Low Cost & Regional

Turboprops: The low-cost maintenance solutions

Turboprop MRO Flybe

The need for low-cost maintenance solutions for regional aircraft – particularly turboprops – is enabling more long-term MRO contracts, as well as choice, as Keith Mwanalushi reports.

Analysts at Forecast International project that a total of 5,728 regional aircraft will be produced in the 15-year period from 2017 through 2031, including both regional jets and regional turboprop airliners. The value of this production is estimated at $213 billion.

Forecast International’s market share projections show ATR is forecast to build 1,175 regional turboprops, and competitor Bombardier, which produces both jets and turboprops, is expected to produce 836 regional aircraft.

The large turboprop market is essentially a duopoly between ATR and Bombardier. Both OEMs are pushing hard with their respective long-term maintenance agreement offers to air operators.

ATR’s Global Maintenance Agreement (GMA) covers a series of MRO services and currently, over 300 ATRs are covered by GMAs, nearly one-third of the ATR fleet in operation.

“GMAs will grow and are a great way to get close to customers,” declares Tom Anderson, ATR’s Senior vice president programs and customer services. “The contracts signed this year show just how packages can be adapted to meet customers’ particular requirements.”

GMA contracts signed in 2017 included a new six-year extension with Irish regional airline Stobart Air covering the repair, overhaul and pooling services of Line Replaceable Units (LRUs), along with propellers’ availability and maintenance.

In another deal, Avianca Holdings signed up to cover 15 ATR 72-600s operating under different brands of Avianca in Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras. Others have included Azul in Brazil, or Air Nostrum in Spain. ATR has clearly introduced big players into its GMA portfolio, ranging from the low-cost market to subsidiaries of larger or national carriers.

“Also, while GMAs started with the ATR 42/72-500 and has since extended to the later ATR 42/72-600, there is a growing requirement from operators with the legacy -200/300 models. Part of this demand is the nature of the airlines, as they tend to be smaller organisations with smaller fleets and often in remote areas. ATR still works with these operators in the same way as for entry into service of a new model,” says Anderson.

CSAT and GA Telesis will partner to offer ATR aircraft
CSAT and GA Telesis will partner to offer ATR aircraft services

It is clear that OEM pay-by-the-hour maintenance programmes are increasingly popular and by signing up it is hoped aircraft operators can maximise the long-term value and ease of management of fleet investments.

Effective maintenance support is a key element of customer satisfaction for MRO, and ATR is fully committed to that, states Anderson. “Increasingly, this is through pay-by-the-hour GMAs, which are tailor-made for each customer for on-aircraft and off-aircraft maintenance.”

He adds that it is the operator who decides the level of investment and has access to a wide number of services, including guaranteed spares availability with stock on-site; spares pool access; and LRU repair services.

ATR holds more than 35,000 part numbers in stock (airframe, rotables, rotable breakdown parts, hardware, consumables, standard kits, engines, and tooling), as well as the lease of components and tools, repair, test and overhaul services, and standard exchange services.

Spares include both new and used serviceable material, ATR being an active player in the market for the latter through parting out of aircraft. Anderson says consumables are distributed by KLX Aerospace Solutions, while ATR has begun to pre-assemble kits of parts for Service Bulletins in its Paris warehouse to provide a faster response.

“The overall idea is to reduce risk through a predictable financial budget to cover MRO costs and availability of costly rotable items, along with guaranteed turnaround times and optimised logistics solutions with DHL.”

For example, Anderson states Air Algérie uses the Paris warehouse, while Azul in Brazil is supplied from Miami. He notes that there are additional warehouses in Singapore and Auckland. In addition, there is the I-CARE loyalty programme, which offers credit rewards against expenditure with ATR for parts and services.

Recent media reports have suggested Pratt & Whitney’s grip on the regional turboprop market [through its Canadian arm] could come under threat after ATR said it would look closely at alternative engines for its aircraft in the future thereby opening up the market to the possibility of other players.

But in the meantime, Frédéric Lefebvre, vice president marketing at Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC), says that with well over 10,000 engines on one of its pay-per-hour maintenance programmes, “P&WC is an industry leader in delivering flexible plans with a strong value for airlines.”

Tom Anderson, ATR’s Senior vice president programs and customer services
Anderson says the overall idea is to reduce risk through a predictable financial budget to cover MRO costs

Lefebvre says through the Fleet Management Program (FMP) and P&WC SMART Maintenance Solutions portfolio for PW100-powered regional aircraft customers, P&WC is undergoing a major shift to provide tailored maintenance cost guarantees that are adapted to each airline’s evolving business needs, financial models and fleet strategies.

“As part of this shift, we are catering to the subtleties and intricacies of our customers’ businesses, and the customer feedback has been very positive. Our FMP plans simplify engine management for airlines and provide a financial planning platform that guarantees operating costs and is customised to operators’ individual requirements,” Lefebvre elaborates.

Similarly, he says the P&WC SMART maintenance service portfolio provides guaranteed fixed costs for major engine maintenance, using genuine P&WC parts, eliminating price variables and uncertainty – addressing a major concern by many regional airlines.

“As a testament to the programme’s value, for the second year consecutively the number of customers has more than tripled and customer orders have increased more than twofold,” reports Lefebvre.

At the Paris Air Show in June, P&WC signed a definitive agreement to supply its latest PW150 engine – the PW150C – to power the AVIC Aircraft MA700 aircraft. “It’s in a class of its own,” Lefebvre states. Aircraft certification is scheduled for the end of 2021, engine certification is on target for the end of 2020 with an entry in service in 2022.

Airlines will no doubt be looking at the enhancements following the PW150A. Lefebvre says the PW150C turboprop engine builds on the proven PW150A engine architecture and will incorporate the latest technologies to deliver benchmark-setting performance and fuel efficiency to the newly designed MA700 aircraft.

Lefebvre points out the highlights: “The PW150C engine enhancements include the most advanced high-efficiency technologies, materials, and manufacturing processes, including a third-stage power turbine, a modified reduction gearbox to support the aircraft’s larger diameter propellers, and an optimised low-pressure compressor.”

In its latest update, the PW150C engine control will integrate with the MA700’s avionics and controls system to reduce the pilot workload significantly. “It will offer unmatched dispatch availability and reliability in the hot and high environments of western China,” he continues.

GMA maintenance
GMAs help airlines to ease maintenance costs

Near real-time situational awareness about the health of engines has clear benefits and P&WC is opening a new field of opportunity through the combination of its FAST solution (Full flight data, Acquisition, Storage and Transmission) and Oil Analysis Technology programme – “this is allowing us to go deeper and broaden the scope of our existing data-driven engine health management solutions delivered to customers,” Lefebvre explains.

The FAST solution delivers situational awareness about engine health, usage and trends. “We are moving customers toward fully preventive maintenance environments, including on-condition programmes and reduced rates on our pay-per-hour plans supporting many platforms, including more than 20 regional airlines.”

For regional airline customers, P&WC has also recently introduced automated propeller vibration trend monitoring through FAST. The new capabilities put propeller balancing maintenance in “on-condition” mode for a predictive and optimised environment designed to reduce operating costs, as well as pilot and mechanic workload.

The solution also enables better passenger comfort and greater component reliability due to lower propeller vibration levels, according to P&WC.

Lefebvre says the Oil Analysis Technology programme looks at the minute particles within the oil that indicate the health of specific oil-wetted components – such as bearings and gears, which are critical to engine operations – with extremely high precision.

ATR has developed a permanently-installed monitoring device to measure the vibration levels of its propellers, called a Vibration Monitoring System (VMS).

It will replace the current, temporary ground tooling systems, which consist of sensors and wiring that need to be installed and subsequently removed every time an airline wishes to monitor vibration. Instead, the VMS will come as a permanent installation on all new production ATRs, with retrofit available via a Service Bulletin.

The benefits for airlines will be significant. Engineers at ATR confirm this to be a permanently installed system, so airlines will no longer have to organise regular ground testing or put maintenance personnel on revenue flights to measure vibration, as one engineer attests: “It will be particularly advantageous for airlines that have a wide network, where ground tooling installations are often a long way from the aircraft that need them. With this new permanent system, data will be sent automatically from the aircraft’s avionics to the airline’s main hub.”

Flybe Aviation Services
Flybe Aviation Services

During the 2017 MRO Europe event in London, Czech Airlines Technics (CSAT) and GA Telesis (GAT) announced an MoU agreement to form an integrated supply chain partnership and offer ATR operator’s aftermarket services.

The service provided will also cover the support of rotating aircraft parts including repairs, spare parts inventory and logistics.

“It was clear that the majority of ATR support was coming from the OEM and that the airline operators were looking for more choices,” says Jason Reed, president of GA Telesis Component Solutions Group. “Through our internal analysis, but also the customers’ feedback, we realised that the market was sizable and was in need of a significant player to come into the market.”

GAT found that its customer – Czech Airlines and CSAT – had significant experience with the OEM, both from a flight operations and support perspective.

“After the initial discussions, our organisations collectively realised that combining our financial, commercial, marketing and sales expertise with their operational reliability knowledge, unparalleled experience of the key repairs required on the ATR components – as well as the inventory levels required to provide for a successful parts pool – would lead to an opportunity for us to make a unique service offering to the market,” Reed says.

He feels the demand for turboprop MRO will continue at a very steady pace: “The difference is that most of those services historically were being carried out by the OEMs who manufactured the parts, and now operators are looking for new, lower-cost MRO solutions, without compromising quality or reliability.”

In September, StandardAero also announced that it was selected by Nordica for MRO services on its PW127M engines powering its fleet of ATR -600 aircraft.

Nordica started its ATR72 -600’s operation after being awarded an ACMI contract by Scandinavian Airlines to fly regional routes from Copenhagen. Philippe Albrecht, Director, European Sales for StandardAero, explains that as a result of this Nordica leased four ATR 72 -600s in summer 2017 with additional growth planned.

“To cover their operations and accompany their growth on a new aircraft type, Nordica looked for the support of a reputable PW127 MRO provider, capable of offering expertise. Since the entry into service of the ATR with Nordica, StandardAero has been providing ad-hoc support on engine troubleshooting and recommendation for scheduled maintenance.”

Editor’s Note: The post was originally published in 2018.

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