Engine MRO at Pratt & Whitney, IAE and CFM has ramped up, but not without consequences. Kevin Rozario reports for MRO Management.
Aviation’s recovery after the pandemic has also brought growing pains. As has been well documented in many widely different industries, those lean years meant savage staff cuts as businesses ground to a halt – but the post-Covid ramp-up has brought new problems.
For the engine MRO business, engineers that were let go have not been easy to replace, and many older, more experienced individuals have retired or gone off to do other things.
Jamie Davey, manager commercial engines and parts at aviation consultancy IBA, told MRO Management: “Labour shortages and supply chain issues mean that there are quite long turnaround times on engines at the moment. Widebody engines may not feel the brunt as much because of aftermarket agreements.”
However, engines from CFM International (a 50:50 joint venture between GE Aerospace and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines) and those from International Aero Engines (whose shareholders are Pratt & Whitney, Pratt & Whitney Aero Engines International GmbH, Japanese Aero Engines Corporation and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines) are used on narrowbody aircraft.
These jets have tended to come back into service first. The CFM56 family is the world’s bestselling jet engine with more than 33,000 units delivered. The CFM56-5B powers the A320, the CFM56-7B powers the Boeing 737NG (as the sole engine option) and the newer LEAP18 powers the A320neo.
That popularity has been a constraint during the current market revival because as planes have taken to the air again, engines have had to go back in for checks causing bottlenecks and long wait times.
Davey added: “In general, the aviation industry is battling for shop-visit slots. There are not that many out there at the moment (and) if you look at the 737NG fleet, there are a lot that have not yet gone through their first performance restoration.”
Expanding global capacity
Engine MRO shops are therefore under pressure. Kevin Kirkpatrick, Pratt & Whitney (PW) vice president of aftermarket global operations, said: “From the significant and sustained drop in demand to the sharp rebound starting in 2022, it has been challenging. To meet the growth in demand, Pratt & Whitney is continuing to execute on our strategy of expanding global MRO capacity while working closely with suppliers to ramp up supply chain output.”
One of the places where that capacity is being increased is in Portugal, at Embraer’s OGMA site where the service and support business is being strengthened through a big Pratt & Whitney project.
Since 2020, OGMA has been accredited as an AMC for Pratt & Whitney for the maintenance of the PW1100G-JM engine. In 2021, the site capability was extended to the PW1900G engine and OGMA is also adding complex repairs to its portfolio. The Pratt & Whitney GTF 1500G series (Airbus A220) and TP400 (A400M) will be added when a new test bench opens.
From April 2024, OGMA will induct the first engines starting with PW1100s and then PW1900s in 2025, according to OGMA’s chief executive Paulo Sérgio Monginho. He believes the deal with Pratt & Whitney will be transformative for the business. For Pratt & Whitney, adding this much MRO capacity will help ease the burden at existing shops.
Meanwhile the V2500 engine, designed and manufactured by IAE, powers nearly 3,500 aircraft globally. It is approaching mid-life and Pratt & Whitney is working with customers to offer a broader range of services such as life limited part (LLP) solutions, new and serviceable material programmes, engine swaps and more.
Kirkpatrick said: “The V2500 is an incredibly versatile engine, powering commercial, cargo and military platforms. It is backed by 17 established facilities around the world that provide MRO services which includes nine IAE party company facilities.”
In total, more than 7,800 V2500 engines have been produced since its entry into service in 1989, and Pratt & Whitney is still producing new V2500s for the Embraer C-390 Millennium.
Pratt & Whitney also recently introduced several durability upgrades for GTF engines in order to achieve longer time-on-wing. The latest configuration Block D hardware has been deployed in 60 per cent of the fleet, and will increase to more than 90 per cent over the next two to three years, according to Kirkpatrick.
He said: “This latest build standard alleviates removal drivers with longer-life parts, including LLPs like integrally bladed rotors (IBRs), a more durable combustor, and improvements to oil seals and turbine airfoils. All told, the Block D time-on-wing is double the prior configuration.”
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Addressing the supply chain
As for industry-wide supply chain pressures, Pratt & Whitney freely admit this has affected material availability and led to increased turnaround times in its MRO shops. IBA puts general turnarounds today at “a minimum of 100 days” whereas they were between 40 and 50 days pre-pandemic.
Kirkpatrick said: “We are balancing both growing production rates and higher fleet utilisation as the supply base recovers, and we are making strong progress. For example, casting production is up over 40 per cent year-to-date.”
Pratt & Whitney has taken several actions to increase supply chain output, including embedding staff with key suppliers to help accelerate the delivery of parts, continuing to qualify additional suppliers on key programmes and assisting suppliers with employee and new staff training.
To support the GTF engine – which has accumulated over 23 million flight hours by powering more than 1,600 aircraft – Pratt & Whitney is expanding GTF MRO capacity and capability globally, within its own shops and with partners, as the Embraer deal illustrates. The GTF MRO network has a global footprint with 13 operational facilities and an additional six coming online over the next few years.
This year, both Delta Tech Ops in the US and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Aero Engines (MHIAEL) in Japan saw facility expansions and Pratt & Whitney announced the first PW1100G-JM inductions at MHIAEL in Japan, and Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Corporation (Ameco) in China, the first PW1900G induction at EME Aero and the first PW1500G induction at Air France.
Pratt & Whitney is also using technology to improve operational effectiveness. Engineers at its Singapore engine centre have developed a collaborative robot (cobot) with an elaborate camera system that can assist technicians on the shop floor by capturing and documenting hundreds of pictures at different locations on the engine upon its arrival and departure.
The company also successfully deployed the first‑in-MRO application of 3D printing for aero‑engine component details, while also pioneering robotics in the MRO sector, including the development of an automated system to replace manual fixtures for tube repair.
Single-aisle market on sound footing
With demand for 30,000 single-aisle aircraft forecast over the next 20 years and strong customer interest to accelerate the transition to net zero, Pratt & Whitney has high hopes for its GTF product. “It offers the most fuel-efficient and sustainable engine for single-aisle aircraft today,” said Kirkpatrick. “We have a balanced, diverse GTF order book with more than 10,000 engine orders and commitments from over 90 customers.” Over 1,000 orders and commitments have been made this year to date.
CFM has also been drumming up orders, along with services agreements. In July, the company finalised an order of LEAP engines with Air India that will power the airline’s new fleet of 210 Airbus A320/A321neos and 190 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Both companies also signed a multi-year services agreement that will cover the airline’s entire fleet of LEAP engines.
Air India’s chief executive Campbell Wilson said that the introduction on a greater scale of the LEAP units “as well as our services agreement” will help to optimise the airline’s operations in terms of environmental footprint and operational cost.
From an MRO perspective, all these engine types still face the fundamental challenge of trying to reduce turnaround times.
Davey said: “It’s going to be quite a long road. Times are beginning to come down but there are still backlogs. Even into next year, turnarounds times may have improved but they will still be long.”
This feature was first published in MRO Management – August/September 2023. To read the magazine in full, click here.