The big-jet manufactures are making much more complicated aircraft, which require more expensive equipment to maintain, equipment that may be used less frequently if reliability forecasts hold up. The combination of more expensive infrastructure used less frequently argues for centralizing maintenance to economize on capital costs. In addition, mainline jets are being sold to smaller airlines or to majors that are severely pressed for capital. So, Airbus and Boeing have jumped into the support game wholeheartedly.
Airbus Flight Hour Services (FHS) includes a variety of programs, from component services to a Tailored Support Package (TSP) that includes line and base maintenance. FHS-Components guarantees part availability, while TSP can guarantee availability of the entire aircraft.
FHS-Components covers spares and repairs with on-site stocks and pool access for LRUs. Critical parts are stocked at airline bases and selected outstations. Pools replenish airline stocks and Airbus manages repairs, guaranteeing lead times of 4 hr. for AOGs and five days for routine items. The OEM can recommend optimized spares, guarantee state-of-the-art repairs and provide reliability engineering. It can also recommend solutions for high-value components like nacelles, landing gear and APUs.
The much broader TSP combines component solutions with engineering, airframe maintenance and information systems. Airbus runs the maintenance program using MRO partners that have been selected based on capabilities, price and customer preferences.
Airbus says FHS programs minimize up-front investment and provide predictable MRO costs over the long term. The aim is minimizing all maintenance costs, including indirect, logistics and administration. Further repairs are done by OEMs and at the latest standards. An Airbus team of 70 manages suppliers, monitoring and optimizing their capabilities for top performance.
So far, the program is small but growing. FHS has pool assets in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and London Heathrow. Services capabilities have been developed for the Airbus A330, A340 and A380. Four customers have selected FHS to cover 42 A380s. Almost 60 A330s and A340s are covered, including aircraft flown by Vietnam Airlines and Singapore Airlines.
Boeing is moving in much the same direction, but a little differently. The Boeing Edge offers an array of services under four primary areas: material services, flight services, information services, integrated services and customer support. Customers can choose which services they want under each area and make their packages as comprehensive, or singular, as desired.
Under Edge (formerly GoldCare), Boeing integrates rather than provides maintenance. It already has selected a number of Edge partners around the world and has three customers under CPH agreements: Norwegian Air Shuttle for 787s, SIA Cargo for 747-400 freighters and TUI Travel for 787 material management. Fourteen other customers have contracts for the much less comprehensive fleet technical management.
Bernard Hensey, Boeing's vice president for fleet management, argues that the company's knowledge of its own aircraft gives it a decided advantage over MROs in providing support. And Boeing's capital strength enables it to make investments necessary for best-practice maintenance, something not always possible for MROs and airlines.
“One of key things that has changed is the amount of data coming off aircraft, that and the infrastructure to disseminate the data,” Hensey notes. Operators need to figure out their data strategy—including which services they want to perform themselves and what they want to outsource. Also, understanding the costs and return on investment associated with that strategy is important.