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PLANE SENSE ON REFURBS - CHOOSING A SHOP

With the lower cost of used aircraft today, the boss has decided that an older, pre-owned wide body airplane makes more sense than acquiring a brand-new G550. Now, you have the complex task of choosing the right maintenance shop for the required inspections, improvements and maybe some equipment and cabin upgrades/refurbishments to make this classic business jet like new.

AvBuyer   |   8th January 2010
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The Right Pick:
Choosing the maintenance shop is like a box of chocolates.


With the lower cost of used aircraft today, the boss has decided that an older, pre-owned wide body airplane makes more sense than acquiring a brand-new G550. Now, you have the complex task of choosing the right maintenance shop for the required inspections, improvements and maybe some equipment and cabin upgrades/refurbishments to make this classic business jet like new.

You have discussed and researched all of the different aspects of the aircraft history and current condition to come up with a proper work scope for the two or three month project. The four or five quotes are in, and the similarities are amazing. The estimates are all within a small percent of each other, the turn times are only a few days different and the time and material shop rate difference would not make Ebenezer Scrooge blink. So how do you choose the right chocolate when the box appears to have nothing but chocolate covered cherries in it?

The first question you need to find answers to is, “Can the shop actually meet the turn time they quoted you?”

With most shops making reductions in staff, some may be over-estimating their capabilities. If an aircraft is scheduled in before yours and has unexpected problems and delays, this will cause your aircraft to be delayed. It is not uncommon to have a shop promise a scheduled departure date to win the job. Once you deliver the aircraft to the facility, they might have a crew begin working on it, as promised, until the other aircraft’s owner starts to complain. Before you know it, there are no tool boxes or mechanics around your aircraft because they have been reassigned back to the other aircraft that was supposed to depart a week ago.

It is important to ask facilities how they prevent delayed deliveries, and whether they offer financial concessions if your aircraft is ultimately delayed. Planning overtime for the maintenance staff is one solution that can be used to solve delays, but you need to determine who pays for those premium labor charges in advance.

The experience of the mechanics on the floor is more important than the shop’s company name. To gauge the experience level of maintenance technicians currently working at the facility, there are a few items to check:

• Request to review the mechanics’ training files (all Repair Stations are required by the FAA to have training files and you can ask to see them). You should also do background checks on the maintenance shops by talking to other aircraft owners, management companies, and reviewing blogs and magazine articles to gain insight about the facilities’ reputations.

• You should request that the shop provide you with customer references that you can call and ask about their experience, as well as whom on t the shop maintenance crew impressed them the most.

• Don’t be too shy to demand that these preferred employees be assigned to your aircraft.

Today’s newer aircraft require a lot of ground support equipment and some of it is very specialized and expensive. Not all shops have this equipment in their inventories but they should have it available when required by the Manuals.

Be sure that the prospective maintenance facility has a procedure to make the equipment available when it is needed. Find out who is financially responsible for rental fees and/or freight, if the equipment must be borrowed or rented, as these charges could add to the quote and may be billed to the aircraft owner.

UNEXPECTED EXPENSE
Discrepancies found during an inspection can create the most unexpected expense. It is not unheard of that some shops will quote an inspection at a small loss and expect to gain it back with the repair cost of the discrepancies once the aircraft is in their shop. You will need to discuss with the maintenance facilities how they handle discrepancies and their corrective actions.

At some shops, once a mechanic writes up a discrepancy there MUST be a corrective action even if the discrepancy is not of an airworthy nature. As an example, you may have a loose lavatory door handle that is caused by a worn pin. At some shops, once this is written up, they must have a mechanic look at this discrepancy and either repair it or make the statement that it is within wear limits. I have never known a shop to find the wear limits on a lavatory door handle acceptable to make this airworthiness statement. So it is likely that not only will the pin be replaced, but the shaft, locking mechanism, and the handle will all be replaced at some astronomical part costs and even more labor costs.

This same discrepancy may be written up by another facility and classified “customer notification” or similar, allowing the shop to not work this squawk and still sign the aircraft off as airworthy, thus saving time and extra costs. How discrepancies are written, who determines if and how they are to be corrected, and what effect deferred discrepancies can cause on the final sign-off of the airworthiness of the aircraft, must be determined during the quoting process.

These are just a few of the things that need to be considered when choosing a maintenance facility. Thorough research, communication and solid vigilance will help you distinguish between a truly enjoyable chocolate over a lemon-filled ‘surprise’ when it comes to maintenance facilities.


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