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Maintenance

More & more

ATR has established itself as a leader in the regional airline market, and is adapting its product support for a growing fleet with demanding customers. Ian Harbison reports from Toulouse
 

2014 was a record-breaking year for ATR for several reasons. Firstly, sales increased to 160 aircraft, along with 120 options (beating the previous record of 157 firm sales and 79 options in 2011). This took registered net orders since the start of the programme in 1981 to 1,470 aircraft. Compared to the competition, the ATR family won 47% of the total regional aircraft sales below 90-seat capacity for 2014 (Bombardier Q400 (12%), CRJ 700/900 (14%), EMBRAER 170/175 (19%), Mitsubishi Regional Jet (8%)). For the turboprop segment, its sales accounted for 80% of all the orders.

 

By the end of 2014, total deliveries reached 1,190 aircraft – including an unprecedented 83 last year, which represented an increase of more than 60% over the last five years (up from 51 deliveries in 2010). ATR also had a record backlog of 280 aircraft, up from 221 at the end of 2013. This represents almost three years of production, even though the company plans to increase the build rate to 95 this year, and then to 105 in 2016.

 

ATR is doing this by increasing capacity on the production line and introducing two extra final assembly bays. It has also claimed space back from Airbus, with which it shares the facility, and has added two fuselage preparation bays (these were produced, along with the tail section, by Alenia in Naples, sent by ship to Barcelona, and then by road to Toulouse). The preparation area for the wings – built as a single unit by Sogerma in Mérignac near Bordeaux – can now handle four aircraft simultaneously and is located between the four final assembly bays. Space is at such a premium, and clearances so tight, that the fuselages are actually moved by a recently introduced robot which follows an induction loop in the floor. The production line redesign and implementation was carried out last year by ECA Group, which also supplied mobile, multi-function test sets linked by wifi to a central computer. Several can be deployed inside and outside an aircraft simultaneously, providing much faster and more precise fault finding than was previously achievable. This is one of a series of process improvements aimed at reducing the build time from the current period of six weeks. If necessary, there is still some further space in the facility that could be acquired.

 

Of course, with a growing fleet comes increased demand for in-service support but, says Lilian Braylé, Senior Vice President, Product Support & Services, the customer base for the aircraft has changed in recent years. The traditional market has always been that of smaller operators with fewer aircraft in remote areas – the number of airlines based on islands is quite remarkable – and that has required a flexible and responsive service. Now leasing companies play an important part, as well as the airlines that already operate larger aircraft. As a result, expectations are much higher and management processes are more sophisticated.

 

However, Massimo Castorina, Vice President Commercial, says the long-running, pay-by-the-hour Global Maintenance Agreement (GMA) has turned out to be a good solution for both old and new customers (totalling 185 operators and lessors in 90 countries at the end of 2014). This is shown by the fact that GMAs now cover 40 operators with more than 300 aircraft in service, over 30% of the total ATR fleet. For the newer ATR-600 Series, coverage has reached 114 aircraft – or 65% of the fleet – and Castorina says this is expected to increase significantly in the future. In 2014, new GMA customers included Air Antilles Express, Air Vanuatu, Aviateca (joining other members of the Avianca group), Easyfly, Empire Airlines, Fiji Airways, Golden Myanmar Airlines, Mann Yadanarpon Airlines, Mistral Air, TransNusa and UTAir.

 

In fact, since GMA was established in 1996, its network of over 350 qualified shops, as well as OEM facilities, have repaired and overhauled over 100,000 LRUS and more than 3,500 propeller blades. In 2004, propellers and landing gear were added to the original core services of lease stocks, pooling and component repairs. These have subsequently been extended to include airframe checks and repairs, logistics and consulting services, while further development continues still.

 

A new service added to GMA last year was an exchange, repair and overhaul programme for wing leading edges and control surface ribs, including replacement of the deicing boot, along with structural repair options and complete re-skinning of outer surfaces. InterSky of Austria was the lead customer, with a three-year agreement.

 

In November 2014, ATR signed another three-year agreement with B/E Aerospace Consumables Management – which has since spun off as KLX Aerospace Solutions. The agreement will see KLX take responsibility for material planning, supplier management and quality control, as well as ordering and stocking activities for up to 25,000 part numbers from over 3,000 suppliers. It will be the single point of contact for operators, who can then negotiate individual contracts, while still taking advantage of the economies of scale of KLX’s consolidated procurement.

 

Castorina says ATR is also looking at tooling as the next service to be offered. The company would provide equipment checks and training to ensure consistency of standards across the MRO network.

 

The network has been developed to give customers access to quality MROs for their base maintenance requirements, wherever they may be, says Laurent Negre, Vice President Regional Development and Airframe Maintenance Services, although the agreement is non-exclusive. Capacity is growing along with ATR market expansion, he adds. In addition to Atlantic Air Industries at Toulouse-Francazal airport, France, Rheinland Air Service at Düsseldorf-Mönchengladbach, Germany, and Fokker Services at Seletar, Singapore, TAP Maintenance & Engineering in Porto Alegre, Brazil, is expected to join imminently after EASA Part 145 approval has been obtained. Reflecting sales success in the region, a second Asian MRO centre is planned, while advanced discussions for a facility in Australia are ongoing and a tender has been issued for an African location to be ready by the end of 2015.

 

The new Porto Alegre facility will also be part of a local component repair network, backed up by a logistics centre in São Paulo – initially to support major customer Azul, but with the intention of supporting the whole country – where the ATR fleet is growing strongly. Spare parts warehouses are also strategically located in Auckland, New Zealand; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Miami, Florida; Paris, France; and Singapore.

 

Castorina says the amount of stock held by ATR (950 million parts representing over 25,000 part numbers and worth more than $300 million) means that it usually has the best availability and price, combined with rapid delivery via DHL. He notes that there is an excess of spares on the open market for older models, but ATR is continuing to invest in the ATR-600, especially in high value items like landing gear and propellers.

 

Further technical support is provided by 24 field representatives in 18 countries, with Myanmar to be added this year.

 

The final part of support is consultancy services, which can cover entry into service, including initial provisioning, maintenance programme customisation to suit the airline’s environment, and assistance with EASA/FAA Part 145 approval.


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