Major Aircraft Inspection? Maximize the Opportunity!

Given that major aircraft inspections will inevitably be costly, what are the ways for aircraft owners to extract extra value from the process? Matt Harris asked an MRO shop and a flight department manager for their tips...

Matt Harris  |  27th September 2023
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    Matt Harris
    Matt Harris

    Matt Harris is Commissioning Editor for AvBuyer. He is an experienced General and Business Aviation...

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    Get top value from a major aircraft inspection

    If you have a major aircraft inspection coming up within the next few years, you may shudder at the prospect of the downtime and expense it will incur. But how can you embrace the opportunity, extracting the most value?

    Although they’re an unavoidable fact of aircraft ownership, do major aircraft maintenance inspections really need to be viewed with trepidation through gritted teeth, or can they present opportunities to capitalise on?

    As the well-used adage goes, ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. For those with the foresight to plan ahead, a major inspection on the aircraft can be a golden opportunity to realize some added value.

    “I always say that downtime for maintenance must be used opportunistically,” says Andre Fodor, Aviation Director at Johnsonville, whose flight operation recently inducted its jet for a major inspection lasting three weeks.

    Besides the benefits relating to the aircraft, on a personal level maintenance downtime can mean a well-earned rest for the crew. “It’s the only time that I tell the crew to disappear for a while,” Fodor adds.

     Making the Most of the MRO Downtime

    According to Florian Heinzelmann, Maintenance Manager at Germany-based Aero-Dienst, major scheduled inspections run more smoothly for everyone involved if they’re anticipated in advance, which will mean a proactive approach.

    Fodor’s flight department, for example, had been planning for their inspection for 16 months before the event was due.

    The benefits of such long-term planning are numerous, Heinzelmann reveals.

    “It allows the aircraft owner time to ensure the MRO center is fully equipped to handle every aspect of the work; to book a more desirable slot (at a time when there will be less demand for the aircraft from its owner, thus keeping the inconvenience of the downtime to a minimum); and to access more competitive pricing because the MRO shop’s calendar will be less booked-up further in advance.

    “Planning major maintenance projects at short notice will always put pressure on the decision process, heightening the risk of wrong decisions being made or important information being missed,” he adds. “An aircraft owner’s options will also be moe limited.”

    Ultimately, planning at short notice is a sure way not to get the best out of one of these rare opportunities, he elaborates.

    With an appropriate lead-time, there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss with the MRO center other modification or upgrade work that would normally require weeks of downtime to achieve, says Daniel Pedreiro Correia, Strategic Customer Relations & Business Development at Aero-Dienst.

    “That time can be avoided by incorporating it into a major scheduled inspection, since the airplane is going to be grounded anyway.”

    Even when the funds are unavailable for a full upgrade, an experienced and flexible MRO center can provision a future upgrade by installing the necessary wiring while panels are removed, allowing the owner to make the most of their aircraft’s scheduled downtime.

    “This enables a quick installation of the desired upgrade at a later stage,” Correia adds. “Even if you aren’t looking for a major system upgrade or other extensive work, it’s a chance to have the seats airbrushed, give the leather a fresh look, or polish brightwork,” Fodor says.

    “You can also polish away furniture and cabinetry scratches, replace carpet and perform other minor upgrades. And externally, it can be a great opportunity to have paint touch-ups accomplished.”

    Getting the Best Value from a Major Aircraft Inspection

    When it comes to defining value, different things can drive a decision as to which MRO center to choose. Where aircraft ownership is concerned, low cost rarely equates as good value, however.

    “Choosing the cheapest quote is often a high-risk strategy – and if the cost of the cheaper quote is significantly less than the others received, you need to ask yourself why,” Correia warns. “How is that MRO center able to offer the same work for so much less than the others?”

    “It’s essential to understand that quality, short downtimes and low prices rarely match,” Heinzelmann says. “At best, you will only be able to connect two, but never all three.”

    Fodor agrees. “There is no ‘cheap’ in aviation and if we receive a quote that greatly differs from what we would expect to pay, this serves as a warning sign to us. 

    A reliable shop will offer a fair quote, and you will find yourself tweaking and refining the quote with your chosen MRO provider.

    “We select our maintenance provider based primarily on professionalism, accuracy and their ability to accomplish the work on time,” he adds. “Relationship and trust must always come first.”

    Correia reveals that he frequently sees ‘cheaper’ quotes that still have many items unspecified, so while the quoted amount can seem low, it doesn’t reflect what the actual total will be once all those other items are included.

    “The decisive factor for the owner should be the total cost of the project – and that is always clearer in long-standing relationships between the aircraft owners and their MRO shop,” Correia highlights. “Through such partnerships, the owner can be confident the final bill is fair and reflects the work performed.”

    An open relationship with a trusted MRO center will also have an impact on the overall downtime, Heinzelmann believes.

    “It will give you more transparency on the processes and costs, and greater understanding of the knowledge, experience and commitment of the team working on your jet,” he highlights. “All of this helps ensure you are getting genuine value from the maintenance downtime.”

    And good relationships will often see the maintenance provider go out of its way to support the owner, Correia adds. 

    As an example, it is not uncommon for Bombardier Global jet owners to ask Aero-Dienst to add 180-month inspection tasks into the 120-month inspection package, saving a lot of time and money when the 180-month inspection is due.

    “This is why planning is so crucial when managing an airplane,” Fodor explains. “Although the manufacturer tries to line up maintenance inspections to fall within a specific calendar or timeline, often there can be due items that fall in between inspections, or out of sequence.

    “An effective Director of Maintenance will seek to gain maximum value from a maintenance inspection by re-aligning these items and eliminating further downtime between inspections.

    “For the same reason, occasionally we may choose to tackle a Service Bulletin or other upgrade sooner than we need to. We base such decisions on the estimated additional time it would cause the aircraft to be out of service. If the additional downtime is acceptable and justifiable to us, then we will add it to the task order.”

    Another reason for bringing work forward under the scope of a major inspection, according to Heinzelmann, is if the aircraft is under warranty. “Often a bigger inspection is also the last opportunity to open up items that are still covered by warranty, whether it be paint, interior or the aircraft’s systems,” he shares.

    “This is the last chance to address and correct faults and defects before the warranty runs out and the owner has to pay to correct them later on.”

    Making the Most of the MRO Team

    It is a fact that MRO shops around the world are extremely busy, with some struggling for hangar space, and multiple aircraft being worked on at the same time.

    Once the aircraft has an induction date and the work scope has been defined, it tends to be the hands-on aircraft owner who is able to make the most of the MRO team assigned to their aircraft.

    “Given the complexity of aircraft maintenance, the aircraft owner will need a trusted partner who can minimize the complexity of the process, tailoring value to its clients,” says André Ebach, Managing Director of Aero-Dienst. 

    “It will serve your best interests if the MRO center is communicative throughout the inspection, reporting on every stage of the process.”

    The onus doesn’t just rest with the MRO center to communicate, though. “Be clear about your expectations,” Heinzelmann says.

    “A diligent provider will have a focus on the needs of the aircraft owner during the planning, downtime, and follow-up phase of the inspection. But it is important for the owner to clearly communicate their expectations and needs at every stage, too.”

    Having a knowledgeable representative with the aircraft on-site who can communicate with both the MRO team and the aircraft owner will help to get the best from the downtime, keeping the project on schedule.

    “This will drastically improve the project since you can co-ordinate much faster, preventing delays and miscommunications,” Correia highlights. “If an MRO center tries to prevent you having a representative on-site, you should make it a condition of inducting your aircraft with them.”

    “Meet the team in-person and well ahead of the event,” Fodor adds. “Communicate your goals and expectations. Open the main work orders as far ahead as possible so everyone can review them and determine the hours needed to perform the work.

    “Have that representative on-site, ready to make decisions and resolve snags. And be positive, pleasant, and work as a team,” he concludes. “After all, you have a common goal. You all want the airplane to be delivered airworthy and squawk-free – nobody wins from a troublesome, unnecessarily stressful maintenance event.”

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