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Airbus at your service

Airbus Customer Services employs almost 5,000 people to provide aftermarket support, ranging from technical and spare parts to aircraft upgrades or crew and personnel training. Ian Goold investigates their myriad activities, which include support for A300s that are almost 40 years old, through to the latest A350s just entering service

How many cabin interiors does it take to furnish the passenger compartment of an Airbus A320? An aircraft salesman at the European manufacturer will tell you that the single-aisle twinjet requires just one cabin interior. “Not so,” retorts Vice President of Upgrade Services at Airbus Customer Services, Valerie Manning. She argues that while airliner marketers may bill customers for one cabin for every new machine, her team members sell as many as four replacement interiors during an aircraft’s operational life as cabin configuration is revised or refreshed.


Manning and her colleagues comprise just one of several teams overseen by Airbus Customer Services Senior Vice President, Didier Lux, with the other teams answering to him offering solutions around five further platforms: flight-hours and line-replaceable units (LRUs); material, logistics and supplies; training; flight operations; and engineering and maintenance.


Airbus Customer Services personnel number almost 5,000, providing aftermarket support that ranges from technical and spare parts to aircraft upgrades or crew and personnel training. They include more than 290 support representatives in more than 150 locations positioned close to the airlines they serve, as well as an international network of support centres (Toulouse, Washington DC and Beijing), training centres (Toulouse, Beijing, Miami, Hamburg and Bangalore), plus spares facilities worldwide.


The manufacturer’s services provision to customers is not restricted to the historic fleet. Earlier this year, Airbus began to support the new A350 twin-aisle twinjet. This has included promulgation of the first Service Bulletins (SBs), which were issued even before more than a couple of machines had entered service. The third A350 was delivered to launch operator Qatar Airways in early May, with Vietnam Airlines scheduled to receive its first example before July, followed by European launch carrier Finnair, which expects to get an A350 during the third quarter of 2015.


Like other types, A350s are unlikely to remain with their initial owners – they could be used by a succession of operators, with each expressing a completely different layout requirement. Manning suggests that over a period of 25 or more years, aircraft could also receive up to eight systems upgrades. These might be as major as conversion for cargo operations (a modification performed by Airbus in Germany), or the introduction of ‘Sharklet’ Wingtips (the latter an example of change driven by the manufacturer rather than the marketplace).


Other examples of changes requested when aircraft move between operators include requirements to replace seat or floor coverings, overhead bins, or ceiling and sidewall panels. Alternatively, inflight entertainment equipment or different oxygen systems might need to be installed. A recent trend noted by Manning is the selection of lie-flat business class seating in the stretched A321 variant – the largest Airbus single-aisle model. Elsewhere, one of the more simple changes could be translating the language on cabin-equipment placarding.


Manning relates the story of an A320-214 (MSN 1198): the initial order for this 15-year-old CFM56-engined machine was placed by lessor GE Capital Aviation Services in 1998. When the aircraft began its working life two years later, it was flown under lease by (then) Italian carrier Volare Airlines. Subsequently, in 2003 the lessor provided the A320 to American operator USA 3000, before it moved back to Italy seven years later. Last year, following time spent in storage, it joined Spain’s Iberia Express.


Each change of operator provided an opportunity for the owner to reconfigure the passenger accommodation. As it happens, MSN 1198 is not a candidate for every possible upgrade, since the manufacturer instituted a cut-off point for early A320 airframes at MSN 1200. Manning explains that, at a minimum age of 15 years and with inevitably falling residual values, earlier-build models are now very expensive to modify with, for example, wing strengthening or new avionics.


However, not all commercial aircraft enjoy such a long life. Dutch lessor SMBC Aviation Capital recently sold a younger IAE2500-engined A320-233 – MSN 1730, first delivered in 2002 – after service with several carriers, including Atlas Jet and TACA, before its return off lease at the end of last year. Now, the aircraft has been acquired by Britain’s AJW Aviation, which plans to dismantle it due to apparent heavy corrosion suffered in its 12 years of service.


Manning explains that her upgrade services team does not make marketing decisions or drive change, although it does become involved “upstream in Airbus programme incremental development”. In attempting to understand the market her team is involved in, she says that any consideration of potential upgrades begins with a question: “Does it make sense?”


There are some potential modifications that may not be offered to owners because sufficient necessary strengthening of the local airframe structure might not be possible, as illustrated by the decision to restrict upgrades offered on the first 1,200 A320s.


The manufacturer typically provides operators with a basic upgrade installation as a kit of parts or material. Airbus engineers may check installation of upgrades, which are usually applied during aircraft base- maintenance downtime.


Because of a wide variation in otherwise superficially similar upgrade work on different aircraft, Manning says it can be difficult to provide a catalogue of prices. When a cabin configuration is changed, an operator might wish to have a galley and toilet installed at the rear of the cabin, or two aft lavatories and a forward galley. Alternatively, it might be necessary to strengthen the cabin floor to support a higher loading following a cabin refit.


Introduction of those first A350 SBs has come as Airbus confirms its intentions to be a major player in the type’s maintenance market, according to Services Solutions Vice President, Pierre Revile. With almost 800 examples ordered, Airbus was close to establishing an initial customer support agreement back in April. The customer was an unidentified European A350 operator that was planning a fleet of more than 20 aircraft – candidates include International Consolidated Airlines Group, with orders for 23 machines to be flown by its British Airways and Iberia subsidiaries.


A South American customer understood to be considering the so-called Airbus Tailored Support Package (TSP) is LATAM Airlines Group, with 27 aircraft on order and having planned a meeting with Airbus Customer Services in Miami at the recent MRO Americas exhibition. The TSP has been developed from the manufacturer’s basic flight-hour services (FHS) product that also includes engineering, maintenance, plus other technical and consulting services. >>

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