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Maintenance

Stop and go

Wheels and brakes require regular maintenance, which provides good business opportunities for those in the sector. Ian Harbison talked to two providers for their view of the market
 

World Aero

World Aero’s Managing Director, Phil Randell, says his UK-based company works predominantly with Boeing 737NG wheels and brakes, primarily because of the huge numbers of aircraft in service. Many of these aircraft are also with smaller airlines that operate a fleet of 10 to 20, which is an ideal size to deal with as it provides regular throughput and often offers opportunities to provide additional services.

 

The increasing amount of repair work carried out on carbon brakes is not just a reflection of the technology’s acceptance in the industry, but also that the market value of steel brakes is now very close to the overhaul costs, making quality repairs difficult to deliver. OEM pricing for brake spares is high, and reduced labour costs are the only way to compete, which is not always possible to achieve. In addition, many older wheels are spares heavy, as the usual job specification is to replace, rather than repair, especially on items susceptible to corrosion. On newer items, Inconel bolts require little maintenance.

 

Randall notes that Boeing 757 work has recently increased, owing to these aircraft being kept in service by a number of airlines due to lower fuel prices. The value of the carbon brake option and related wheels has increased so much in the last few years that World Aero now only operates an exchange scheme.

 

Airbus A320 work is mainly on behalf of nearby spares brokers, and usually requires extremely tight turnaround times. This is an important part of the business, accounting for 40% of turnover last year. With these companies now involved in aircraft breaking, more inventory is being refurbished for sale or lease.

 

One of the additional services that can be offered to smaller operators is aircraft tyre management. If this seems unusual, Randall explains that it can take six to eight months to have a tyre retreaded. This is because the manufacturers prefer to work with products that are in high demand. For odd sized wheels, such as a 757 nosewheel, there has to be enough orders to make changing the mould cost effective. World Aero can purchase its own stocks and also negotiate retreading contracts with independent suppliers. By getting the best prices, it can then offer airlines a flat rate exchange agreement, making it a simple process. This is especially true if a wheel is shipped back for rework with a tyre fitted that needs to be changed.

 

He notes that weight of aircraft wheels makes shipping expensive and so World Aero has a limited geographical customer base. However, some customers see the benefit of keeping equipment in good condition with regular deep maintenance, which can reduce the lifetime costs of the component. While many operators do outsource this work to World Aero, he comments that the company sees overflow work from carriers with their own facilities, especially during the northern hemisphere summer season of maximum flying.

 

With just over 15 years in the business, Randell says one of the keys to success is investment in the correct tooling and equipment. One such investment for UTC Aerospace Services’ 737NG carbon brakes has already seen orders and further opportunities with a major national carrier.

 

MBD

MBD Wheel and Brake Repair and Services is the US-based subsidiary of Messier-Bugatti-Dowty and specialises in wheels and brakes for Airbus A320 Family, Boeing 737, 767, 777 and 787, Bombardier CRJ and Embraer E-Jet aircraft. Headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, and with a separate facility in Miami, FL, it opened a new shop in April this year in Bethlehem, PA. Milwaukee remains the most important facility with 50% of the workload, the balance being split equally between Miami and Bethlehem.

 

Mike Buckley, President of MBD Wheel and Brake Repair and Services, says expanding the footprint is part of a policy of putting the company close to its customers. He expects to open a West Coast facility in the near future, putting it at each corner of the country. With less transportation required, the advantage for airlines is improved turnaround times and reduced costs. It also gives them an option on which facility to use, he adds. A good example is provided by US charter airline Omni Air International, which extended an MRO agreement to 2019 earlier this year. Based in Tulsa, OK, it will send Messier-Bugatti-Dowty wheels and brakes from its 767 fleet to Milwaukee and Bethlehem.

 

More recently, Air Canada selected Messier-Bugatti-Dowty to supply wheels and carbon brakes for its fleet of 15 Boeing 787-8s and 22 Boeing 787-9s. MRO services for the electric brakes, including LRUs, will be exclusively provided by Milwaukee. On the newer types, he acknowledges that the links to Messier-Bugatti-Dowty and overall parent Safran are extremely useful, as maintenance agreements can be concluded as part of the purchase contract. There is also a read across to other parts of Messier-Bugatti-Dowty – the MRO division maintains and overhauls landing gears for Air Canada’s A319/A320 fleet.

 

The company does take on equipment from other manufacturers but, as with World Aero, it can only compete on labour costs because of OEM control of spares prices. While most contracts cover wheels and brakes, up to 15% are for one or the other.

 

The current portfolio contains a useful mix of types, with large fleets and newer technology. Buckley notes that the CRJ 200 market in North America has lasted longer than expected, as the aircraft has been retained by regional airlines operating for major carriers. For the future, the first A350 wheels are expected in 2017, with the first brakes a year later.


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