David Seymour, senior vice president of operations for US Airways, reports that during the past decade, the airline has taken a more strategic view of technical services by focusing on long-term partnerships. “By making the vendor an extension of the US Airways organization, it gives him the opportunity to establish an experience base with us, and to find ways to deliver a more reliable component, within the prescribed turn time,” he says.
Depending on the system involved, some contractual relationships can be as long as 20 years, as in the case of engines, and 5–10 years on components. Given the contractual lengths, this puts a heavy emphasis on vendor specialization.
“We look for core competency in the specific components we want repaired, and getting away from one-stop shops with expertise in some systems, but in reality, [we] subcontract out the rest that they claim to service. We say to a company, 'Tell us what you're good at.' That's the key to building a reliable supplier base,” says Seymour.
At US Airways, vetting a supplier is a team effort, he says. “We have gone from vendor selection just by our sourcing group to include participants from our engineering, reliability, component and heavy maintenance groups. However, our sourcing staff will lead the effort. By applying this methodology, everyone gets an opportunity to voice any concerns, and we make a good selection, instead of grabbing the first thing that comes along.”
In addition to quarterly meetings with suppliers, US Airways uses what Seymour calls “a very comprehensive” scorecard system to measure reliability. Among the factors on which the vendor is evaluated are repair turn time and reliability.
“Some suppliers have put the scorecard out on the shop floor so that their employees can see it, giving them the motivation to improve upon the process. We have found that this process keeps getting better as it has evolved,” says Seymour.
The scorecard has resulted in savings and efficiencies through consistency of turn times. “I know that if a component needs to be repaired it will be spending less time in the shop, and will be more available for my mechanics to use. At the same time, I won't have to buy as much inventory for new aircraft coming into our fleet,” he says.
Repair reliability also has improved because more parts are staying on-wing for their expected design limits, he says.
Contractor performance evaluation, reports Southwest's Tiffany, “is one area that needs improvement” at the airline.
He thinks the airline has done a “pretty good job” with companies it contracts to perform heavy maintenance. “Where we can do better is with component repair and overhaul. That is why we are currently developing performance-measuring methods to drive down costs and make sure we get the quality and performance levels we need from our suppliers,” says Tiffany.