What aspects of a maintenance quote should an operator pay special attention to? Dave Higdon speaks to industry insiders to learn how operators can avoid nasty surprises that sour good relationships if an MRO estimate isn’t fully understood…
Aviation earned its safety record because of the skills of pilots, the discipline of air traffic controllers, and the diligence of the maintenance centers and technicians charged with keeping the airplanes airworthy, reliable and safe.
Periods of work requirements punctuate the lifespan of all aircraft. Into every aircraft's life, a little downtime must fall – meaning a visit to the maintenance shop. And therein lies a problem… There are few aspects of aircraft operation that vex operators more than the need for accurate knowledge when comparing maintenance quotes from different MRO facilities.
“Decoding MRO work estimates, bids and such is generally the most difficult for the small flight department and owner/pilot operation,” one experienced MRO shop technician outlined. “They need to augment their knowledge with the expertise of others.”
But a thorough understanding of the estimate is essential, because the quantity of variables to consider is truly staggering. The considerations go far deeper than the dollar total on the last line…
So how should an operator approach their MRO quote to understand and avoid any nasty surprises embedded within? Consider the following wisdom offered by various industry insiders polled in the preparation of this article.
How Should Operators and MROs Work Together?
“You should be comfortable enough to call the provider to get a verbal tour of the quote or estimate received,” suggested one MRO supervisor from the Midwest US.
“Trying to compare multiple quotes from different MRO providers can be a daunting task, even for those who are experienced – so imagine the challenge for a small operator with no on staff maintenance technicians to review the estimate. That isn't unusual among the many owner/operators we encounter.
“It’s in the interest of the MRO to bring the operator on-board and keep them in their comfort zone – to discuss all aspects of the estimate. If we don’t we’ll be unlikely to see them again. And repeat business is what we all want.”
An A&P with a large US-based MRO firm added, “We’re best at satisfying the client when we make that client a part of our team, engaging and informing them on the process from roll-in to roll-out.”
MRO Quotes: It’s More Than Just Price
If there was one piece of advice shared by every shop we contacted, it was this: Pay attention to all the bids – not just the lowest one. An article providing MRO tips from Duncan Aviation contained this salient observation:
“We sometimes hear from operators who choose the lowest quote and go elsewhere, only to discover their project’s out-the-door costs far exceeded their other quotes.”
As Duncan's personnel advised, that prospect is why looking at all the numbers on each proposal without verifying the details of what is quoted often leads to items being missed or added to the invoice after the aircraft is input.
According to another MRO supervisor, “The only good surprises are when they involve a lower bill or earlier return to the operator. Otherwise, the best surprises are no surprises at all.”
Your MRO Quote: Question it All!
Virtually every MRO staffer shared a common piece of advice: Operators should go to great lengths to ensure they are as informed as possible about what is being quoted and how potential findings could affect the quoted work.
Further, the operator should know exactly what is included in their quotes in order to have an accurate budget for the work before putting the aircraft in the shop. As any seasoned pilot or operator knows, an aircraft is a collection of several disparate systems – all designed to work harmoniously as an aircraft.
Each subsection has its individual maintenance issues. Let’s consider a few of these:
Airframes: As an example, Airframes are where all the disparate systems come together – but the airframe has its own subsystems to maintain. Therefore, an MRO estimate may cover interior and/or paint.
The quotes for airframe work should inform about material costs, labor costs, and any taxes or levies on parts and material.
Avionics: On the flight deck avionics are a big issue right now because of several impending upgrade requirements, such as ADS-B, Controller/Pilot Datalink Communication (CPDLC) and Performance-Based Navigation (PBN).
If a job requires new penetrations in the pressure vessel of the fuselage (say to move or add an antenna), it may also involve removing some of the interior. This is where an interior estimate can get complicated.
Interior: This is an area in which gauging the work required may be more difficult, because the extra effort and care required may not be clearly visible on the finished project. Therefore, the whole cost may not exactly match the evidence of what’s changed.
So, while a change in upholstery may be completely apparent, less obvious are changes and upgrades to the hardware and the foam beneath the upholstery. And upgrading bright works and belts may not even show in some estimates, leaving the operator uncertain of the scope of the interior project without first discussing it with the MRO.
Paint: The scope of work could be as simple as a well-executed touch-up, or something more involved requiring removal of control surfaces, flaps and antenna. Finding an MRO shop capable of handling all the aspects of the job can certainly simplify the process.
And don’t overlook the fact that the costs of paint and primer may be impacted by the part of the country – or nation – where the paint job is scheduled to take place.
Powerplants: At the heart of the aircraft are its engines, directly or indirectly powering every other system on the aircraft. While incredibly reliable overall, powerplants run at extreme temperatures, pressures and RPMs. When time comes for a hot-section inspection or overhaul it's incumbent for the operator to understand the work proposed and how the costs break down.
Ideally a hot section involves few replacement parts – though some powerplant OEMs have their own requirements on such questions. A full overhaul will involve removal and replacement of key components (and understanding what those are); knowing whether the replacements are new or overhauled; and making sure all that's replaced is on an approved list (key to deciphering the costs and understanding what you're getting).
In an area as complex as the maintenance of your aircraft, operators can’t afford to take a back-seat approach to their MRO estimate. It’s imperative to understand it, to know where the differences between a quote and a final bill could occur, and the reasons for the costs.
Only then can you understand whether you’re placing your business aircraft with the right maintenance shop, and budgeting for the work as necessary…