With the industry bouncing back from COVID, more flying means more maintenance requirements but there are numerous complications to be overcome.
Jeremy Goossens, general manager of Revima Engine Parts Repair based in Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône, about 18 miles west of Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport, says throughput dropped by 80% during the pandemic. However, the facility, which was formerly Chromalloy France, until it was acquired in early 2019, has seen the qualification of a new 20,000 ft2 business unit in the last six months. The company’s investors, including Olivier Legrand, president/CEO, decided on a strategy to be ready to gain a greater market share when the recovery came.
The company, which has around 100 employees, including a ten-strong engineering team, has specialized in repairing CFM56-5A/5B, GE Aviation CF6-50 and CF6-80, Pratt & Whitney PW2000 and PW4000 exhaust systems and the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW100/PT6 families (it has been collaboratively working with PWC for more than 25 years). The new extension will enable it to develop new business lines to serve extended repair capabilities of turbine components (ATA 72), APU components (ATA 49) and exhaust systems (ATA 78). These include platinum coating associated with aluminization diffusion coating of blades and vanes; sheet metal work devoted to large exhaust components for all the engine types; and pipes and manifold systems repairs for CFM56-5A/5B for the moment.
Three major investments are currently being commissioned: robotized arc-wire welding equipment to restore abradable areas of cold section compressor components and hot section turbine stages; a fully integrated Atmospheric Plasma Spraying (APS) booth to spray ceramic coatings; and a five-axis CNC milling machine for large parts up 1000mm diameter.
It has also expanded its repair capabilities to engine components of APUs overhauled at Revima main facility in Caudebec-en-Caux in Normandy, France. In addition, it has been selected to develop repairs of sealing parts of CFM Leap-1A/1B engines in the next weeks. These developments followed the recent qualification of maintenance capabilities for the afterburner sections of the SNECMA M53 engine for the Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter.
As well as airlines, the customer base includes brokers looking for used serviceable material (USM), which is expected to be strong for a number of years as the market has changed.
Relationships between MROs and OEMs can occasionally become fraught where repairs are concerned, the latter seeing independent development as encroaching on their business, Goossens says the company is not interested in DOA or DER status, preferring to work in close cooperation with OEMs. This is particularly true with several legacy OEMs, where it is a preferred subcontractor, receiving offload work to ease the strain due to heavy development demands.
To support this major shift of demand, the company has also pushed new ways to recruit and strengthen its workforce base, not only by training new hires on the job with senior and experienced maintenance technicians, but also by selecting talented people, attracted by finding solutions to repair parts instead of replacing them by new ones and expecting the highest levels of corporate and environmental accountability after the COVID-19 pandemic and amid all the global uncertainties like the restricted use of limited resources and the company’s impacts on the environment. Goossens says: “This is where this agile company has found a new business momentum and sense of work.”
Niklas Wehrend, product sales manager of Lufthansa Technik’s Engine Parts & Accessories Repair (EPAR) network, says business will have recovered to 80% of pre-COVID levels by the end of 2022 but there is still a struggle to rebuild staffing levels after significant numbers of people left during the pandemic. An important step is the induction in Frankfurt of 24 apprentices for engine technology and 21 in Hamburg, where there is a dedicated training facility.
He says that, while the OEMs may be restrictive about the range of some repairs, such as HPT blades, there are other areas where do not get involved, such as exhaust components. In this case, the company has developed its own customised solutions, which include welding, local manufacture of the use of PMA parts. This work can also include reengineering for improved durability.
He says EPAR had been carrying out visual inspections of engines with imagery being sent to the customer directly, a capability that provided huge benefits when travel was severely restricted. He also notes an increase in the number of green time engines being sent for overhaul.
Lufthansa Technik AERO Alzey extended its capabilities earlier in the year with the signing of an agreement with Pratt & Whitney for the provision of piece-part repairs for the PW1500G engine. As a member of Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan Network, LTAA introduced PW1500G engine repair services in 2018 and has completed 95 shop visits up to date. The new work will include plasma repairs of various engine parts.
MTU has also seen significant improvements, with maintenance revenue in the first nine months of the year growing by 32% from €2.01 billion to €2.64 billion. The main revenue drivers were the PW1100G-JM, which is used in the A320neo, and the V2500 for the A320ceo family. While GTF maintenance has been below expectations, the company expects it to pick up in the fourth quarter.
Confidence has been shown by the opening in October of MTU Maintenance Serbia in Nova Pazova. It will specialize in engine piece part repairs. The new facility has a size of around 39,000m2 and should expand to more than 400 employees in the coming years. In order to prepare the employees in the best possible way, MTU has developed the Aviation Academy in Belgrade into a leading training center for aviation professionals together with the Serbian Ministry of Education. The first MTU Maintenance Serbia specialists have already completed their training, which included intensive on-the-job training at MTU locations in Germany and Poland.
The final handover of the new building took place in June, with the first employees arriving a month later. Final installation and trials of the machinery are expected to be completed to allow operations to start December, only 17 months after the start of construction.
Magnetic Engines, part of Magnetic MRO based in Tallinn, Estonia, expects to see the total MRO market return to 2019 levels by the end of 2023, followed by steady growth. Within that, engines MRO spend is expected to grow even higher than overall MRO growth rates, with most of it being on CFM56 repairs, which will dominate the market by the number of shop visits and by the amount spent.
The company started CFM work four years ago and has steadily increased business, with 30 engines repaired in 2021. However, says Alexey Ivanov, Executive Sales Director of Magnetic Engines, the market for CFM56-5B and -7B engines is shifting towards less costly repairs, as the engines are getting more and more mature. Fewer airlines and asset owners are expecting their engines to have a service interval of 7-10 years. Instead, they are looking at 3-6 years and 5,000-7,000 flight cycles. As a result, planning times are getting even shorter. For example, the owner of -5B or -7B can consider using life-limited parts with 5,000 cycles remaining, which are much easier to locate and where the price per cycle is less than on ‘gold standard’ parts with 8,000-10,000 cycles remaining. The same applies to HPT blades, which are now considered as semi-life limited parts.
He adds that, when the engine is overhauled and expected to achieve fewer cycles, it is possible to use more USM, which can decrease the total repair cost, both the actual repair cost and the relative price per cycle after return to service. Another technique is to use serviceable modules from teardown engines, such as the fan or low-pressure turbine. This can be 20-30% cheaper than overhauling original engine modules with life limited parts replacement. A further option is the use of green time engines. While all these repair strategies give serious savings, the flip side is that the engines require more removals as well as installations, or sometimes this might bring some additional inspections. However, he says most operators consider this a fair price for operation cost reduction, especially as most are still recovering from losses experienced after the pandemic.”
Reducing the engine’s lifecycle horizon also changes the approach towards unplanned repairs. When a repair is planned due to LLP times, for example, the owner decides whether it is economically efficient to invest a certain amount of money and operate it further. For example, if a CFM56-7B engine with good life remaining has defects on the HPC blades, which leads to a top case repair or replacement of the variable stator vane (VSV) VSV bushings, the owner will just perform the repair and return the engine to service. It will decrease profitability on the whole engine lifecycle but does not change it drastically.
When significant defects are identified in the middle of the engine life between overhaul or during routine engine inspection or delivery/redelivery inspections, many questions are raised. For example, if there is HPT blade separation with serious downstream damage in the engine, the asset owner can be forced to drastically change its plans, perhaps deciding it is more efficient to tear it down and sell the parts (or the whole engine can be sold to liquidators if the owner does not have resources to spend on tear down projects).
In anticipation of that market rebound, Magnetic Engines has recently expanded its engine shop in Tallinn. This was originally just over 300m² when it opened in January 2021 the company was launched. It is now over 1,000m², including dedicated office space and premises for both engine and engine components storage and maintenance. Up to five engines can be worked on in parallel and up to 10 engines can be stored. The company expects to take on additional staff as well.