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Power trip

The APU overhaul market can be hazardous for MROs, who have to keep the OEMs sweet, says Ian Harbison

A quiet change in the APU market occurred in July 2012, when the APU and small turbojet propulsion businesses of Hamilton Sundstrand Power Systems became Pratt & Whitney AeroPower. This followed the takeover of Goodrich by Pratt & Whitney’s parent company, United Technologies. This has important implications because original equipment manufacturer (OEM) dominance in the market is prevalent and increasing. As with engines, the APU aftermarket support agreement is coming into play at an earlier stage in negotiations for aircraft orders, and there are even signs of deals between OEMs and airline-owned MROs involving work transfers and future fleet plans.


Surprisingly, new generation models have not been immune from teething problems. Both the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 have encountered problems with their APUs. The inlet design on the A380 has led to a number of foreign object debris (FOD) incidents with the Pratt & Whitney PW980, while the Boeing 787 has experienced overheating with its Hamilton Sundstrand APS5000.


Against this background, we spoke to three of the main players in the market:


Lufthansa Technik

Ole Gosau, Head of APU at Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg, says the company works with all the major OEMs: Hamilton Sundstrand (APS 2000, APS 2300, APS 3200); Honeywell (GTCP 36, GTCP 85, GTCP 331 and TSCP 700-4E); and Pratt & Whitney (PW901, carried out by Lufthansa Technik AERO Alzey). He notes that the company also supports mobile aircraft start units, which use a turbine engine based on the APS2000 APU and provides a profitable sideline business.


A recent addition has been the APS2000-100, which it has taken over under licence from Hamilton Standard to become the sole independent MRO supplier. As it was designed for the Boeing 717, and thus has a very small market (only 155 aircraft were built), he says the OEM was happy to offload disassembly, assembly, parts repair and testing.


Total throughput for Hamburg and Alzey is more than 150 APUs per year, for both Lufthansa and third-party customers, with a typical turnaround time of 30 days. This is achieved with just 20 technical and 13 administrative staff. The key, he explains, is flexibility to deal with surges, by having personnel who are able to work on all types. One consistent bottleneck is inspection, so extra resources can be deployed quickly to clear any hold ups.


Not all the work is carried out in-house, with some being outsourced to OEMs and independent suppliers. As with other MROs, Lufthansa Technik has its own pool of APUs and extensive spares holdings.


He says any MRO needs an OEM that wants it in the market, as the barriers to entry can be high without this support. A good relationship means that Hamburg already has a licence for the 787’s APS5000, even though Lufthansa has not yet ordered the aircraft. He adds that another necessity is a source feed of at least 20 shop visits a year to make it economically viable.


OEM dominance can be a problem for customers, he admits, quoting as an example daily lease rates from one manufacturer that are more than double those offered by Lufthansa Technik, but there can be positive relationships as well. He cites Pratt & Whitney AeroPower, saying the two companies have developed the largest proprietary repair manual. This avoids the potential delays in getting designated engineering representatives (DERs) approved. This helped by being an AeroPower warranty repair station, giving early warning of potential problems and generating repair ideas.


Environmental pressures have led to the reduced use of APUs at many airports – Hamburg has banned their use since 2006 for finger and apron positions – but Gosau says service intervals depend on cycles, not hours. The wear and tear comes more from the start up procedures than from time in operation. As a result, they are switched on almost as often, but for much shorter periods, so the market has not reduced significantly. Nor does he see this changing much in the future. Projects such as the Electric Green Taxiing System (EGTS) being developed by Honeywell, Safran and WheelTug, will both still need the APU running to generate electricity to power the wheels. Fuel cells and improved batteries are also some way off.


One area that could be developed, he says, is to bridge the gap between the engine and APU OEMs and the MROs. They should be working together for a single solution that would lower the cost of ownership for operators. >>

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