Aircraft Maintenance Challenges to Remain in 2023

If your aircraft needs MRO work, you’re probably aware of the pressures on maintenance shops globally. Will they ease anytime soon? What’s the best advice for scheduling work? Matt Harris asks industry insiders André Ebach and Ryan Huss...

Matt Harris  |  10th February 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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    Private jet mechanics work on an aircraft engine


    Fuelled by the Covid pandemic, a frenetic pre-owned aircraft sales market generating unprecedented demand for pre-purchase inspections, combined with increased private jet flight activity increasing hours on airframes and engines and ultimately expediting planned (and unplanned) maintenance events have created quite the logjam in the aircraft Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) industry.

    These circumstances, mixed with global supply chain issues that make sourcing parts and materials more difficult, have caused bottlenecks in maintenance hangars worldwide.

    Regardless of how large or numerous the facilities any one MRO provider has, the story is the same: shop space has become very scarce, and business jet owners and operators needed to be on top of their maintenance requirements, planning far in advance to ensure their aircraft receives the work it needs, when it’s needed.

    Failure for operators to stay ahead of the game could lead to grounded aircraft, extended periods of downtime, and greater expense when the maintenance work is eventually completed.

    No Easing of Demand in 2023

    As we begin the New Year, the situation doesn’t appear to be easing with backlogs as long, if not longer than they were in 2022, according to Ryan Huss, Vice President of Sales for Duncan Aviation.

    With three main facilities based in Michigan, Nebraska, and Utah, several strategically placed regional shops, and mobile technical teams able to provide services worldwide, Duncan Aviation offers complete MRO service to business aircraft owners and operators. “Several of our teams are almost booked out through 2023,” Huss highlights.

    While forecasts of slowing pre-owned aircraft sales activity would suggest demand for pre-purchase inspections will lessen a little (Huss believes there is already some evidence for this), access to maintenance facilities will stay persistently tough since the existing backlogs remain long.

    “As we navigate the current situation, we’re trying to allocate a little additional room for pre-buy activity,” he reveals. “Most MRO facilities are implementing similar tactics. We’re trying to allocate one or two pre-buy slots in the hangar at any one time.”

    It can be hard to predict how long a pre-buy inspection will take, since this depends on how quickly and uncomplicated it is for buyers and sellers to agree on who will cover the cost of the inspection findings, but Huss reckons the typical pre-buy inspection is between three and five weeks.

    On behalf of aircraft buyers and sellers, “it makes sense for the broker to keep in touch with the maintenance teams, especially in the current maintenance environment,” Huss adds.

    Nuremberg, Germany-headquartered Aero-Dienst provides maintenance services for Bombardier Global, Challenger, and Learjet models, Dassault Falcon jets, and Hawkers. It provides maintenance on airframes, engines, avionics and interiors, and in addition to its Nuremberg center, operates a maintenance station in Oberpfaffenhofen, line stations in Vienna and Klagenfurt, Austria, and has a components shop in Landsberg am Lech, Germany.

    André Ebach, the company’s Head of Maintenance and CEO has a similar outlook to Huss. “Demand for MRO services will remain high throughout 2023,” he predicts.

    “With the business jet manufacturers forecasting a 17% increase in shipments this year, and 64% of business aircraft operators expecting to fly at least the same amount as they did in 2022, we don’t see any reason for pressures on maintenance slots to alleviate in the immediate future.”

    On the flight activity front, Ebach has seen a shift in user-type, with the growth in private aircraft owners creating a 50/50 split with business owners since Covid-19.

    Aero-Dienst has customers based in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as the US and Southeast Asia, and Ebach expects with the substantial growth in flight activity in Asia, Africa, and North America that his company will see more maintenance requests from owners and operators based within those continents as their local facilities lack capacity to attend to their needs.

    “The ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis in Europe along with macroeconomic instability could lead to decreasing flight activity, especially in Europe,” says Ebach.

    That forecast appears to be supported by WingX Advance’s recent flight activity data which noted a cooling in European flight activity towards the end of 2022. Any easing this creates in the maintenance shop schedules is likely to be filled by international operators.

    “Asia, Africa and North America are still on record breaking flight activity, and global MRO demand will remain high,” Ebach notes. “As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm – operators who book slots well in advance of when they’re needed get the best slots and the most attractive prices,” he stresses.

    According to Huss, Duncan Aviation had forecast the current levels of demand but expected it to occur in 2024. “The pandemic expedited what we were expecting. The existing high demand will turn around again, but not quickly.”

    As things stand, Duncan Aviation is already booking maintenance slots for 2025. “Growth in human capital is needed to help provide adequate labor [at the MRO centers],” Huss adds. “The MRO providers who can get their teams up to speed in this regard will do well.”

    Tips for Avoiding Frustration

    The message is clear – book early, and once a slot is secured, don’t change it. “It is essential that operators, Continuing Airworthiness Management Organizations (CAMOs), and aircraft owners secure their maintenance slot early, because advance planning ensures the necessary materials are available in order to keep downtimes low,” Ebach says.

    Huss agrees. “The earlier you sign up and get your deposit to the maintenance provider, they can get the parts ordered to alleviate supply chain problems. That especially applies to obtaining materials for projects on the aircraft’s interior.”

    Avionics is another area that needs plenty of time to plan, since the equipment can take longer to obtain, and Ebach advises those seeking exterior upgrades and modifications to plan many months in advance. “As an example, paint slot capacity in Europe is booked up for the next six or seven months.”

    Getting in touch with the maintenance provider at least 12 months prior to an event is essential in the current maintenance environment. Even a rough slot requirement from the operator can help the MRO to identify potential risks or bottlenecks – but operators should seek to quickly narrow down a date and stick to it.

    According to Huss, maintenance slots that are booked months in advance that are suddenly changed nearer to the time of input can be very difficult to facilitate given today’s tight schedules.

    M“An operator looking to move their aircraft’s input by – say – three weeks just a couple of months before scheduled input will usually find it costs them a very long downtime, assuming we can fit the change in,” he warns.

    Flight Departments booking maintenance time with their chosen provider should ensure that the aircraft owner has complete ‘buy-in’ on where and when the downtime will occur, Huss suggests, thereby lessening the likelihood a scheduled input will need to be changed.

    MRO Shop Full – Should You Look Elsewhere?

    As tempting as it may be for aircraft owners and operators to search out another shop to provide for their maintenance needs if they’re struggling to find a slot with their usual provider, there are a few things to look out for to avoid getting burnt.

    While hesitant to discuss ‘risks’, Ebach lists some of the challenges the owner/operator may face, especially since – in his experience – most customers use multiple MROs.

    Among the challenges an owner may encounter are differences in the way MRO providers communicate, their processes, and mindsets. “Trust is vital between an aircraft owner and the MRO provider, and that trust gets stronger the longer you stay with a provider. You get to know them, and how they operate, and they get to know you and your aircraft.

    “A customer and facility that have worked together for a long time will communicate well – which is even more important in this current maintenance environment. That communication and trust will be especially beneficial if problems (such as material unavailability or unexpected findings) occur.”

    Due diligence remains vital when it comes to assessing the capability of another shop, and Huss warns against promises that seem too good to be true.

    As frustrating as finding a slot might be at this time, “it’s important to understand that this is an industry-wide issue. It’s not just one MRO company or OEM.

    If your usual maintenance provider can’t accommodate your exact needs, be cautious of those offering a near-term induction or unusually short downtime,” he warns.

    It may be worth riding out a little frustration in the end, he argues, since the normal shop knows you and your aircraft, and understands its nuances.

    Ultimately, though, that frustration is less likely to occur for owners and operators who book far enough in advance, knowing exactly what they need and when they need it.

    More information from:
    Aero-Dienst: www.aero-dienst.com
    Duncan Aviation: www.duncanaviation.aero

    Read more Aircraft MRO insights on our MRO for Business Aircraft hub

    Read the AvBuyer MRO Special Industry Guide (Volume V)


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