Maintenance programs are benefitting from the industry's natural technological evolution as well. Composites and titanium do not corrode, so heavy-check task cards for, say, an Airbus A350 will read much differently than those for an A300-600. Eliminating most corrosion issues cuts maintenance man-hours by nearly 40% on current-generation airliners compared to their aluminum ancestors, Airbus calculates.
In addition, improvements in onboard diagnostics help identify problems sooner, leading to fewer in-service incidents and shorter diagnostic times when aircraft are down for work. “Instead of tearing things down, you press a button and you get more information, so the amount of time performing a check will be less,” says Wang.
Maintenance engineering's more active role in aircraft design also is helping create better airworthiness programs. Christian Delmas, Airbus's director of maintenance program engineering, says his team's involvement in A380 design played a role in enabling the aircraft to enter service with a then-unprecedented 750-flight-hour A-check interval. On the A350, the OEM's plan is to eliminate the six-year heavy check completely, phasing much of the work into smaller, more frequent checks and moving some tasks—such as galley removal—to the 12-year heavy check.
“If we want to ensure that we have an efficient maintenance program that offers maximum flexibility to operators, we have to influence the aircraft design,” Delmas says.
One challenge presented by longer intervals between out-of-service periods is keeping up with non-critical items, such as a cabin's appearance.
Timco Aviation Services, which counts line maintenance and interiors as two of its specialties, sees such challenges as opportunities. Its Cabin LifeCare program, launched in 2011, offers interior maintenance and refurbishment tailored to an operator's needs. Day-to-day work can be done through Timco's network of 20 line maintenance stations and supplemented with “cradle-to-grave” support, either providing touch labor or supporting a customer's personnel or designated third-party providers with parts, says Leonard Kazmerski, Timco vice president of marketing and business development.
“We're able to do a little more inside the cabin than a traditional line maintenance division,” Kazmerski says.
Besides its extensive line and base maintenance service offerings, Timco produces a line of interiors products. The company's willingness to support other interiors suppliers' products as part of Cabin LifeCare underscores another approach some operators are taking to streamlining maintenance: eliminating vendors.
Lufthansa Technik (LHT) launched its Total Base Maintenance Support (TBS) offering in early 2011 with a promise of simplicity at its core. The program allows airlines to source with LHT and customize every aspect of a heavy check. “An operator with a mid-sized or large fleet has different requirements than a start-up,” notes an LHT spokesman. “TBS is offering several selectable modules for our customers and also optimizes the interfaces with other LHT Group products that the customer might have with, or will contract to, LHT.”
Most importantly, TBS offers guaranteed slot availability—thanks to LHT's extensive network, with more than 20 heavy check lines in Europe alone—combined with price certainty. TBS customers can pay by the heavy check, flight hour or month, enabling them to put off the expense of a major check as long as possible or spread out the financial burden more evenly.