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Landing gear maintenance

When it comes to maintaining landing gear, skill shortages are a significant challenge currently being experienced by MRO organisations in the context of a growing industry, as Mario Pierobon discovers

“The whole industry is experiencing a shortage of technicians and with the current unemployment rate being so low the microindustry demand is being exacerbated. Landing gear overhaul requires a specific trade expertise. For example, the machinists are focused on a specific machine type and if the current employment situation were to continue they might be asked to run an additional machine. However, they would not be asked to perform a plating operation or to paint a landing gear. This creates functional area experts, which increases the efficiency of the overhaul, thereby reducing turn-times,” says Pastor Lopez, President of MRO Services for Components, Systems, Composites and Structures at GA Telesis.

Czech Airlines Technics has 18 years of experience in landing gear maintenance and, in its experience, there is indeed a lack of qualified technical staff, especially during the last few years. “Based on our practice, it is necessary to realise that training of new candidates lasts approximately 2-3 years. For both B1 and B2 it is of utmost importance to know in detail the procedure of landing gear overhauls according to the relevant component maintenance manuals. Our company cooperates with technical secondary schools and universities, this helps to secure graduates with the requested knowledge while the graduates can develop practice in our company’s facilities during their studies,” says Pavel Hales, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Czech Airlines Technics.

“The landing gear business is very labour intensive and requires different levels of skills. Some of the most important skills are usually the landing gear inspection and rework processes; especially machinery, plating and non-destructive testing [NDT] operations. The skills are developed through various apprenticeship and internal personal development programmes,” says Sandra Eckstein, Vice President Aircraft Systems at Lufthansa Technik. She also points out that while it is not easy to recruit the most critical skills, there are currently enough maintenance technicians available in Europe and Asia.

Technological upgrades

One of the distinctive features of landing gears is that they are complex components and have many parts. While there have not been many major technological advances in landing gears in the past, in recent years some technological enhancements have been witnessed. “Original equipment manufacturers [OEMs] have been balancing the need to design lighter and more durable landing gears. While some new technology has been embraced, there has not been a breakthrough technological advance since the 707 and the DC-8 first rolled out of the factory. The introduction of titanium first appeared on the 747 gears in the 1970s. Boeing first expanded its use on the 777 by manufacturing large structural components from this material. Aside from that, the electrical part of the gear has been improved with more sensors to increase its operational safety,” says Lopez.

Design falls within the strategy of landing gear producers and is only remotely related to the design of the respective type of aircraft. “We can expect to see the use of more lightweight materials, which will have impact on the construction and design of new landing gear sets. Landing gear overhauls must be performed in accordance with prescribed rules in the maintenance planning document (MPD) on average every 10 years. According to our experience, operational wear and tear, free play and corrosion of the components are the most frequently found issue,” says Hales.

To simplify landing gear repair, high velocity oxygen fuel spraying (HVOF), deposition control, is a real step forward. HVOF thermal spray coating is a titanium based coating and a replacement for chrome plating. “This technology might be new for the landing gear business, but Lufthansa Technik has already made significant investment in order to use this technology in landing gear maintenance as well. Moreover, it is also used in other departments of ours, such as engine overhaul, therefore, we have enough experience and full capability to use this technology,” says Eckstein. “The Boeing 787 was the first aircraft to use zinc-nickel as a substitute for cadmium solutions. We will use this technology because the industry has to say goodbye to cad plating. The size of our Lufthansa Technik Landing Gear Services’ plating shop is sufficient to accommodate additional tanks.

Indeed, new aircraft types are equipped with more durable metals (high tensile steel and titanium alloys) and corrosion-resistant coating are increasingly used for landing gears. “For example, with Boeing 777 aircraft that already use titanium parts such as the truck beam, torsion link, drag strut and side strut there is already a significantly reduced turnaround time (TAT) and overhaul cost. These parts mainly require on-destructive testing inspection and replacement of bushings. Usually no surface treatment is required,” says Eckstein. >>


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