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The right plan helps keep you flying

With few exceptions- the decision to spend on a corporate aircraft for business travel represents a significant investment for most companies. Similar to other company assets- keeping that machine maintained and productive is more than a way to protect the investment.

Dave Higdon   |   1st April 2008
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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The right plan helps keep you flying

With few exceptions- the decision to spend on a corporate aircraft for business travel represents a significant investment for most companies. Similar to other company assets- keeping that machine maintained and productive is more than a way to protect the investment.

Of course- when the aircraft is new and fresh- factory warranties help ease those worries - but what happens after the warranty expires? Also- what about those who opted to buy a good- pre-owned machine? What is their alternative to a warranty? There’s good news beyond the basics in the form of programs offered by engine makers and third-party providers aimed at evening out the most-fearsome of those worries – powerplant health.

Regardless of the number of powerplants that adorn an aircraft- no other single part or system can match in terms of the expense both purchasing and maintaining. So that makes smart maintenance all the wiser for the savvy business turbine aircraft owner. In all circumstances- solid- appropriate maintenance – both preventative and as needed – help assure the safety- reliability and availability of the company aircraft.

Thanks to the technological advances of Full Authority Digital Engine Controls (FADEC)- autostart systems and continual trend monitoring- the modern turbine engine stands among the wonders of modern times. Capable of operating at a level closer to flawless than almost any other man made machine- the turbine engine – turbofan and turboprop alike – generally can run thousands of hours between overhauls- and hundreds and hundreds of hours without so much as a look-see at its internal parts.

This extreme reliability notwithstanding- treating too lightly the need for ongoing care and feeding of an expensive asset such as the high-dollar engines powering a major investment can be a formula for failure. Who- back in the home office- wants to explain to the boss why the company plane left him or her stranded at some remote locale with no way home – short of another plane making a pick-up or getting the aircraft running again? To help avoid those unhappy moments is but one of the appeals of enrolling the engines in an ongoing maintenance program and among the reasons that engine-maintenance management programs are attractive to aircraft operators.

The challenge for operators is to find a right match between their fleet- their bases and their needs. The challenges for the providers of these services is finding suitable numbers of qualified technicians- shortening cycle times and packaging services in a way that attracts and keeps clients. The challenge for the operators include becoming familiar with the needs of your aircraft and then finding the best value for that support.

Today’s turbine engines provide such excellent reliability that they operate with relatively minimal in-flight shut down numbers. As a result of their record of high reliability- engine overhaul periods are enormous- sometimes exceeding a decade’s– worth of average use – 3-500 hours and longer. And the time between these inspections or overhauls for some engines extends to 4-000- 5-000- even 6-000 hours- while a hearty few require inspection or parts replacements only as condition requires – no hours-based time limit.

These high numbers aren’t necessarily overhaul requirements- but a period that mandates a full inspection of an engine’s hot section: the combustor- where the big blue flame incessantly rages- the turbine wheels- which spin under the erosive extreme heat of that aforementioned blue flame- and related hot-section hardware. Interim- less-involved inspections usually also occur at the mid-point of inspection or overhaul interval. This high degree of reliability aside- however- they still require some attention. And sometimes accessories break or internal parts suffer damage from something they ingested - foreign-object damage.

Surprises do occur - and sometimes those surprises come after warning signs emerge. Who better to help decipher the warning signs than a mechanic at a good shop? And what better way to know the mechanic knows the engines than through routine- even preventative visits to the shop? It’s covering the unanticipated – as well as the anticipated – problems that makes membership in an engine-health program well worthwhile.

Surprises in the form of unexpected engine work stand among the leading concerns of newly minted jet owners and operators – particularly for those entering business aviation through the purchase of a pre-owned aircraft. Fortunately- virtually all the major engine makers offer programs geared to both bringing predictability to the engine maintenance budget and to helping operators minimize the impact of such surprise events.

Honeywell- Pratt & Whitney Canada- Rolls-Royce and Williams International each offer variations on the idea- as do some private third-party program providers. Although they vary in details and costs- they share in the philosophy of encouraging regular maintenance and providing comfort to those afflicted with an AOG situation due to a powerplant problem.

Among the oldest of these programs is the Maintenance Service Plan (MSP) first offered back in 1976 by Honeywell. The engine maker that year began to offer its well-regarded MSP to help smooth out the costs of ownership and maintenance of its TFE731- and later the HTF7000 business aircraft turbofans. There appears little doubt operators value the program- as- according to the company- about 80 percent of those TFE731 engines are enrolled in the program.

The program is popular for its ability to help operators predict their maintenance costs- eliminate unexpected expenses and even out the costs. Honeywell’s CSP plan for the 738 engine is also a popular choice for operators. Scheduled and unscheduled maintenance is covered- as are replacement costs of life-cycle limited components and access to rental engines. The MSP program also includes Service Bulletin work. And the program is transferable.

Honeywell notes that aircraft enrolled in its MSP programs tend to draw higher resale values thanks to the higher confidence buyers can have in the health and well-being of the enrolled powerplants. Some companies actually report recovering the costs of enrollment because of the improved resale value.

Available in two flavors- MSP and MSP Gold- both complement Honeywell’s factory warranty on its turbine engines. And the costs of enrollment can be paid either on the basis of actual flight hours on a per-hour basis or on a plan based on annual estimated use. The company even offers MSP plans for its APUs.

To help stave off unexpected problems- Honeywell also offers a service for the TFE731 that helps its technicians know when an engine needs attention beyond routine work. Known as Engine Remote Diagnostics- this active data transmission system uses a software service known as Zing Intelligent Monitoring Service to transmit data on an engine from the Digital Electronic Engine Controller from the aircraft to Honeywell.

The software system looks for temperatures above limits or system faults and translates that information into alerts or actionable maintenance items for the attention of the operator’s maintenance shop. This system is not only wireless- but works from wherever the aircraft may be ramped.

More information from www.honeywell.com

Pratt & Whitney Canada offers its own version of a continuing maintenance program called the Eagle Service Plan (ESP). Geared to virtually eliminate high-cost surprises and to bring predictability to the cost of engine maintenance- P&WC’s ESP program shares in many of the traits found in other programs.

Enhanced re-sale value- transferability- renewable and comprehensive- the ESP program serves to improve operators’ ability to budget and control the costs that necessarily accompany business aircraft ownership.

More information from www.pwc.ca

Rolls-Royce offers CorporateCare to help aircraft owners and operators manage their engine-maintenance expenses through a partnership that tailors the programs to the specific needs of the client. Part of the CorporateCare program is a powerplant-health tracking service called Engine Condition Monitoring (ECM)- under which the engine maker continuously monitors engines for problems or conditions which warrant action. When detected- the company will recommend preventive maintenance work to prevent further problems.

As a paired program- CorporateCare and ECM can help prevent problems before they occur- normalize costs- and reduce the chances of an engine requiring unscheduled work that can result in aircraft downtime and loss of productivity beyond the cost of the work required.

More information from www.rolls-royce.com

Williams International dubs its engine-support plan the Total Assurance Program (TAP)- and it- too- serves to improve the ownership experience- according to the company. Available in one of three levels of coverage- Williams’ TAP plan can be tailored to the needs of the operator- whether under the Limited- Preferred or Elite level of enrollment.

And according to the engine maker- each level and its fixed rate serves to lower the total cost of ownership- rather than merely bringing predictability and stability to engine-maintenance expenses.

More information from www.williams-int.com

Engine makers are not alone in offering engine-care programs with many of the traits noted above- and for pre-owned aircraft with out-of-warranty engines- one of the alternatives to the factory program may hold some attraction.

Selecting the right partner for such an investment as an engine-care program should involve the maintenance folks as well as the accountants to assure the operator that both the needs are covered and the costs make sense. Through the use of such programs- operators can not only sleep easier at night with fewer day-to-day worries- they can be comfortable that when that day eventually comes and the engines must come “off wing” for overhaul- that the downtime will be minimal and the costs known.

Shop carefully; the difference between renting a loaner engine at an affordable cost and the costs of the aircraft sitting for the entire overhaul could make the costs of program enrollment pale by comparison. And it just may pay off when the time comes to sell the plane you’ve got and move to the next one you need.

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