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Maintaining balance

Bernie Baldwin reports on the task that logistics providers have to tackle to ensure that airlines do not pay the cost of weak links in the supply chain

There is always the possibility, when discussing the airline industry, to play around with well-worn phrases. At the front end – the interface with the passenger – one often hears “the customer is always right”. When it comes to having spares available in the maintenance operation, the choice might be something relating to “a question of balance”.

The balance in question is the one between the amount of stock an airline maintenance department or even an independent MRO provider might hold, and the delivery of parts and components to such organisations in a timely fashion. Hold too much stock and although you might get an aircraft back in the air quickly, there is likely to be a lot of capital tied up in all those parts. Get the latter discipline wrong and an untimely delivery could lengthen an AOG situation and cost the operator more money by not have the aircraft doing what it should be doing – earning revenue in the air.

The logistical challenge of moving stock to ensure replacements are available at the right time is an industry in itself. Fred Cleveland, Managing Director, Transportation & Logistics Practice at PwC, is constantly analysing that industry. He explains the most challenging aspects a logistics provider faces in helping airlines keep an optimum inventory through just-in-time performance.

“Unlike fixed location asset support, the air carrier’s task is more complex due to the constant movement of those multimillion dollar capital investments. „ Getting the right part to the right place at the right time is very challenging, but defaulting to just staging more inventory everywhere is not an option from a cost perspective,” Cleveland confirms. “Because of these challenges, logistics providers are less likely
to be involved in the direct supply of parts to line maintenance locations. They instead play a critical role in the repair and new part supply chain – delivering parts to/from airlines to repair vendors and suppliers.

“Consistent, timely delivery of these parts can allow airlines to reduce inventory buffers and move closer to just-in-time inventory at least for this part of the supply chain,” Cleveland remarks.

Moving expensive aircraft parts and modules around is rarely included in the core business of an airline maintenance department or even a dedicated MRO provider. This is one task where outsourcing to a specialist is common practice.

Bolloré Logistics’ Aerospace Director, Jérôme Le Grand, says that his company designs a series of solutions geared to aerospace and defence aftermarket challenges. “We have supported this field for more than 30 years,” he notes.

“A network of specialists within the Bolloré Logistics network, across the world, is available 24/7. Line maintenance is supported by our local or regional airport hubs to efficiently dispatch replacement units under new standards (a four-hour response time),” Le Grand continues. “The latest tracking technology is embedded in our system to offer immediate visibility of the shipment while in transit. The end user can request a personalised follow-up and notifications messages thanks to our mobile application.

While highlighting the company’s “efficient business model” as one element of differentiation in its product, Le Grand believes a key success factor of Bolloré Logistics is “a mindset and a company culture matching this environment, its emergencies and high reactivity requirements”. >>


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