Ascent’s Scott Butler tells MRO Management about the company’s approach to aging aircraft maintenance and entering the passenger-to-freighter conversion market.
What are the most common maintenance issues that arise with aging aircraft, and how does Ascent Aviation Services (Ascent) address these issues?
Corrosion is obviously the first thing that you want to worry about during a check. The older the aircraft gets, the more susceptible the aircraft is to having findings. The flying and maintenance environment is also a driver in this.
When inspecting an older airframe, we prioritise the open-up and inspection of structural areas to look for corrosion. The key to successful and on-time delivery is finding the corrosion early, drawing up the engineering repair, and implementing the repair. Maintaining a strong core group of structure mechanics allows us to tackle even the most difficult repairs within the quoted time.
Additionally, having access to and knowledge of good supply chain solutions is especially crucial on older airframes, where unique material may not be stocked on AOG shelves. Our purchasing teams partner with several USM and other suppliers in the pre-planning phase in order to make sure we are ready for any parts issues.
To what extent is Ascent incorporating modern maintenance practices and technologies to enhance the operational longevity and efficiency of aging aircraft?
Our planning group is the lifeblood of our operation and we pride ourselves on being best-in-class in this regard. Having a task-by-task project flow and a scripted visit is key to delivering projects on time.
Once a project is awarded, our pre-planning phase begins immediately and our planning team works with project managers, project buyers, training and quality teams to ensure all our resources are aware of the project scope as well as any tasks that are known to produce a lot of non-routine findings.
Can you discuss any unique approaches or strategies Ascent employs for extending the lifecycle of aging aircraft to help optimise maintenance costs and minimise downtime?
Working and communicating with our customers in the pre-planning phase is key to ensuring we’re aware of all the constraints. Once awarded the project, our planning team immediately begins to work with the customer’s team to review the package together, discuss pre-draw material as well as review the previous maintenance records.
Even if Ascent did not perform the previous maintenance visit, we want to ensure we can review previous packages to look for repeat issues and ensure we inspect troubled areas early in the check visit.
Having repeat customers’ aircraft and aircraft types is important to successful TATs as Ascent becomes more and more familiar with the repeat inspections and can continuously improve our process and reduce span times where possible.
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Is Ascent looking to position itself within the P2F market? What opportunities does the company see in converting passenger aircraft to freighters?
Ascent has recently announced a new commercial collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to become the North American maintenance partner to convert 777-300ERs to cargo configuration. We have a long and successful history in widebody maintenance, which made the programme a natural fit for Ascent.
To support this programme, we will erect two new widebody hangars at our Marana (MZJ) facility in Arizona. The pre-construction activities have already begun, and we have started to assemble our training programme with IAI to ensure we can begin the conversion in mid-2024.
Additionally, we have already begun the hiring process to support the programme and we expect this 15- year programme will add more than 300 new jobs to the area. We are working with local schools and military bridge programmes and will begin our own structures training programmes to support the lead-up to the programme.
With the IAI STC on track to be received at the end of 2023, Ascent will be the centre of excellence for Boeing 777 maintenance in all of North America.
What key factors do you consider to be driving demand for P2F conversions, and how is Ascent aiming to capitalise on this market demand?
Aging airframes and new technologies are the key to the boom in P2F conversions. There is a large need to replace older airframes like the 767, 747 and A300 as there are no new production aircraft. The 777-300 is the logical replacement to these aircraft and there are nearly 1,000 aircraft under 20 years of age that will give excellent feedstock to the industry.
Additionally, new aircraft such as the 787 and A350 are quickly replacing the 777 in the passenger space as they have refreshed passenger experiences and have a much more efficient fuel burn.
Even prior to the IAI partnership, Ascent has positioned itself strongly in the 777 market and invested heavily in the tooling and training to accomplish the heaviest of checks on these airframes.
We will be a true one-stop-shop for the 777 where we can provide storage services, engine removals, landing gear changes, heavy checks, P2F conversions, and reclamation (USM) services on 777s. The IAI programme will now solidify Ascent as the premier provider of Boeing widebody services in North America.
What distinguishing expertise and capabilities does Ascent offer that sets the company apart from competitors and attracts potential clients seeking aircraft conversion services?
We have a very diverse business base that allows us to work with all aircraft and customer types from around the world.
In addition to FAA, Ascent maintains certifications from multiple authorities such as EASA, TCCA, BCCA, CAACI, NCAA, ANAC, 2-Reg and Aruba that allow us to support the transition of any type of aircraft.
Our one-stop-shop approach to aircraft types allows us to support an aircraft in all phases of its lifecycle.
We have extensive storage experience and capabilities which allow us to bring 777 aircraft down and send engines and landing gear out for overhaul while we’re performing the heavy check and P2F modification.
We can offer a lot of flexibility for our leasing customers who will be retiring aircraft from one operator, entering into P2F conversion and delivering to a new operator in one smooth process. We are truly the centre of excellence in all aircraft transition services.
This feature was first published in MRO Management – October 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.