One reason is FAA inspectors, who may require different sign-off procedures or MRO processes. Carriers undergoing consolidation—like Delta and Northwest, and United and Continental—that are trying to standardize within their fleets face additional hurdles from these varying regulatory compliance requirements.
“Of course standardization would help us to reduce cost and time because we could stick to the MPD,” Jessup says. “Customized programs drive costs up.” For example, one carrier may require 80 hr. of training for a task, while another requires only 40 hr. “So we can't shift labor easily between bays, and we have to set up a system to make sure each mechanic is approved for each job by each carrier.”
AAR has set up a program to standardize maintenance for each customer across its five locations. “We want all our facilities to have the same feel and touch to a customer,” Jessup says.
This effort took four years and an investment approaching $2 million to implement over AAR's five facilities. It has improved efficiency for both AAR and airlines, and reactions from customers have been positive. Before standardization, only one or two airlines felt secure enough to use multiple AAR facilities. Now more than 10 use several facilities. This allows AAR to fill its hangars, and airlines to get work done much more flexibly.
Data standardization also matters increasingly at AAR. “We are seeing more and more customer interest in electronic record-keeping, sharing and data mining,” Jessup says. “They want to move from managing and publishing records manually to electronically. Cloud services are kicking it off.”
Chris Reed, managing director of Trax, says carriers that stick entirely with OEM maintenance programs generally have such small fleets that it does not pay to make changes. “It's not worth it for three aircraft, but if it costs $10,000 to make a change that saves 10 minutes each for 120 aircraft, it's worth it.”
Customizing maintenance programs for individual carriers can be done in several ways. Some OEMs offer to customize the program for the airline. “You tell them the changes and they will incorporate these into the standard program and charge you,” Reed explains.
The advantage of customization by the OEM is that revisions will be made to maintenance documents given to airlines. “We can link to that, load it into our system and update MRO requirements,” Reed says. “We can generate job cards from the MRO program and the aircraft maintenance manual, get requirements to carry out tasks, look up subtasks and build that into job cards. It saves a lot of time and resources.”
This compares with airlines that customize their programs, which can be a slow process, but they avoid OEM charges by doing it themselves.
Trax sees data-standardization challenges very directly. It downloads OEM maintenance documents online and the airline merely accepts or rejects them. Integration differs by OEM, however. “You can get Airbus documents in SGML or XML, that is straightforward,” Reed says. “Boeing is messing around. They want to keep control of data.” To exploit online OEM documents, airlines need only document-management systems, sometimes added to and sometimes built into their MRO application.