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Maintenance

Open & shut

Lufthansa Technik has established itself as a major MRO player for nacelles and thrust reversers and is looking to expand the business further as the next generation of aircraft arrive in service. Ian Harbison reports
 

It is a good time to be in the nacelles and thrust reverser MRO business, according to Michael Lotzin, Head of Product Sales & Account Management at Lufthansa Technik’s Airframe Related Components (ARC) business. The company has a well-established customer base for current engines and has already made investments in the newer types.

 

Of course, on older types – such as the CFM56-3 – there is an increasing trend for customers to move away from repairs to the use of reconditioned materials. As teardowns increase and more of this material is made available, spares prices fall. Dr Christian Sauer, Manager Engineering at Airframe Related Components Services (ARC), says the Beyond Economical Repair point also shifts with the availability of material and needs to be closely monitored. Lufthansa itself is having an influence as the Boeing 737 fleet is retired and scrapped, but this can work to Lufthansa Technik’s advantage – the known service history of components has a market value, enabling the company to offer larger support programmes to customers.

 

One engine bucking the trend however is the CF6-80, where spares prices are stable but, even here, the company is unlikely to develop more repairs schemes. Sauer says one attraction of independent repair schemes for airlines – such as those proposed by ARC – is the complexity involved in dealing with OEMs; he cites, as an example, the Trent 700 nacelle from Aircelle. The Type Certificate is owned 50/50 by Rolls-Royce and Airbus, so all three have to be consulted for their approval.

 

The Trent 700 suffers from disbonding in the inner fixed structure, while the CFM56-5B experiences corrosion, causing delamination. Corrosion of acoustic panels, as well as heat damage, are both problems for the -7B, which is of great interest at the moment as there is an airworthiness directive to check engine heat damage to the thrust reverser. Lotzin says it is important to get contracts for the inspection/modification as the work required is almost that of an overhaul. This means there is a gap until the thrust reverser is due back in the shop and, as this is not set at a fixed interval but on condition, introduces an element of uncertainty.

 

However, the company uses trend data available from the network – Hamburg; Dubai; Sun Valley and Fort Lauderdale in the US (both V2500 specialists); and Shenzhen – combined with airframe overhaul forecasts to try and work out when nacelle/thrust reverser overhauls can be tied into an airframe heavy check. Despite this, and perhaps surprisingly, ARC works more closely with component partners in Lufthansa Technik than with airframe or engine partners. Having said that, it does help out with base maintenance, providing inspection or repairs during aircraft layovers if required.

 

The engine partners can be important when it comes to getting new business, though. Generally speaking, says Lotzin, nacelles have had a pretty low priority, with line maintenance doing the minimum necessary. Recently, there has been a growing awareness that they need a bit more attention, not least because their size and complexity have increased with newer engines. Of course, this makes it difficult for new entrants into the MRO market, or for an airline to set up its own maintenance facility. The engine business has considerable clout and can bring nacelle and thrust reverser work in the wake of their agreements with engine OEMs. A good example is the N3 joint venture between Lufthansa Technik and Rolls-Royce, with the work on Trent 500/700/900s. The parent airline has an influence too, of course, with fleet acquisitions bringing in additional work as part of the deal. Hence, ARC is involved with the GEnx-2B for the Boeing 747-8, while the GE9X for the 777X is another possibility.

 

There is still a place for winning business independently. Despite no orders from Lufthansa, a recent cooperation agreement has seen ARC sign a long-term contract with UTC Aerospace Systems Aerostructures to provide rotable provisioning and MRO services on Boeing 787 nacelle components, including repairs and modifications, as well as lease and exchange of nacelle components. This means Lufthansa Technik can now offer support services for 787 nacelles on both General Electric GEnX-1 and Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.

 

Despite all the forecasts and alliances, there remains an element of chance in getting into engine nacelle programmes. Lotzin admits the company was not expecting so much repair/modification work on the Airbus A380, caused by early in-service problems and coupled with technical upgrades and warranty repairs by the OEM. The capability build up for the GE90 seemed to be late, though units were actually more serviceable than expected. These units are still pretty stable, he adds, but there are increasing reports of delamination or foreign object damage. For this engine, ARC signed a multi-year cooperation agreement with Spirit AeroSystems in Europe at the end of 2013 (along with the CFM56-7B). This agreement covered the joint provision of repair, overhaul and supply services for the GE90-94/115 thrust reversers and cowlings operated by customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The companies have also placed GE90 thrust reversers and cowlings at Lufthansa Technik Middle East Services in Dubai, to help customers avoid the high transportation costs associated with such oversized components; Nacelles for the CFM56 and V2500 will also be located in Dubai in the near future.

 

Regional markets are very influential when it comes to deciding upon ARC locations. A major investment in Lufthansa Technik Shenzhen, for example, has seen a doubling of capacity, including a second autoclave. This has been driven by growth in the Asian market but the facility still retains an RB211-535 capability as there are sufficient aircraft still in service.

 

Finally, Sauer says OEMs still do not fully understand airline requirements, with design features sometimes raising issues of interchangeability (or, rather, non- interchangeability), meaning more expensive stock needs to be held. By signing licencing agreements, ARC can negotiate for pooling stock, reducing the financial penalties for operators.


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