April 15, 2013
Credit: SR Technics
Line work is usually the last maintenance segment to be outsourced as it is so intertwined with daily operations and requires mostly labor, not specialized capital equipment. But that may be changing, as managers take a closer look at all costs and options.
The case for outsourcing line duties is usually strongest at airports where an airline bases a small amount of aircraft, usually fewer than five jets operating a total of 30 daily flights. It is hard to fully utilize line staff, stocks and facilities with this volume. Outsourcing is also attractive at foreign destinations or purely seasonal destinations where long-term staff commitments are difficult.
Most important, as line outsourcing has grown in recent years, sophisticated providers have expanded their services to more airports, allowing airlines to take advantage of economies of scale. Those companies also have gained experience in writing smart contracts that tie payments to performance and aircraft reliability.
Outsourced line maintenance can include “anything that can be done when turning an aircraft or during an overnight layover at an outstation,” summarizes Mark Davis, senior VP of sales at Timco Aviation Services. The typical 6-10-hr. layover provides opportunity to repair deferred items. “These are not safety items,” Davis emphasizes. “For example, a cabin tray that does not flatten, a seat that does not stay upright or a faulty passenger service light. These are not critical, but they are important to customers.”
Savings from outsourcing such line repairs depend partly on airline labor costs. Timco can generally save customers 20-40% on line support, Davis estimates.
Hurdles to outsourcing include an airline's possible need to meet contractual obligations to unions. “We do not want to overstep those bounds or cause issues,” Davis says.
But Davis expects more line maintenance will be suited for outsourcing, partly due to the maintenance programs on new aircraft. For example, the first heavy check on the Boeing 787 will not be due until its 12th year of service. “Until then, phased checks will apparently be done in a line environment,” Davis observes. “A lot of these will be done in-house, because airlines will normally layover the aircraft at their bigger locations where they have their own staff, but some may be in outstations that will present opportunities for line outsourcing.”