether there is a real opportunity. There is the difficult option of invest and then try to win a contract or win a contract and then invest. An alternative might be to use a leased exchange item to kick start the process.

 

For AAR Landing Gear Services, these decisions have to be faced for the Airbus A330 and A350, Boeing 787 and Bombardier C Series.


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