In many ways Maintenance and Repair Operations (MRO) look to have a built in buffer against the worst excesses of any down cycle in the global economy, while at the same time they stand to gain from any increase in activity.
Clearly, if jet sales increase, that is good news for whichever MRO operation is able to attract the additional business. Moreover, while aircraft owners and operators can opt to cut back on flights if money gets tight, which will take some business away from their usual MRO company, there are still things that have to be done to the aircraft at pre-set intervals. So work goes on. Aircraft safety is paramount and the rules governing the day to day operation of all aircraft lay down in fine detail exactly what has to be done and when, by way of maintenance and service checks on all aspects of every business jet.
However, while MROs have a firm foundation in the rules of the game, as it were, they are hugely people and skills intensive businesses, with almost as many moving parts as the aircraft they service! They also need expensive hanger space and access to substantial amounts of highly expensive stock. Moreover, they have some of the most demanding clients in the world and the standards they work to are exacting and very unforgiving of mistakes. The whole sector is a continuous management and logistical challenge and when your MRO shop is purring along at very close to maximum efficiency there is always the challenge that comes from unscheduled demands on the operation’s services. Plus there is the fact that this is an intensely competitive sector. Aircraft owners and operators can always choose someone else’s MRO operation if anything about their current supplier displeases them.
Johannes Turzer heads Jet Aviation’s Basel MRO, an authorised service centre for Dassault, Bombardier, Gulfstream, Embraer and Boeing, with designated teams for each manufacturer’s aircraft. “When you bring your Bombardier aircraft to Jet Aviation Basel, you meet a designated director of operations for the Bombardier team who is responsible for all the resources for that OEM’s aircraft, including all the certification requirements, the mechanics and the supply chain structure. So we keep a very manufacturer-specific focus in each of our teams,” he comments. For multi skilling across two or more manufacturers the company employs contractors when the need arises.
Payment is, of course, a central function with every MRO operation and the whole process of billing has to be very closely and carefully managed. “On the payment front, what we do normally is come up with a work scope for the client that we then price and turn into a quote. We negotiate the terms of payment, which are always unique to the particular client, but which generally works as a two-fold story, a fixed rate for the inspection work and then a price that depends on what the inspection turns up,” he comments.
“Our portfolio goes from a Lear jet all the way to an A340. We see 747s and 767s, BBJs and ACJs, and the whole portfolio of jets from the major OEMs,” he comments. According to Turzer, the Basel MRO’s work schedules stayed pretty steady through the downturn, largely because its workload is predominantly the larger jets. “MROs who specialise in light and very light jets, however, probably had a pretty bleak experience,” he comments. Now that the upturn seems to have arrived, or almost arrived, Jet Aviation Basel is looking to grow in a number of areas. “We are just gearing up some of our specialty shops to cater for what we anticipate by way of future demand. There is no time to relax in this business. We are now beefing up for the next three year stint,” he comments.
Dave Jackson is the CEO of JETS, a 328 Group specialist MRO subsidiary. “We have two facilities, one at Biggin Hill, and the second at Bournemouth on the South Coast,” he explains. the Bournemouth location is a center of excellence for Hawker jets, from the early models through to the Hawker 1000 series. “We have a vast customer base, primarily in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa) but with some US custom. We also have the Challenger 600 and 605 covered at Bournemouth,” he notes. The 328 Group has its base at Oberpfaffenhofen and Bournemouth also has Dornier 328 expertise and can handle any overspill in the workload at Oberpfaffenhofen.
“We have the full heavy base of MRO covered, with some 35 to 40 staff at Bournemouth and we have now taken over Jet Aviation’s former MRO at Biggin Hill, together with the FBO which has subsequently been sold to BBA’s Signature Aviation. We are a Dassault service centre and we received formal approval as such in 2013 for the Falcon 900 and 2000 series,” Jackson comments. On taking over Biggin Hill JETS had to go through an intensive re-audit by Dassault, confirming its capabilities and the expertise of its staff. Inevitably, with the switch over of providers there was some uncertainty and confusion in the customer base, and Barnes and his team have been pulling out all the stops to reassure clients that all the capabilities and the service quality that they are accustomed to is still very much there for them.
In addition to the Dassault programme, the JETS Biggin Hill MRO also looks after Challenger 400 and Challenger 600 aircraft, and there are four of the former under base contracts. “We are very conscious that OEMs right now are very keen to keep aircraft flying as long as possible before base maintenance and we work hard to accommodate them. We also have fairly regular maintenance visits from some of the older types, including Citation 550s and 600s. In fact we are now seeing owners and operators prepared to spend again to bring aircraft back into pristine condition. There is a noticeable willingness to invest from operators of many different types of aircraft, which is a very healthy sign,” he comments.
JETS fosters a multi skilled approach in its engineers, with a number of them qualified to work across multiple aircraft types. “Our staff pretty much are our business and you get happy staff when they get real diversity and new challenges in their work. We have a very versatile and dynamic team here who are committed for the long term, which gives us a tremendous advantage,” he comments.
AMAC Aerospace was founded in Basel in 2008 and has a range of MRO “firsts” to its name. These include carrying out Europe’s first 16 year/192 month inspection on a Gulfstream V and the successful maintenance return of an Airbus A340 for C8 maintenance checks. Waleed Muhiddin, Vice President, Strategic Operations and Business Development comments: “AMAC strives to be a market leader in everything it does. We have dedicated and well experienced personnel and we train and engage with them, trouble shoot with them and more. Our aircraft engineers and specialist teams work around the clock to make sure that every project that comes through our doors departs on time and with a sense of confidence in clients’ minds. Relationships are continuously being built, which in turn leads to trust, which leads to a successful day at the office.”
Repeat business is one of the keys to a successful MRO operation and provides both management and staff with a tangible sign that things are going well. “There is no magic formula, but we work hard to be who we are,” he says. Muhiddin points out that to achieve the necessary quality assurance levels an MRO and/or completions centre has to go through a continual and rigorous audit process with EASA or other relevant aviation authorities. “Quality assurance comes through having good working practices and processes. AMAC Aerospace has libraries of information that help guide the specific work activities that go to make up a maintenance project. Through previous experience we understand these tasks in fine detail and can recognise and solve any problems or challenges that arise, quickly and efficiently, without wasting valuable time. This keeps projects on track and on budget. Our quality inspectors closely monitor work that is being performed and have their own dedicated procedures in all our workshops,” he comments.
Muhiddin points out that the various contractual maintenance programmes, such as Power-by-the-hour, and other OEM maintenance service plans are extensive and complex. “Commercial airlines tend to have more exposure to Power-by-the-hour programs than a VIP aircraft would have, but again, it depends on how heavily the aircraft is used. A commercial airline would probably have between 300 and 400 hours per month of useage, but a VIP aircraft might fly less than that in a whole year. The economies of scale offered by various plans are thus vastly different. Where the aircraft is generally based is also a factor. The impact of weather on the aircraft, for example, will be very different for an aircraft based in Europe to one based in the Middle East. We encourage our customers to contact us if they would like further details on the kinds of deals and pricing that are available,” he notes.