“There's a structured process,” one that gets deep down into the weeds of the endeavor, adds Peter Warlick, American's managing director of fleet. It entails everything from proper provisioning for parts “to having the right solution to clean the seats.”
As American prepares to bring on new Airbus A319s to help replace venerable MD-80s, precise parts-provisioning is particularly important, especially during the initial integration phase. That means reviewing the retirement schedule for older aircraft in light of the effect of capacity, routing and scheduled maintenance activities at both line and base stations, says Matt Pfeifer, American's managing director for operations strategic planning. Forecasting component removals and replacements for the MD-80 is pegged to its lengthy historical record, dating from when it was introduced at American in the early 1980s.
“For the new fleets,” says Pfeifer, “we will take delivery of a small number of spare engines to cover premature removals for fairly rare items, such as bird strikes.” These powerplants will be sited such that maintenance can dispatch them quickly to where they are needed, because the location of these types of removals “is very unpredictable,” he says.
Metering the inventory of new components with the induction of the aircraft themselves is a matter of delving into the details of the delivery schedule, mapping the routes new aircraft will fly and accounting for the mean time between unscheduled removals and scheduled removals. This is an industry metric that Pfeifer says, “give[s] a fair level measure of failure rate at the component level.”
Integrating a new airplane, in short, demands flexibility, especially when it comes to provisioning for new aircraft spares where the carrier has scant experience operating the type.
Even when an airline has extensive history with an overall species of airliner, sometimes it can suddenly find itself with an excess of a particular part predicated on past experience.
When US Airways prepared to take delivery of A330-200s in 2009, it evaluated parts-stocking for the sub-fleet (it had been flying the A330-300 for almost a decade). The -200s featured a new business-class seat in the carrier's Envoy cabin. “Our experience with previous generations of business-class seats showed that leg-rest failures were relatively common as a result of heavy use . . . or damage,” says Kevin Brickner, the airline's vice president of technical services.
Based on that experience, US Airways ordered 11 leg-rest assemblies and distributed them to each station served by the A330-200. As things developed, expected demand for the part never materialized—at least not to the degree anticipated. “The reliability of our new seat has been strong,” says Brickner, “and we have not experienced the level of leg-rest replacement that we forecast.”
There is a fundamental, widely applicable, lesson here that is underscored by the leg-rest example. “The idea is to make sure we have the right parts in the right place,” says Brickner. But the concomitant imperative is to do so it in such a way that “we don't overspend, so that we don't have too many parts in the system.” The principle still applies when integrating new aircraft.
Airlines are loathe to scrimp on anything that contributes to first- and business-class accommodations and services. According to the International Air Transport Association, the 8% of its member-carriers' traffic in 2011 pegged to premium passengers accounted for 27% of revenues. Consequently, the lion's share of customer-facing fleet-integration initiatives occur when new aircraft with updated premium cabins are introduced, and those in legacy aircraft must be updated to maintain the homogeneity of the overall premium product.