Increased flying means increased wear and tear on aircraft wheels, brakes and tyres. Ian Harbison reviews the business progress of some of the leading MRO specialists.
Aircraft wheels, brakes and tyres have relatively short times on wing compared to other aircraft equipment. That means there is a constant flow of material to the maintenance facilities that specialise in looking after them.
It has been a year since TP Aerospace launched its Green Sunrise growth strategy and the company is making good progress.
The growth strategy has two main parts – moving closer to its customers and to improve processes for greater efficiency and customer service. It also has a focus on Asia, as this is the fastest-growing market.
In January 2019, the first new Green Sunrise facility opened in the MRO Centre at Subang Airport, Malaysia. This followed a three-month renovation programme and installation of equipment workshop, followed by Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) approval.
Initial capability, with six certified staff, is up to 10 units per day. Previously, all work was carried out in Singapore, and the new facility represents another example of locating closer to customers.
During April 2019, TP Aerospace opened its first UK-based aircraft wheels and brakes MRO facility. Three connected 369m² units are located in Castle Donington, close to East Midlands Airport.
The company already had a strong UK customer base before opening its UK operations, but the impetus to set up a new facility came with a seven-year contract with cargo carrier West Atlantic for an all-inclusive wheels and brakes programme to support 46 Boeing 737, 767, Bombardier CRJ and BAe Systems ATP freighters.
A $1 million investment in machinery and equipment and 22 productions, support and management staff means it is capable of handling over 10,000 units per year.
In the same month, another Asian facility was opened, this time in Thailand. The new MRO workshop is located 10 minutes from Suvarnabhumi International Airport and only 45 minutes from Don Mueang and U-Tapao International Airport.
The facility is currently operated by a small team of five certified staff, initially expected to produce up to five units per day.
Asian progress continued in July 2019, this time with the opening of a new representative office in Shenzhen, China.
Matthew Pun, director of sales and business development, says the Chinese market is forecast to more than double in the next 10 years, and looking at the global fleet during the same period, China is expected to account for more than 30 per cent of the global growth.
It is important to have a local point of contact between TP Aerospace and key players in the market.
As well as investment in modern machinery in each facility (see MRO Management, September 2018), the company also developed a paperless system throughout the worldwide network (headquarters in Copenhagen, Bangkok, Dubai, East Midlands, Hamburg, Kuala Lumpur, Las Vegas, Melbourne, Orlando, Shenzhen and Singapore).
TP Aerospace has managed to use its current Quantum Control ERP system, developed by Component Control, to customise the paperless system to the company’s specific needs.
It is a direct data entry method that can process work orders from the introduction of a unit, through the maintenance procedures, to the end of the final inspection where the airworthiness review certificate can be signed off electronically.
It replaces an old scanning system, where barcoding was needed on all tools and hardcopy work orders. With the new system, the number of procedures to be completed are linked to digital protocols. This provides stronger quality control and reduces the risk of mistakes.
The new system has already been approved by several aviation authorities around the world – EASA, CASA, CAAM, and CAAT – along with other local authorities expected to approve it later this year.
TP Aerospace’s Melbourne facility was the first to apply the new system, followed by Subang, Bangkok and Castle Donington. By 2020, all TP Aerospace facilities are planned to be paperless.
Phil Randell, chief executive officer, says business is steady but World Aero is seeing increased interest from the regional market, especially for the Embraer E-Jet and ATR 72.
It recently signed a five-year Cost Per Landing agreement with a European airline for aircraft wheels, brakes and tyres on its E195 fleet, while ATR business is coming from operators who feel there is some OEM domination in the overhaul market.
World Aero, he says, is completely independent and this is attractive to operators who are concerned that other MROs might be working in the best interests of the OEM, not the airline.
Additionally, World Aero is focused on its MRO business and not spares trading and this has boosted business from brokers and distributors who do not expect to compete with the MROs they use when it comes to inventory sales.
A further attraction for brokers and distributors is that World Aero can advise them on which aircraft wheels and brakes to prioritise in processing aircraft teardowns, thanks to its understanding of market trends.
As well as scarce components with higher values, there are often items that have flooded the market with a resultant drop in price. In between, and possibly the most difficult to define, is the trade-off between the cost of repair and overhaul versus the likely return when the item is sold.
This focus helps World Aero with smoothing out the workload across the year; many traditional airline contracts are based on consumption, meaning peak workload is in summer when aircraft utilisation is highest.
Further assistance with balancing workload comes from contracts for freighter aircraft and the company also uses the quieter winter period to overhaul its own pool of inventory to support its contracted customers ahead of the next busy season.
Technology can also affect the business, he says. The increased service life of carbon brakes versus steel brakes means that there are now fewer replacements per aircraft and therefore the manhour value of repairs is less. The same applies to radial tyres versus bias tyres on wheels.
Nevertheless, expansion plans are in place at World Aero, with most of the workshop area to be covered by a mezzanine level with multiple goods lifts to move workaround.
The experience of workshop staff to optimise the layout and internal processes, rather than boast about expensive floor area, is key to sustaining maximum efficiency and a competitive edge says Randell.
DAES Group just completed a turnkey wheel and brake facility for First Class Aviation Services (FCAS), an MRO company headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
It has a gross area of 1,300m² and was due to start operating by the end of November. The shop is expected to employ approximately ten people and handle an average of at least 1,000 wheels per year. This project is part of a regional growth plan by FCAS that will be followed by a facility in Jeddah airport.
The shop layout design, the equipment selection, the installation, and the commissioning were entirely project managed by DAES Group.
A smart floor plan contributes to workflow and efficiency optimisation, reducing manual labour with increased automation using equipment from manufacturers such as Bauer, Odlings and ATG.
The facility has been approved by the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with FAA and EASA approvals to follow to serve clients with foreign-registered aircraft.