Planning and managing a major aircraft refurbishment can be an overwhelming chore that can closely parallel the building of a new house. According to Consumer Build, an independent New Zealand organization that provides information to consumers planning a home construction project, there are 10 steps in the process of planning the building of a house.Back to Articles
By Janet Beazley
How to plan a major ‘facelift’ for your aircraft.
Planning and managing a major aircraft refurbishment can be an overwhelming chore that can closely parallel the building of a new house. According to Consumer Build, an independent New Zealand organization that provides information to consumers planning a home construction project, there are 10 steps in the process of planning the building of a house.
By applying these same steps to the aviation industry, we can get a good idea of how to approach planning major aircraft refurbishment work.
STEP 1: DETERMINE THE PROJECT’S SCOPE
In the business aircraft industry today, more and more operators are choosing to refurbish their current aircraft over purchasing a different one. This work is typically completed when the aircraft has a major maintenance event due because downtime and access time can be drastically reduced by combining these events into one.
First, the operator will need to identify all upcoming required maintenance items. The operator’s tracking program can assist with this. The operator will also need to consider time. Most maintenance events are performed on an hourly, monthly or annual basis, which determines the dates needed for aircraft input into a maintenance facility. In addition to setting the input timeline, the operator needs to decide what other work will be done, looking at the potential of new paint, interior updating and avionics upgrades. They will also need to consider:
• Are there needs to be met for compliance mandates?
• Is the aircraft operated as Part 91 or Part 135?
• Are there special programs for tracking, maintenance, engines and parts?
• Do warranty programs apply?
• Are there service bulletins (SBs) that need to be accomplished?
• Are there airworthiness directives (ADs) that need to be cleared?
Once these questions are addressed, the operator will want to speak with potential service facilities and personnel because it is very important that they be brought aboard early on for the project for the best results. Mary Lee, Senior Interior Designer with Duncan Aviation’s Lincoln, Nebraska, location explains, “Our involvement occurs very early, when the project is in the sales phase. We need to assist in finding solutions for a customer in a timely fashion. The customer may need illustrations, a floor plan, cabinet drawings, material specifications, visual aids and color boards to present to their Principals.”
Lee adds that the extent of the project, the materials used and the design are all important planning aspects that often take place before an operator chooses their completions facility. The considerations include things like whether the interior will be re-configured, if the operator wants to include new lighting, new entertainment, or a new soundproofing package, and more. Pre-planning for a large refurbishment often starts as much as a year or more in advance, depending on the project’s scope.
Certification can play an important role in the pre-planning time necessary. “It is important to know if, and how the existing interior is certified,” Lee notes. “This will help tremendously in certifying any new modifications that may be done.”
STEP 2: ORGANIZE FINANCES
Organization of finances is an obvious and very important step for operators. Once the operator has determined the scope of the project, the next step is to get quotes from different maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities. During this process, the operator should share budget requirements with the MRO, as they can work together to meet needs, schedules and budgets.
During the process, the operator will need to match all of their requirements with the many different capabilities of the MRO. MROs have varied capabilities, dictating that there may only be a few that will match all of the operator’s needs. If this area is new territory, a visit to some different facilities may be in order. A site visit will give the customer the opportunity to see the facilities first-hand, to visit with people from different areas of the company, and to make assessments based on what they have seen rather than what they are told.
Some questions to consider during this phase include:
• What are the needs surrounding the project?
• Is engineering needed?
• What are the structural needs?
• Does the MRO have all of the tooling required?
• What are the certification needs?
• Can the MRO support all of those needs?
When discussing these needs, the operator should include a detailed work-scope along with photographs, if possible. It may be necessary for MRO representatives to visit the operator’s facility to gain access to the aircraft and ensure that in preparing their quote, they are as accurate as possible.
Besides looking at capabilities and requirements needed for the project at hand, an operator will want to consider value-added services, or intangibles, in their comparisons including a wide variety of items from insurance to hazardous waste disposal. [To help in your facilities comparison, Duncan Aviation has an MRO comparison worksheet that might be useful at http://www.duncanaviation.aero/fieldguides/promotions/200911mro_comparison_worksheet.php]
STEPS 3, 4 & 5: THE DESIGNER, PROJECT MANAGER & OTHER TRADES PEOPLE
The next three steps can be combined for our purposes. As alluded to in Step 2, the key step in a large aircraft refurbishment project is choosing the maintenance facility that will complete the work to the standard you expect.
As Mary Lee stated, planning is absolutely essential for major projects and it starts well in advance of aircraft input. Besides determining just what will be done, the shop will need to plan project-flow and set periodic deadlines to keep the project on time. Look to be assigned a Project Manager who will play a key role in managing the planning and day-to-day progress on major projects. Once the MRO is chosen for the project, it should turn the project over to a project manager, who is the one point of contact going forward for the customer.
Managing complex projects is where the project managers really shine. Their goals should be to meet the customers’ expectations, to meet interim project milestones and, ultimately, to meet - or better - the promised delivery date of the aircraft.
STEP 6: ORGANIZE CONTRACT
The organization of such a large undertaking is a culmination of effort from many parties and disciplines. It takes organizational skills from a management perspective. On a large refurbishment project, there will be a lot of things happening at one time, and a schedule needs to be set and adhered to.
The reality is that adjustments will need to be made to the schedule, and as a team you can meet and discuss these to find solutions and alternatives that keep the project on track. A firm grasp of the overall project is required, because in maintenance you never know what may come up or what could be uncovered.
STEP 7: GET BUILDING & RESOURCE CONSENTS (PERMITS)
When considering a major aircraft refurbishment project, an operator needs to determine any interior or avionics modifications that will be done, or any major changes that will be made. In an industry as regulated as aviation, this will include discussion about the approval path for those changes.
These can sometimes be complex, but are typically resolved and a solution found. When a Supplemental Type Certificate is required, however, facilities that have Operational Delegated Authority (ODA) with MRA and STC approvals will be helpful. These delegations have allowed the industry more autonomy and efficiency.
STEP 8: BEGIN CONSTRUCTION
After all the planning, the day of input finally arrives and “construction” on the project begins. The first few days will be busy and the operator will meet many people. Team members should be encouraged to get to know their customers, and for customers to develop relationships with the team members - not just their project manager.
Customers may choose to be an integral part of the project and be on site at the facility during a major event. Doing so allows them to see the progress and maybe see parts of their aircraft that they will not see while doing daily maintenance or smaller inspections at their own facility. It also can be good to have the customer there to enable them to make decisions and approve work when needed.
STEP 9: FINAL INSPECTION & CODE COMPLIANCE
It may seem that on a large project there will never be an end in sight, yet there always comes a point when you can really see things start to come together. It’s exciting to see the new product, from the new woodwork, plating, carpet and seats to a new paint scheme.
It’s also reassuring to know what lies beneath all of that is safe and airworthy because you have chosen a facility with a great reputation, and that really knows your aircraft and is confident in their ability to put out a very safe product. Inspections will assure that all supporting data and documentation is prepared and available for the customer.
STEP 10: LOOSE-ENDS & FOLLOW-UP
The last step for a large project is to follow up. Feedback - good or bad - is important to all parties; MRO facilities all need to know how we did, otherwise improvements will be difficult to make, and most facilities want to continue to improve!