As you read this, GE Aviation is spending millions to upgrade the GE Aviation Test Research and Development Centre (TRDC) at Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Operated on GE’s behalf by StandardAero, the world’s largest independent engine MRO, the $54 million TRDC was initially built in 2011 to test the latest GE jet engines in extreme icing conditions. Since then, the TRDC has expanded its testing capabilities to include bird, dust, and hailstone ingestion by GE jet engines, plus endurance testing as well. Additional investments are now being made to replace the TRDC’s already-gigantic 800,000-pound wind tunnel and ice-crystal projector with an even larger system.
“GE Aviation decided to expand the TRDC facility so that it is large enough to test the company’s newest engines, which will be bigger than anything built before,” said Brent Ostermann, StandardAero’s Director of Engineering (CF34/CFM56). “They have been sufficiently happy with the work StandardAero does on their behalf – and the fact that Winnipeg’s long, cold winters offer a lengthy icing test season – that they are putting even more money into the TRDC.” (The TRDC’s massive enclosed facility, which surrounds the engine being tested on three sides, is located between two runways at Richardson International Airport.) Among the engines that have been tested at the TRDC are the GENx engine flown on the Boeing B787 Dreamliner, and the CFM (joint venture between GE and Snecma) LEAP (Leading- Edge Aviation Propulsion) engine that is being used on the Airbus A320neo, the Boeing 737Max, and China’s Comac C919.
StandardAero’s critically important work as a GE Aviation engine tester exemplifies the trust and respect this company has earned as a global engine MRO over the years. Much has changed for the company since it was first established in Winnipeg as Standard Machine Works in 1911. Initially, the company founded by William S. Bickell and Charles F. Pearce specialized in repairing small automotive engines, but the growing demand for aviation engine services motivated Standard Machine Works to move into this area.
Today, StandardAero has grown and diversified into airframe/engine repair and overhaul, engine component repair, engineering services, and interior completions and paint. Its customer base covers the business, commercial, general, and military aviation markets. StandardAero maintains a large presence in Winnipeg with 1,300 employees, but this US-owned MRO also has service locations across the United States, Australia, The Netherlands, and Singapore. The company has 3,500 employees in all.
The Engine Specialist
Although StandardAero offers a full range of aircraft MRO services, it is renowned for its attention to the health and well-being of aerospace engines. Despite operating the TRDC on GE Aviation’s behalf, StandardAero offers engine MRO services for all major makes and models. They include the CFM International CFM56; GE Aviation’s CF34 and LM100; Honeywell’s CFE738, HTF7000, TFE731 TPE331, and GTCP36 series/RE220 APUs; Pratt & Whitney’s F100-220/220E; Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6A, PW100, PW600 and APS2300 APUs; and Rolls-Royce AE 1107, AE 2100, AE 3007, Model 250, RR300, T56/501D, and 501K. StandardAero also services Hamilton Sundstrand 54H60 propellers.
“When it comes to servicing engines, APUs and components – our goal is to provide the best quality service at the best price, within the customer’s time frame,” said Rick Stine, StandardAero’s president of components, helicopters, and accessories. “This drives everything that we do.”
To achieve these goals, StandardAero’s entire operation is managed using LEAN, Six Sigma, and Kaizen. This means that the company is continually improving its processes, looking to increase value for its customers while reducing operational costs.
“StandardAero’s culture is built around a philosophy of continuous improvement and all of our employees are expected and encouraged to look at new ways to improve processes, services, quality and just about anything you can think of,” noted StandardAero CEO Russell Ford. “In 2015 alone, our employees participated in 932 continuous improvement projects/programs that we documented throughout the year. The majority of these projects focused on innovative solutions in the following three areas: Product quality improvements, service delivery performance and financial improvements.”
Getting engines serviced and back to work sooner is also a top priority. “Over the past five years, we have consistently improved our turnaround time; both in the days required to do jobs and deliver on our promised completion times,” Stine said. “Today, we meet our scheduled component repair completion dates more than 90 percent of the time, and we’re improving on this performance.”
One way that StandardAero achieves faster engine turnarounds is by use of the ‘cellular production system’ in its service centers, which provide 24/7 service year-round. In the cellular system, the service facility is divided into a series of ‘cells’, each with its own specialty and access to specific relevant parts. This means that once an engine’s parts have been inspected by StandardAero technicians, it is sent to the cell (or cells) that have the specific expertise, tools, and parts to make the necessary repairs. Taking this approach reduces time and errors; resulting in faster engine repairs that have been performed by experts.
“In working on your engines and components, our goal is
to repair rather than replace,” said Stine. “We know that our customers are under budgetary pressures, which is why we take this approach. Repairing where possible costs less, without compromising quality or safety.”
When it comes to pricing repairs, StandardAero puts the customer first. “Some companies force you to choose from a limited menu of choices, as if you’re going in for an oil/lube/ filter change for your car,” Stine said. “We don’t do that at StandardAero: You pay for what you need and want, and nothing else.” In addition to repairing customers’ own parts, he added, the company offers rotable parts that meet or exceed OEM standards and are backed by a comprehensive warranty.
That’s not all: “For aircraft engine OEMs, we provide a capital-free infrastructure with ‘OE Quality’ service,” said Russell Ford. “This allows OEMs to focus more engineering/ manufacturing resources on new products (LEAP, GEnx/XWB/ Silvercrest), while StandardAero pulls through OE parts with the industry’s best technicians who provide fully qualified A&P repairs and assembly.”
A Big Player in Commercial Aviation
StandardAero’s comprehensive engine/APU MRO facilities have resulted in this company becoming a major player in commercial aviation. “In fact, our Airlines & Fleet division accounts for about $1 billion in annual revenue,” said Rob Cords, the division’s president. “Our client base includes SkyWest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and WestJet; among others. To meet their needs, we are making substantial ongoing investments in personnel training and equipment upgrades.”
“For airlines, we can provide dual sourcing to reduce operating risk,’ said Russell Ford. “In addition, StandardAero provides customized solutions and trade secret engine rebuilding processes. We can often provide faster turn-times to return aircraft to service and lower spares requirements.”
When it comes to managing engines (and APUs) over time, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for carriers. Some airlines are primarily focused on immediate costs. Other carriers take the long view; balancing costs versus how well their owned aircraft will last and retain their value over time. Still others who lease their aircraft will attempt to strike a balance between these two points; requiring a maintenance approach that keeps costs down while ensuring that the aircraft is in suitable condition to meet their lease requirements.
“At StandardAero, our goal is to offer solutions that meet all of these scenarios, and any others that our customers want to work with,” said Cords. “One reason we can do this is due to the experience and commitment of our workforce. We are a non- union company where employees are free to perform a number of trained functions. Add the investment we put into our people, and the career paths they can follow at StandardAero, and our employee retention rate is solid. It’s a good place to work.”
Another reason why StandardAero is the choice of major carriers is the company’s willingness to keep buying new and more advanced equipment. “Our emphasis on Lean, Six Sigma, and Kaizen production processes also wins us customers,” Cords said. “This is because we can do quality work faster at fair prices better than the competition can.”
A third reason is StandardAero’s close working relationships with its customers. “Our TRDC arrangement with GE Aviation and the Winnipeg airport is an obvious example of our ability to create industry partnerships,” said Cords. “However, the fact is that we do our best to work closely with all of our constituents, to everyone’s benefit.”
The results speak for themselves. Today StandardAero’s commercial engine expertise extends to 10 different engine platforms, and the company has worked on tens of thousands of engines to date.
“The commercial MRO industry is a very competitive playing field with many options for operators for selecting maintenance plans and providers,” said StandardAero CEO Russell Ford. “At StandardAero, we are experiencing rapid growth in our business due to our OEM alignment and strong relationships as well as our commitment to provide highly customized services for our airline customers and operators.”
Other MRO Services
StandardAero’s expertise in engines doesn’t detract from the company’s other capabilities. A case in point: StandardAero provides airframe MRO services for business aircraft made by Bombardier, Dassault, Falcon, Embraer, and Hawker. “We can do everything from minor repairs to major alterations,” said Kyle Hultquist, senior vice president of marketing & communications. “In fact, we can and do service virtually all corporate jets in operation today.”
This company can also handle avionics repair, maintenance, and overhauls. “We can do everything from repairing a Lear 31 transponder to retrofitting a Collins Pro Line 21 integrated avionic system in a Falcon 50,” said Hultquist. Other systems installed by StandardAero include autopilots, communication/navigation radios, cockpit voice recorders, and flight management systems. “We can also handle cabin entertainment systems and in-flight satellite broadband connectivity,” he added.
Components servicing and repair is a third focus at StandardAero. Among the advanced services it offers are component cleaning, Non-Destructive Testing and inspection; thermal spray and coating; plating, welding/brazing and heat treatment; painting, stripping and surface preparations; manual and CNC machining; and extensive composite capabilities to cope with the aerospace industry’s ongoing shift to composite components air airframes.
It has been 105 years since Standard Machine Works opened its doors in Winnipeg, Canada; just two years after the Wright brothers’ first successful powered flight. Since that time aviation has grown from these inventors’ idiosyncratic achievement to a globe-girdling, multi-billion dollar industry.
Throughout these years, the company that is now StandardAero has grown, evolved, and adapted to stay on top of its clients’ ever-changing MRO needs. Encompassing all the changes that have taken place since 1905 is mind-boggling. They include the advent of helicopters, jet engines, business aviation, and now the emergence of composite aircraft.
“We have managed to stay the course, while constantly adjusting to meet our customers’ requirements,” said Rob Cords. “And this process of change is ongoing at StandardAero. No doubt the next 105 years will be as transformational as the first 105. We are ready and willing to evolve and adjust as required, to give our aviation clients whatever they need.”