Engine Upkeep: Increase Longevity & Decrease Cost

How can you ensure your engine maintenance costs are minimized? Andre Fodor shares some tips from his many years of managing flight departments…

Andre Fodor  |  13th September 2020
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    Andre Fodor
    Andre Fodor

    With a focused approach on global excellence and creativity, Andre Fodor has managed flight operations...

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    Private jet engine nacelle open for maintenance

    Through life, I have learnt the value of taking care of the things I own, and especially the things from which I make my living. It should be no different in Business Aviation. As managers of expensive aircraft, we provide added value when we take ownership of the equipment we operate...

    Treating the company aircraft as though it was our own is effective management and provides cost savings. It is the best way to keep maintenance costs down and your equipment operational and on-budget.

    I have written in the past that one of – if not the – most expensive component of an aircraft is its engines. At least a third of the value lies within its powerplants. Consider older aircraft residual values that – beyond scrap – are only worth what the engines can fetch.

    During a market downturn in the not-too-distant past, a very nice older Large Cabin Jet operated by a friend was actually worth more parted-out than if it was sold to another operator. In that particular case, 90% of the aircraft’s value was in the engines.

    Diligent care of the aircraft’s powerplants results in maintenance savings and higher residual value - especially when everything is well documented. But what should good engine housekeeping look like within a flight department? Read on…

    Engine Upkeep: Stick to the Schedule

    Following the prescribed maintenance schedules for the engines seems obvious. But there may be differing levels of maintenance requirements. An aircraft OEM may have engine maintenance tasks that are associated with the certification of a type-specific aircraft, together with the engines attached to its pylons. Meanwhile, the engine OEM might have maintenance tasks that are powerplant specific.

    Sometimes, these tasks do not cross over, are missed, or are issued post-certification (taking time to be incorporated into the aircraft’s maintenance manual, if ever). 

    Non-compliance, even for an item missing from the aircraft’s approved maintenance manual, could place you ‘in breach’ and void your warranty or engine program coverage.

    So, your engineer must be familiar with both the aircraft and engine OEM maintenance procedures, participate in powerplant discussion groups, and interface with field representatives who are subject matter experts for your aircraft’s powerplant type.

    Geography Matters

    Once upon a time, I was bringing an airplane to a coastal area on a regular basis. It was the Standard Operating Procedure of our flight operation to add engine covers on every overnight trip, which we duly complied with at this location.

    On one occasion when I removed the covers I was astonished to find a baked-in concentration of salt over the bright work surfaces that had been covered up overnight. The moist, salty air had infused the engine cover fabric overnight, and the morning sun had baked the salt in to the chromed metal.

    If that much salt could accumulate on the surface in just 24 hours, imagine the corrosion damage if this practice had continued. 

    Similarly, a friend teaches aviation in the Middle East. His company operates Light Jets for an airline ab-initio pilot training program. I inquired about the amount of abrasion inside the engine from ingestion of fine sand particles, and he reported that valves were failing early as a result of the ingestion. As preventive maintenance, his operation cleaned the engines with compressed air.

    In another case, after reading an engine manufacturer manual I discovered that a certain engine type required compressor washes every month if it is based within a certain geography.

    The manual included a map showing the relevant region, and failure to comply with this practice from those based in the area would void warranty. Geography matters a great deal when it comes to engine maintenance.

    Engine Trend Programs

    A significant part of taking preventive measures involves a trend program, in which the pilot collects engine data that is fed into a database. Over time, it is understood what the engine’s ‘normal’ parameters are, and that any variation from these numbers could indicate that closer attention is required.

    Having oils sampled, even outside of the required schedules, can augment your knowledge. A good fuel sampling program, including fungus testing, will help you to know the quality of your fuel and tanks.

    Every little bit adds more margin to your engine longevity program, so think outside the box about how to protect your engine’s pedigree.

    Today’s Jet engines are very reliable, working well for thousands of hours. However, they are also highly complex. Beyond the preventative maintenance you should only allow experienced factory-trained and approved mechanics to work on your powerplant, since a poorly torqued bolt could be the cause of your next $500k expense!

    The Culture of Ownership

    Create a culture of ownership within your flight department. It’s everyone’s duty to take responsibility in the daily care of the equipment. Someone who does not buy in to this team-centric approach may not be the best fit in your department.

    Like I always say, lower cost means more flying - and more flying means job security. We all want that!

    Do you have a specific aircraft maintenance, upgrade or repair need?

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