December 17, 2012
Credit: Credit: Lufthansa Technik
Henry Canaday Washington
Aircraft maintenance is shared among many companies, including airlines and tiers of manufacturers, maintenance shops and parts suppliers. This piecemeal maintenance process cannot be efficiently conducted with completely different methods for each airline. Some degree of maintenance program or data format standardization is necessary. Standardizing maintenance programs would permit MROs to handle many airlines without using different inspection intervals, different task cards and differently trained workers. The growth of start-ups, reductions in engineering staff at major carriers and increasing use of leased aircraft is promoting this kind of standardization.
While no one MRO program will fit all carriers, there are efficiencies to be gained by tailoring maintenance programs to unique operations and aircraft configurations. So, there will always be a tradeoff between seeking the gains of standardized methods and the advantages of customized procedures.
Standardizing the format of maintenance and performance data holds much more promise universally. This would ease the flow of information among the many companies involved in maintenance, enabling fleet-wide analyses that could improve reliability and cut costs. There are no long-term tradeoffs here. The hurdles to standardizing data are investment, effort and time.
Apart from these two big areas, standardization also can be sought in smaller but useful ways; for example, in more uniform programs for one carrier's fleet, in more standardized job cards for the same tasks and more similar sign-off requirements.
Legacy carriers once devoted dozens of engineers to developing their own customized MRO programs. “Those resources are no longer available, so there should be a shift to more standard programs,” predicts Jim Ballough, vice president of the Cavok unit at Oliver Wyman.
“Airlines have been reluctant to adopt MPD [maintenance planning document methods from aircraft manufacturers], but that is changing,” Ballough argues.
Ballough expects this standardization to make MRO outsourcing more efficient. “Now the MRO may have five customers with one aircraft type but five different programs. That leads to inefficiencies. Techs have to learn five different programs and that leads to human factors problems. And you must have five different sets of task cards.”