North American airlines, on the other hand, have traditionally been reluctant to operate in pools. For one, it could take several days to get a part from one of the European or Asian pools shipped to the United States on short notice. Meanwhile, U.S. airlines had tremendous experience managing their parts and servicing their aircraft.
Another inhibitor is the genealogy of the parts being contributed to the pool by the various participants. “If I'm managing my own spares, I know the history of the parts that have been on my aircraft,” explains Al Kosarek, president and CEO of Aeroxchange. “I don't know what modifications have been done to the part I am getting back or how well it has been maintained. That ambiguity put a wet blanket over the use of pools.”
There are several reasons why industry experts say some airlines are rethinking their reluctance.
The first is financial. “In the airline industry, there's always a need for cash and that is especially true today as results are under pressure,” says Martijn de Vries, director of product and market management, component services for AFI KLM E&M. By sharing parts in a pool, an airline reduces its investment in parts and has an opportunity to sell excess inventory, freeing up cash.
A second is predictability. In a power by the hour (PBH) program, for instance, an airline pays a fixed cost for parts and repairs based on the number of hours a fleet is flying. “A PBH program provides the operator with known component repair costs and ensures that a reliable quality supply is on hand when it's needed,” says Lee Robinson, customer support manager for Aclas Global, which supports aircraft on a global basis.
A third, thanks to mergers and fleet renewals, is that airlines are often supporting multiple aircraft types and even multiple configurations of the same aircraft model. “Even if you fly all 737s, there are different families of 737s and they all have to be supported,” says Wodarski. “In a large fleet with 400 or 500 aircraft, those variations are significant.”
Finally, the introduction of new models, such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 and A320NEO, present an opportunity for airlines to rethink how they want to provision and support these new aircraft. “Airlines in both Latin and North America are looking at the A320NEO and the A350s and wondering whether they want to make those investments in parts,” says Chris Reamy, director of services and strategy for Airbus Americas. “It's a slow process, but there is an evolution in thinking going on out there.”
That evolution was confirmed by a survey of customers for these new aircraft models conducted by AeroStrategy for Moog Aircraft Group. The survey asked how the airlines intend to maintain the new models. “Our flight actuation components are very reliable but expensive,” says Kate Schaefer, Moog's general manager of commercial aircraft. “They're a 'no go/go if' item and the recommended investment in parts is $2 million.”
According to Schaefer, the survey results indicated that the airlines are taking a serious look at outsourcing the inventory management and component maintenance. “What we heard is that a lot of these airlines are focused on their return on capital,” she says. “They don't want to hold inventory and that's leading to a paradigm shift in interest in support packages.”
That, in turn, is leading to programs from OEMs to support their customers on a global basis.