European Military MRO Is Leaving U.S. Behind

By Francis Tusa
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

These contracts have several factors in common. First, they have led to a stripped-down support chain, which has so far been responsive and flexible. When the U.K. customer needs to surge aircraft for operations, Boeing, AgustaWestland and BAE have responded with little or no disruption. And as support systems develop, maintenance regimes can be improved. In turn, better data collection for platforms such as the Chinook and Tornado GR4 have allowed time between maintenance periods to be extended, thus improving aircraft availability.

Observing the U.K.'s success with this model of military aviation support, France has followed suit with programs such as the care project for the dual-service Rafale multirole aircraft. Signed in 2009, the 10-year project transfers most risks and management areas to industry, with the French air force and navy paying only for hours of use and availability, not for spares and repairs. Although the pace of reform for other platforms has not been as rapid or incisive, increased cost pressures are forcing the French defense ministry toward more outsourcing, a path made easier by the performance of Dassault, Snecma and Thales in Rafale support.

The other Typhoon partners—Germany, Italy and Spain— are also enlarging industry's role. The EADS Germany center at Manching has systems support centers for both the Tornado and Typhoon, transferring systems responsibility and depot-level maintenance to EADS and away from the Luftwaffe. Finmeccanica's Alenia and Airbus Military also have taken on similar roles for the Italian and Spanish air forces, although local politics has acted as a drag on outsourcing. Most observers say that as the fiscal crises continue to bite, however, it will be difficult to retain old and expensive structures.

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