Standardization of MRO work also should help cut costs and delays at lease return, which is becoming more important as short-term leases increase. “Different programs complicate that,” notes Chris Jessup, AAR's senior VP for sales and marketing.
MRO record-keeping already has moved away from the paper documents that did not permit much analysis. But Jessup stresses that there are three types of analysis that records should facilitate: analyzing one fleet type in one airline, multiple types in one airline, and shared data on fleets among many airlines, OEMs and shops.
The digital PDFs now common can be used for analysis within an airline. “But they cannot be shared across organizational boundaries, because systems do not talk to each other,” Jessup says. Even best-of-breed modern MRO systems do not store data in the same format. Carriers must standardize the data formats according to ATA Spec 2000 or ASD S1000D rules to make sharing and multi-organization analysis possible.
One pressure toward standardizing maintenance comes from leases. “If you own an aircraft you can decide how to optimize maintenance on it,” explains Joerg Coelius, manager of maintenance programs in Lufthansa Technik's (LHT's) engineering unit. “But if you lease an aircraft, the leasing company may require you to stick with the OEM's program, the MPD.” For example, LHT offers escalated Boeing 747-400 C check intervals because it has found over time that the MPD 15-month check can be safely extended. LHT uses the 24-month checks on its own aircraft, but not on aircraft taken on short operating leases. “This is mostly for long-term leases,” Coelius explains. “If it is a short-term lease, they would never even think about changing the interval.”
If an airline were to make any change in the program in these circumstances, it would have to pay for a transition check to get the aircraft back on the MPD program, a very expensive proposition.
LHT provides third-party customers a program that is about 90% MPD. The 10% non-MPD part mostly affects cabins because the OEM maintenance planning programs do not tend to require a great deal of work on interiors. “But if you want a nice cabin that people want to fly in, you have to put more man-hours into the cabin,” Coelius says. This may appeal to full-service carriers but, “if you are an LCC, not so much.”
LHT has not seen any increase in maintenance program standardization requests yet, and continues to perform maintenance mostly according to customized airline programs. Customers can bring their own task cards, or LHT can generate the cards based on the optimized programs its engineering unit creates to either cut costs or enhance revenue. Customers can accept or reject the recommendations. Most suggestions for cabins and interiors are accepted, but most for check escalation are not, because of lease requirements.
Coelius would definitely like to see more standardization of data. “Now we get it in Excel or PDF, and Boeing and Airbus have different formats.” Different formats mean LHT must use different loaders to get data into its database. Smaller MROs may not even have various loaders, making the problem much worse.
“We want it in the industry standard, S1000D,” Coelius says. “We are working closely with operators, MROs and OEMs to get data in the same format.” He expects Boeing 787 documents to be mostly, but not entirely, in S1000D, and both Bombardier's CSeries and Airbus's A350 to be 100% compliant. “We have worked on it for three years. I think it will take three more years.”
AAR has not seen much MRO program standardization across its 25 heavy maintenance customers yet, says Jessup. “They all have customized programs, they standardize as much as they can, but even if you have A320 checks at the same interval, no one is identical with the other.”