Components Business Taking New Turns

MRO Americas, Orlando, FL: Like many segments of the MRO industry, the components sector is experiencing changes due to the increase in data available to predict the requirement for replacement parts, but it is also undergoing a shift in the types of components which are most in demand.

Tom Covella, group president of STS Component Solutions, highlighted how equipment and furnishings have become a driving force in components, now representing 26 percent of the market. “That is almost equal to APUs, engine components, landing gear and thrust reversers combined,” he commented, adding that airlines and suppliers must be able to adapt to these changes.

Covella reported that a visit to the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg had been “an eye-opener” for him, surprising him with the number of suppliers in that market. “I never realised there are around 25 aircraft seat manufacturers out there,” he remarked.

The STS exec explained that interior retrofit programs represent a supply chain challenge as when an upgrade decision is made, then the majority of the fleet is modified and/or updated. “You then have to maintain two inventory levels – one for the existing parts and one for the parts going into the new configuration,” Covella commented. “And the process for managing the inventory for the interior mods must become more streamlined; this is essential when managing complex projects. Airlines therefore need a solution to manage the inventory and warehousing throughout the retrofit process.”

Better use of data will help, Covella acknowledged, but “access to data is only relevant if you are using it to identify issues and change the way you operate”.

Asked about a potential aftermarket in used serviceable materials for interiors technology, Covella was less positive. “The products have a lot shorter lifespan and every airline does interiors to their own specifications. So it would be very risky to go into that. Additionally, airlines, when they decide they are going to change interiors, already have a plan as to how they will outfit their cabins.”

Looking at the component market from a major airline’s view, Bryan Riffe, director, component APU & MOS engineering for American Airlines, reported that the carrier has had a lot of opportunities to look at its processes and technologies while going through the merger with US Airways.

“On the personnel side, we’ve been able to create a dedicated components teams for the first time,” Riffe noted. “In processes, we’ve been able to harmonise some programmes and focus on reliability.” The carrier has also been able to take a holistic approach, where it does not just manage components but also looks at the aircraft as a whole.

According to Riffe, the MRO team at American is “very excited about data analytics – better utilising the data coming from the aircraft to prevent operational interruptions”.

Once a component does come off an aircraft, however, American’s MRO teams need to be “a little bit more prescriptive, down to serial number level,” Riffe averred. “Once we get a component off wing we need to know where it is in its life cycle, so that we can take preventive measures at opportune times.”

Interiors components are registering highly in Riffe’s components, mainly because of the race to offer more of a passenger experience. “We sometimes feel we’re having to offer 5-10 different products to get passengers. Everyone is playing catch-up with one another. Yet as soon as you finish installing something, the technology has already shifted. And it’s one more thing that can fail,” he indicated. “In fact, inflight entertainment (IFE) systems and WiFi have almost become no-go items because we cannot offer a product but then not have it working on the aircraft.”

While not having to worry about IFE, Asad Shaikh, manager, fleet planning at Allegiant Air, has plenty of components which do need managing. With a low-cost business model, the airline keeps the strategy constant throughout. “We exercise non-exclusive agreements [for component support] as we believe that approach encourages competition and we get better deals,” Shaikh remarked. “And we always look at USM versus new material.”

According to Shaikh, the purchase of engine parts goes through waves. “We’ve seen it particularly on the JT-8D.” That uncertainty on the Pratt & Whitney engine will be gone in two years as all the carrier’s MD-80s will leave the fleet by the end of 2019, following the removal of the Boeing 757s this year. “In 2019, we’ll have an all-Airbus fleet, from which we see real cost benefits,” he confirmed.

With new end-of-line A320ceo aircraft set to arrive, Shaikh is happy that there will be many similar parts. He pointed out though, that the aircraft serial numbers (MSNs) across the whole Airbus fleet will range from around 700 to 3000. “This creates sub-fleets, which will affect component purchasing,” he admitted.

As for the aircraft leaving the fleet, Allegiant aims to monetise the retirements effectively, getting the best it can for parts from those aircraft and not flooding the market.

By Bernie Baldwin, editorial contributor

CAPTION
L-r: Asad Shaikh, manager, fleet planning, Allegiant Air; Tom Covella, group president, STS Component Solutions; Bryan Riffe, director, component APU & MOS engineering, American Airlines