CFM56 family MRO providers have adapted as a result of the Covid-19 crisis and found new ways of working, and are now looking to the future with renewed optimism, as Luke Chamberlain discovers
[This article first appeared in the January/ February 2022 issue of MRO Management]
Despite production of the CFM56 engine winding down – with the final deliveries of the Boeing 737NG and Airbus A320ceo aircraft having completed in 2019 and 2020 respectively, and the production of spares due to end in 2024 – the narrowbody engines were the first to be reactivated following the Covid-19 crisis. And according to Marcel Gerth‑Noritzsch, global product manager at MTU Maintenance, they will continue to be the engines of choice during the ongoing recovery.
“We are prepared for this and expect to see our global MRO levels recover in 2022/23, which is earlier than market predictions, which forecast engine MRO recovery in 2023/24,” Gerth-Noritzsch reports. “We have retained our highly qualified staff during the pandemic and are ready to support airlines once recovery occurs. MTU Maintenance carried out more than 150 CFM56 shop visits last year and is well on the way to achieving pre-pandemic levels for this engine programme in 2022.”
Lufthansa Technik’s CFM56 programme is also showing signs of recovery. According to head of engine overhaul, Oezguer Yesilkaya, the company is currently operating on a “significantly increased level” compared to 2020, and in recent months has won new contracts with the likes of Frontier Airlines and Royal Jordanian. However, with a global shortage of parts supply for repair services, “managing our supply chain in order to avoid disruption for our operation and ultimately safeguarding our airline customers’ operation is our key target”.
With record demand for air cargo, one of the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis, Aero Norway notes the high number of ‘classic’ freighters now at its facilities. “Our focus has always been to get more -5Bs and -7Bs into the shop. In 2019, 63 per cent of our inductions were CFM56-5Bs and CFM56-7Bs, with 37 per cent CFM56‑3s [the first derivative of the series],” says the company’s global sales and marketing director Ramon Peters. “Our forecast for 2021 was 72 per cent -5Bs and -7Bs, and 28 per cent -3s, and we had paved the way to encourage those customers into the shop.
“However, the actual split in inductions between CFM56-5Bs/CFM56-7Bs and CFM56-3s has been 52 per cent to 48 per cent. Although this is not the worst-case scenario by any means, it is certainly not what we had envisaged and planned for. We would of course like to focus more on the -5Bs and -7Bs, however supporting our customers remains a priority and we have already agreed to support their CFM56-3 requirements until 2026. Although these rewards may be limited in the short term, in the long run business will perpetuate as these carriers will fly the new generation engines in the future, so we can undertake the -7B work.”
New ways of working
In many cases, CFM56 service providers are turning to new ways of working as the industry recovers from the Covid-19 crisis. As Peters explains, Aero Norway continues to come up with “creative and clever solutions” to help its customers. “We are constantly reassessing, re-evaluating and looking for ways to improve our processes in pursuit of reduced turnaround times.
“In 2019 we invested in a state-of-the-art high-speed grinder, which was followed by an upgrade to our plasma spraying machine and most recently to our static balancing machine. We are also carrying out numerous small projects around the shop to benefit our customers and this time has given us the opportunity to complete these.”
In terms of its workforce, Peters says the company was initially forced to modify working patterns to accommodate social distancing measures – but this has benefitted Aero Norway in the long-term. “We have followed all the guidelines set by the Norwegian government with regard to restrictions to visitors in the shop, and business travel,” he says. “We have found that having engines for repair has enabled us to provide a socially distanced physical barrier for our team who can position themselves at intervals around the engine; any collaborative work or checks have been carried out with social distancing in mind. This was only for a short period, but it ensured Aero Norway kept all of its workforce and maintained its work culture.
“This means that we are still staffed on 2019 levels and even hired six new technical apprentices in September. Getting back on track for an increase of CFM56 MRO work and preparing for LEAP MRO are our main goals and we look to the future with confidence.”
MTU’s Gerth-Noritzsch stresses the importance of adapting its approach according to operator needs. “The MRO focus for operators with younger fleets tends to be on generating more flight hours with customised solutions. We achieve this with intelligent fleet management that optimises removals across a defined period. Such services are complemented by predictive maintenance, based on engine trend monitoring, on-site services and spare engine support,” he explains.
“This is particularly key at the moment as operators turn to smaller workscopes and on-site fixes to extend time on-wing during the crisis. Such workscopes are also highly suited to CFM56 engines, as they were designed to enable more on-wing fixes than previous generations and are built in such a way that modules can easily be swapped as needed.
“Once an engine comes into the shop, our customised workscoping, EASA-FAA approved repairs and our engineering expertise help lower overall costs. We call this programme ‘PERFORMPlus’. This is particularly relevant for customers preparing for increased flight schedules later in the year and we are seeing a number seeking full shop visits and carrying out long-term planning.”
MRO costs naturally increase as engines age, and Gerth-Noritzsch says this is why MTU also offers “smart strategies” for mature engines. “Our fully independent solutions include alternative MRO, such as smart repairs and tailored workscopes to suit operators’ remaining flight periods as well as material salvation and intelligent teardowns,” he says. “Furthermore, these services can be combined with alternatives to MRO such as leasing in of green-time engines or exchanging engines for the remaining period until phase-out.
“This service solution goes by the name of ‘SAVEPlus’. We expect increased utilisation of used serviceable material (USM) in the coming years. and, through our extensive experience and material management services from our leasing company MTU Maintenance Lease Services, are confident we can provide a reliable supply of USM for customer shop visits at fair market prices.”
Smarter digital services will also help to support an effective post Covid-19 industry restart, according to Gerth‑Noritzsch. Summarising how MTU is embracing predictive maintenance, he explains: “At MTU, our engine trend monitoring tool was introduced in 2006 and is continually developed. In 2021, we took it to the next level and integrated it into our proprietary engine fleet management software ‘CORTEX’ to support our customers. Using CORTEX, an intelligent maintenance costing and planning tool, we generate engine fleet management scenarios and workscopes.
“Smart predictions by use of artificial intelligence enable customised, immediate and proactive MRO planning options not currently available on the market today. Fleet planning scenarios can be immediately and endlessly adapted as the financial, technical, operational, environmental and market considerations continually change – as we are experiencing daily at this time.”
A positive sign of recovery is that competition remains strong among CFM56 MRO providers, with Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance, ST Engineering, SR Technics and StandardAero among the major players in the field [besides those already mentioned]. According to Gerth‑Noritzsch, competitiveness has only increased as a result of the pandemic. “The CFM engine market has a large number of MRO providers and has always been very competitive – though we would add this is good for customers, who are sure to get the most competitive offers for services.”
Last year, MTU introduced the CFM56-7B to its facility at Berlin Brandenburg Airport, making it the third within its network capable of servicing the engine family. “This signals our commitment to the engine programme well into this decade,” says Gerth‑Noritzsch. “We also opened a new on-site services space near Berlin with quick-turn docks that is specialised in on-site and near-wing events as well as hospital shop visits. The first CFM56 engine was in this area in December. This success is something we intend to grow upon, and we aim to become the number one on-site and near-wing engine service provider in Europe with this facility.”
Lufthansa Technik’s Yesilkaya notes that with the company’s “on-site service teams and our global network of repair stations, we are well positioned to support our customers”. During the pandemic Lufthansa Technik “kept working on our strategic fields of actions and improved our services portfolio and competitiveness to increase our market share”.
Adapting to customer requirements is one way for CFM56 MRO providers to stand out from competitors, according to Peters. “At Aero Norway, we distinguish ourselves mostly by the way we adapt to our customer requirements. We offer multiple tailor-made added-value solutions, varying from technical, financial, material, logistics or a turnaround perspective. We go the extra mile in fulfilling customer requirements.”
Aero Norway remains positive there will be an upturn in MRO requirements for the CFM56 engine family over the coming year. However, as Peters puts it, “we do not know exactly when it will happen. By the end of 2022 to mid-2023 we would expect to see an increase in demand for CFM56-5B and -7B and LEAP maintenance workscopes. Single aisle aircraft operation is rapidly increasing in Europe, and we expect to see a shift in MRO requirements in the coming year.”
Yesilkaya says Lufthansa Technik is “very much looking forward” to 2022, holding the view that while domestic air traffic and the need for CFM engine MRO services are strong, capacities in the market remain limited. “Airlines should make sure they secure themselves – right now – sufficient capacity for engine MRO services for the next few years,” he says.
MTU expects to see a trend towards ad-hoc hospital shop visits and smaller workscopes over full-scale core performance restorations, which Gerth‑Noritzsch says is one reason the company has added on-site capability around the world and opened a dedicated facility near Berlin.“We expect to see a continued trend away from traditional planning with fixed maintenance intervals to more individually tailored solutions,” he says. “Some airlines are concentrating on short-term savings with cash preservation as the main objective, while others are focusing on long-term planning. MROs must flexibly meet both goals to provide the best solution for customers.”