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Keeping Airplanes Viable M7 upholds support levels for 750 Merlin/Metro operators worldwide. During the 35-year period between 1965 and 2000- Fairchild Aircraft and its related companies built 1-053 twin-engine turboprop aircraft for the corporate and regional airline markets. Today- approximately 750 of those airplanes are still operating from locations all around the world. The task of supporting those airplanes and keeping them airworthy today is taken up by M7 Aerospace. M7 is located on ...

Mike Potts   |   1st February 2008
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Mike Potts Mike Potts

Mike Potts is a writer and consultant who has been involved in aviation for more than 30 years....
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Keeping Airplanes Viable
M7 upholds support levels for 750 Merlin/Metro operators worldwide.

During the 35-year period between 1965 and 2000- Fairchild Aircraft and its related companies built 1-053 twin-engine turboprop aircraft for the corporate and regional airline markets. Today- approximately 750 of those airplanes are still operating from locations all around the world. The task of supporting those airplanes and keeping them airworthy today is taken up by M7 Aerospace.

M7 is located on the International Airport in San Antonio- Texas- and occupies the 426-000 sq. ft. suite of buildings that formerly housed Fairchild Dornier. M7’s owners - entrepreneurs Ted Miller and George Reese of Houston- Texas - acquired the US-based assets of Fairchild Dornier out of bankruptcy in late 2002- combining them with assets of Dornier Aviation North America to form M7.

The company began operating as M7 in April- 2003 with three business units – all with ties to the Metro/Merlin fleet. The first M7 business unit was the company’s Parts and Product Support division that supports the Merlin and Metro turboprops. The second was a Government Contracts division- which had a logistics contract with the US Air Force to support a fleet of 22 C-26 utility and reconnaissance aircraft. C-26 is the U.S. military designation for a Fairchild Metro 23.

The third M7 business unit was an MRO operation on the San Antonio airport that was the designated depot maintenance facility for the C-26 fleet. Most C-26 maintenance was accomplished at the individual bases where the aircraft were stationed- but for heavy maintenance the airplanes went to San Antonio.

Dark and silent
The factory where the Metros and Merlins were built- and where Fairchild Dornier had made wings for Dornier 328 airliners- was dark and silent. Coffee cups and paperwork remained where employees had left them when it was announced quite suddenly in April 2002 that Fairchild Dornier was bankrupt and the doors were closed. M7’s management wanted to get the factory restarted- but knew it was necessary to get the rest of the business up and running profitably first.

Among the assets M7 acquired were the Type Certificates for the Merlin and Metro aircraft series. This made M7 the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for the airplanes. The company also owned the factory where the airplanes were built- and many of the employees who had assembled Merlins and Metros now worked for M7. M7’s management team decided early on that the Merlin/Metro business would be a major part of the company’s strategic initiative for the future. This represented a marked change from the Fairchild Dornier philosophy- which had seen the Merlin/Metro business as part of the company’s past- and something that should be minimized.

Under Fairchild Dornier- all Metro/Merlin parts manufacturing activity had been outsourced to make room in the factory to produce wings and other components for the Dornier 328 regional airliner. Now- a few years later- this decision to outsource was beginning to create problems. There was no incentive for the vendors now making the Metro/Merlin parts to keep prices down. As a result- operating costs were beginning to rise and the economic viability of the Metro/Merlin fleet was at risk.

Perfect solution
Studying the situation- M7’s management saw a perfect solution. By bringing the outsourced work back to M7 they could regain control of the parts cost- thereby helping to ensure the Metro/Merlin fleet would remain viable. At the same time- they could re-start operations in the Fairchild factory on a small and controlled scale- building parts they knew would sell quickly. With the factory up and running- M7 could then compete for manufacturing work from major aerospace prime contractors on other aircraft types.

In the fall of 2003- M7 began building its first Merlin/Metro parts. Today- more than 1-200 different Merlin/Metro part numbers are made in M7’s factory- and the parts are available to operators far less expensively than if they were still outsourced. In addition- M7’s factory is now a full-blown business unit- titled Aerostructures Manufacturing. Further to building Metro and Merlin parts- M7’s factory builds parts and assemblies for Boeing- Northrop Grumman- Lockheed Martin- Sikorsky- Agusta/Westland/Bell and others - including prestigious programs like the C-130- F-16- E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and the US101 Presidential Helicopter.

Along the way- M7 has developed an Engineering business unit that provides engineering services to M7’s other business units and to outside customers. Design- analysis- prototyping- static and dynamic testing- and certifications are among the services M7’s Engineering unit can provide.

Five years on…
As M7 approaches the fifth anniversary since its start of operations- supporting the Metro and Merlin fleet around the world continues to be an important element of the company’s overall business strategy. This has been critically important to maintaining the airworthiness and value of these airplanes for their owners. M7 maintains an active inventory of more than 22-000 line items for the various models of the Merlin and the Metro in stock in the warehouses at its San Antonio facility. Customers can go on line at the M7 website (www.m7aerospace.com) to check availability and order parts. The inventory on the website is updated daily to ensure accuracy.

An array of parts specialists and technical representatives are employed to discuss customer requirements and assist with ordering during normal business hours- and a 24-hour/seven-day-a-week telephone hot line is available for customers- with AOG requirements.

In addition- M7 maintains its own shipping department with multiple pickups during the day from FedEx- UPS and DHL. The San Antonio International Airport has excellent service with domestic and international departures available through the day and consequently- in most instances- parts are shipped the same day they are ordered.

Engineering/operational issues
M7’s Engineering Department supports the Merlin/Metro fleet- providing U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approved repairs and Service Bulletins.

An example of recent Engineering activity to support the Metro/Merlin fleet is a newly-issued Service Bulletin to install a pitot heat warning system. The new system adds a warning light that illuminates if the pitot heat is activated but fails to operate. This was developed specifically to assist Canadian Metro and Merlin operators in response to a Transport Canada requirement to ensure safety in icing conditions. And in 2004 M7 developed and certified a TCAS II (Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System) installation for Merlin and Metro aircraft. The TCAS II was designed to meet then-new EASA requirements for turbine-powered business aircraft in Europe.

M7 participates actively in an annual Metro Operators’ Conference- at which the company invites operators to supply a list of engineering or operational issues they would like the company to address in the coming year. These issues may address changing operational situations- or regulatory requirements such as the pitot heat warning Service Bulletin discussed above.

While not every issue can be addressed every year- M7 selects the issues with the greatest needs- such as those involving changing regulatory requirements- as well as those issues that will benefit the greatest number of operators and have the greatest benefit in relation to the cost required to develop a solution.

As another part of its support operation- M7 offers both maintenance and flight crew training for Merlins and Metros- and this is available both at M7’s San Antonio headquarters and at customers’ locations.

Manuals and other publications form a critical element of any aircraft support operation- and M7’s is no exception. M7 technical publications- including flight manuals- maintenance manuals- Service Bulletins and other documents are available in paper format or electronically on CDs. The company maintains its own print shop to produce manuals- which are typically generated when ordered to ensure that every publication is entirely up to date.

A staff of 50 people forms the core of M7’s Metro/Merlin support operation- but this is augmented by the company’s 22-member engineering staff and the company’s aerostructures manufacturing division. At any one time- as many as 80 M7 employees may be engaged in activity supporting the Merlin and Metro fleets.

For the owners and operators of the 750 Fairchild Merlins and Metros still in operation- the emergence of M7 Aerospace as an active and engaged Original Equipment Manufacturer has been very fortunate. Prior to M7- the Merlins and Metros had been well on their way to becoming orphan airplanes- with no sponsor to maintain their continuing airworthiness.

The increase in fuel prices around the world has stimulated the market for used turboprops. Many of the Fairchild airplanes that were parked a year ago – particularly Metros – are now actively flying again- many of them in cargo operations and with regional airline operators outside the United States. With M7 Aerospace providing critical support- these airplanes are likely to remain in service for many years to come.

More information from www.m7aerospace.com

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