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Aircraft Maintenance - Don't Take it Lightly

Improved performance usually comes at a price.

Gil Wolin   |   1st January 2014
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Gil Wolin Gil Wolin

Gil Wolin draws upon almost 40 years’ aviation management experience as an industry consultant....
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With aircraft maintenance- that price usually includes increased regular attention to detail – something that only a dedicated maintenance technician can provide. But that message seems to be lost on many of today’s business jet buyers- even the experienced ones.

Business jets need a daily review and performance of hands-on maintenance- not only to preserve near-100% dispatch reliability- but also to control operating costs. And whether it’s due to innocence- ignorance- misinformation- or simply a tight-fisted approach to aircraft ownership- too many of today’s owners are choosing not to employ a full-time maintenance technician.

In their effort to avoid the fixed-costs associated with a full-time- dedicated employee- those owners are unwittingly driving up their variable cost of maintenance – and thereby reducing their aircraft’s dispatch reliability. Rather than employ a dedicated technician- those owners might choose to assign maintenance oversight and associated training to the first officer. In those cases- at least someone is monitoring the aircraft day in- day out. But too many owners fail to make even that investment- and rely on performing only the required scheduled maintenance events at a service center.

They believe that will be enough to suss out potential problems and keep costs down- only to discover how wrong they are when the aircraft pulls up lame in East Overshoe- far away from parts- tooling and skilled technicians.

This trend has been noted by many OEMs- who report a recent spike in maintenance service center “hot line” calls from pilots whose aircraft are grounded at less-experienced or non-authorized maintenance facilities – calls that for some OEMs now number in the tens of thousands monthly. As one service executive observed- “Because it’s our logo on the aircraft- in the owner’s eyes we own his maintenance problem – regardless of aircraft vintage- or whether or not he’s followed the recommended or required maintenance program – or even the accepted ‘best practices’”.

Are aircraft today less reliable than in previous years? No- it’s simply that- in too many cases- particularly among first-timers- owners have no dedicated technician meeting the aircraft when it returns home; reviewing any maintenance issues encountered during the previous trip; and tending to them before the next launch. Those are the aircraft that find themselves limping home- or ferrying to the nearest authorized maintenance facility- for unscheduled repairs and – with any luck – a return to service in time to meet the owner’s next required trip. (And that assumes there’s an authorized service center proximate either to the aircraft’s next destination or to the departure airport.)

That becomes problematic for today’s long-range- large cabin jets flying regular trips to previously-remote corners of the world. It takes a full-time- experienced technician to understand fully the short- and long-term implications of a blinking yellow light: on operating costs as well as dispatch reliability. Perhaps it’s the current economy that makes owners reluctant to employ full-time technicians- which is curious in light of the millions invested in the aircraft at acquisition as well as the seven-figure annual operating budgets for most large-cabin business jets…

On the used aircraft side- it seems that some brokers and consultants are hesitant to include a full-time mechanic in the aircraft’s proposed operating budget- for fear it will squelch the deal. Indeed- many aircraft management companies offer reduced maintenance budgets to their clients by using one maintenance supervisor to oversee multiple aircraft.

While this economy of scale might appeal to the first-time buyer- experience shows that exactly the opposite is true – the OEM’s cost to provide 24/7 on-call maintenance support is proportional to the number of calls for remote support they receive. That expense is then built into both the purchase price as well as into any hourly cost maintenance programs.

Companies operate business aircraft to save time. Saving time requires near 100% dispatch reliability- something available only with a dedicated- full-time maintenance technician. Keeping these multi-million dollar business assets performing to an owner’s expectation is not a part-time job. We do owners – and our industry – a disservice by advocating anything else.

 


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