In September 1981 the first BAE 146 regional jetliner took to the skies from the British Aerospace airfield at Hatfield, Hertfordshire in the UK. The aircraft – and its later-build successor, the Avro RJ – was destined to become Britain’s most successful jet airliner.
The final new-build aircraft was delivered from the Woodford, Cheshire production line 22 years later in November 2003.
The Avro RJ/BAe 146 is widely considered the most successful British civil jet airliner programme and the last remaining in service aircraft operate in a wide variety of roles, supported by BAE Systems Regional Aircraft.
AAR began executing a component repair contract with BAE in January 2019 and by October it was announced the deal would include a wider range of components for BAE’s regional jet support programmes.
The scope of services focuses on BAE Systems’ out-of-production regional aircraft, utilising AAR’s expertise in legacy platform component repair at its Amsterdam facility.
Speaking at the MRO Europe 2019 event in London, Andre op’t Hof director of commercial operations at AAR tells this publication that BAE had been a customer in the facility for quite some time. “Obviously, BAE Systems on the regional fleet is out-of-production but they still have a sizable fleet flying around the world,” he says.
The AAR facility in Amsterdam provides component repair, overhaul, exchange and replacement solutions and op’t Hof says it’s been operational for over 50 years, it’s one of the first fully owned businesses for AAR. In Amsterdam, the facility employees around 130 people working solely on components.
“We are one of those component MROs that has a great reputation for being able to do a lot for their customers. We have very wide capabilities and we are able to address a lot of different things for customers.”
Clearly, BAE like other OEMs have their own support systems in place with their respective cost per hour programmes that support the existing fleets. With regards to out-of-production types op’t Hof emphasises the need to offer cost effective solutions when it comes to ageing fleets.
“What we provide BAE is a solution that is as cost effective as possible and uses their inventories -they still support aircraft around the world. We want to work together with BAE to keep repairing components and still support them in providing solutions, that’s why we are teaming up and forming a partnership with them.”
He stresses that OEMs in general are not ignoring the old platforms as they have a responsibility to keep supporting them. “It’s not that OEMs are not necessarily providing that support but a lot of systems OEMs on the aircraft have a lot of other projects out there.”
Speaking on direct customer interaction between the aircraft operators and BAE op’t Hof says AAR will “do a lit bit of both” saying while BAE still had its own customers enrolled in its cost per hour support programme other niche customers such as firefighting operators in California provided some additional opportunities – “these operators are not flying regular passenger services, they don’t rake up a lot of flight hours so we are in direct business with them,” he states.
AAR sees all types of components coming into the facility as op’t Hof attests. “It’s a mixed bag of units that come through. There are a lot of inventories out there and we are having conversations with BAE all the time as to what else can be done.”
He reminds that AAR didn’t build these capabilities specifically for BAE and this project. The facility had BAE 146 and RJ repair capabilities already for some time.
BAE have reported that since entering the contract in January, AAR has consistently delivered cost savings and a high-quality final product.
However, Graham Smith, head of procurement for BAE Systems Regional Aircraft notes that the agreement did add some additional parts to the agreement that BAE already had with AAR, but it is not an exclusive agreement, provides no guarantees on quantities and with both South African Airlink and Braathens moving their Avro RJ fleets on, they will only have ISSAC – Ministry of Defence (MOD) support contact for the four BAe 146s contracted for rotables after March 2020.
Back in September last year, BAE Systems said it was awarded a four-year £42 million contract from the UK MOD for the support of the Command Support Air Transport (CSAT) fleet of four BAe 146 jetliners operated by 32 (The Royal) Squadron from RAF Northolt in West London.
The contract commenced on March 1, 2018 and runs until 2022. There are options in the contract for extensions of one or two years. If the two-year extension is taken up, the contract value will increase to £60 million.
Importantly, op’t Hof stresses that AAR’s capabilities go way beyond out-of-production aircraft but there is an emphasis on taking them away from the OEMs [AAR still performs some work on Boeing 707 military platforms].
“We don’t want to leave the impression that we are a platform for the old generation. We have moved forward in innovation from aircraft capabilities to test equipment. Our capabilities are very wide from a technology perspective from instruments, radios, avionics and gearboxes.
“From the 737s to the Neos, the OEMs are not making life easy for the independent MRO, but I would say the scale of difficulty progresses if you go from a classic 737 component to something on an Airbus A350.”
Reaping the rewards
Last year AAR scooped Jet2.com’s supplier of the year award – AAR’s ongoing relationship was recognised for exceeding customer metric targets in real-time operations. AAR performs component repair services for its long-standing customer Jet2.com at the Amsterdam repair facility, and recently signed a five-year agreement for component repair.
“They invited all their suppliers from across their business and we were the only one from a technical field that won a supplier of the year award from Jet.com. It shows that we are doing a great job for them – we have worked for the airline for several years,” op’t Hof indicates.
The scope of work that AAR provides is across the board with about 350 parts a month that are repaired and op’t Hof says this is huge from a customer perspective.
Jet2 has a very comprehensive scorecard on how they measure their suppliers in terms of time delivery, quality and cost and op’t Hof is particularly pleased with that award:
“Over the past few years we have consistently been a stretch above the average among the top tier suppliers. You are only as good as your last component, so you have to constantly be making sure that your last component is as good as the others and that’s where our day to day focus is at.”