Spare Parts Pooling The Cost-Effective Solution to Stocking Spare Parts

Spare Parts Pooling The Cost-Effective Solution to Stocking Spare Parts

An aircraft is a collection of parts all destined to be replaced, and the cost to airlines of stocking spare for those parts can run into the millions of dollars. This is why many airlines (and other commercial operators) take part in ‘spare parts pooling’, to reduce the expense of keeping everything they need in inventory without compromising their ability to repair aircraft as needed.

“Pooling allows airlines to have instant access to components for their aircraft for quick turnaround times, resulting in less Aircraft on Ground (AOG) time,” said Christopher Solomon, general manager of Certified Aviation Services, an independent MRO.

Parts Pooling Primer

The concept of spare parts pooling — aka aircraft component pooling or contracted components pooling — is as simple as it is brilliant.

“Parts pooling is simply stockpiling aircraft components in one central location that are needed by different operators, for the purpose of sharing the reduced cost while ensuring quality and availability,” said Mike Cazaz. He is CEO of Werner Aero, which is an asset management and aftermarket supplier of logistical solutions to airlines, MROs, and aircraft leasing companies. “You take a bunch of parts, put them in a centralized location for ease in logistics and you sign up airlines to utilize these parts on an as-needed basis, for a fee.”

In exchange for that fee, companies such as Werner Aero serve as the parts collector, warehouse and distribution center. “A ‘pool provider’ such as ourselves is responsible for maintaining the pool level and dispatching the parts to the airline,” Cazaz said. “Let’s say an airline needs a generator. If they’re under contract with us, we will send them a generator that is certified and ready to be installed in the aircraft. In exchange, the airline will send us the ‘bad unit’ from the aircraft. We will manage the repair/overhaul of that unit and ensure that it goes into our pool for someone else.”

When trouble occurs, the parts provider is ready to help. “In the case of an AOG (Aircraft on Ground), an airline identifies the faulty component and directly reports it to its contracted components pool provider, usually by a web suite, phone or by email,” said Tobias Heiling, head of product sales for aircraft component services with the major MRO, Lufthansa Technik. “The provider then quickly checks its pool inventory for serviceable components of the required type and immediately starts the required logistics process — including customs clearance — for delivering this identical, ‘fresh’ and serviceable component from one of its pools to the location of the customer aircraft. There, it is installed as quickly as possible in order to get the aircraft airborne again.”

The pool manager doesn’t have to be a third-party provider. In some instances, “Two or more airlines agree on a requirement of candidate part numbers to stock at a common station,” said Dean Wood, president/CEO of Aviation Concepts, a supplier of aircraft replacement parts and inventory management services. “Rather than each airline allocating its own identical set of assets to this station, which would cause multiple sets of the same costly assets to be tied up, they agree that one airline will be the ‘Pool Provider’ at this station and the others will join the Pool Agreement, and share in the parts as needed.”

Lufthansa Technik worker

Lufthansa Technik is also a spare parts provider, and a very big one at that. “We operate one of the largest aircraft component pools in the world, with currently 2.3 billion U.S. dollars’ worth of components in our 15 worldwide component stocks on three continents,” Heiling said. “Sophisticated and flexible transport solutions provided through our own global logistics provider, Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services (LTLS), ensure that every component needed reaches our customers’ aircraft in the shortest possible time, if necessary even by an onboard courier booked on the next available flight. We moreover employ a dedicated AOG support team that is available 24/7 in order to provide assistance to our customers from the incoming call until their aircraft is finally back in the air.”

factory floor

AAR Corporation (AAR) is another global MRO that manages a large spare parts pool that is linked to aircraft servicing, supporting about a thousand aircraft on average every day. “In its simplest form, airlines enter into long-term support agreements with pool and repair providers like AAR and the pool support comes bundled with a repair-by-the-hour arrangement,” said Chris Feddes, AAR’s senior vice president of commercial programs. This being said, the process is the same: “By entering into that arrangement an airline is effectively agreeing to use components that have operated on other airlines’ aircraft,” Feddes said. “They give you the unserviceable part, you repair it, put it back on your shelf, and ‘rinse and repeat’ that process a few thousand times a year for every customer.”

aar worker with package

The Many Benefits of Parts Pooling

The practice of spare parts pooling offers a range of benefits to airlines and other aircraft operators.

“The first benefit is no capital expenditure on parts,” said Cazaz. “You don’t spend any money upfront. Someone has spent the money; belonging to the pool just costs you whatever the monthly fees are.”

Paying a known monthly fee rather than buying parts and storing parts directly, which can be an unpredictable expense in AOG situations, is the second big bonus. “Given that the monthly pool fee is fixed, airlines can better predict their operating costs,” Cazaz said. “And when you don’t have to spend money owning a large parts inventory, you can improve your cash flow as an airline.”

“Probably the single biggest thing they get is fixed predictable costs of component maintenance and pool access so they get typically a rate per hour for repair and a cost per month per aircraft, or maybe a rate per hour for pool access,” Feddes said. “So they have a high degree of certainty about what their costs are going to be every period. They typically realize lower long-term costs. By participating in a pool the operator benefits from the lower investment per aircraft that is needed to support a large fleet than you would get if you had a smaller fleet. You had to buy all of your own parts.”

This level of predictability makes it easier for airlines to plan and manage their maintenance budgets for the long-term, which is no small deal in an industry that is plagued by economic uncertainties; the most recent being COVID-19. This is why “Pooling is an integral part of many airlines’ asset management decisions,” said Wood. “There are many capital investments which can be avoided thanks to pooling, plus specific situations where airlines should not simply buy spares outright and add them to already inflated inventories. Pooling also controls today’s out-of-pocket expenses, does not directly affect the purchasing budget and takes many years to amortize or realize the full outright cost expenditure of parts (compared to buying and warehousing them outright).”

The fourth major benefit of parts pooling — and it could be argued that this one should be closer to the top of the list — is that pool providers have to manage the supply chain issues associated with finding, stocking, shipping and repairing parts, rather than the airlines themselves. Given the continuing chaos affecting the world’s supply chain in the wake of COVID, this is no small thing.

“As a pool provider, we manage the risk of the supply chain itself,” said Cazaz. “So if we guarantee turnaround time and there’s a problem with the supply chain, it’s up to us to perform for sure. The airline can count on the delivery time. If we guarantee that a part will be dispatched within 48 hours, they know that they don’t have to worry.”

“The risk of having the right component delivered to the right place at the right time is shifted from the airline to the supplier,” Heiling agreed. At the same time, a large spare parts pooling provider such as Lufthansa Technik can achieve “significant economies of scale by bundling the material stocks for numerous customers in a respective region.”

The Price of Admission

Clearly, spare parts pooling is a very smart move for cost-conscious airlines; that is to say all of them. Still, it does cost to join. So what is the actual price tag?

At Werner Aero, “the way it works is — in order to guarantee what we call a Service Performance Level — an airline has to sign up for a minimum of three years and pay a monthly fee to access the pool,” said Cazaz. “The fee is based on two main factors. The first is ‘how many parts am I guaranteeing the airlines per month?’ because this varies from customer to customer. The second is what we call ‘dispatch reliability’: what percentage of reliability, like 90% or 95%, do we have to guarantee dispatch of the parts within an agreed-upon window of time. Some airlines will say, ‘I’m okay with 90%,’ because the rate for 90% will be a bit cheaper than 95%.”

According to Aviation Concept’s Dean Wood, there are several parts pooling payment options to choose from. The longest-standing, most successful model is offered by “the International Airlines Technical Pool (IATP) with its 75-year history,” he said. “The IATP has a simplified process, contract and price structure for its member airlines to use. Basically the annual pool cost is 18% per year of the member-agreed pool value of the part(s). “This pool fee is split between the provider and sharers, so a pool being shared by three airlines only costs 6% per year for the airline to have access to the part, enabling it to avoid a potential AOG, flight delay or cancellation at that station.”

For airlines running on tight budgets, the temptation may exist to avoid the monthly fees of parts pooling by going it alone — ‘getting by’ using a minimal in-house parts inventory and buying what they need when an AOG occurs, with the accompanying amount of prayer required during the current chaotic supply chain situation. But succumbing to this temptation is just not worth the risk: in exchange for their monthly parts pooling fee, “the operator takes no long-term asset value risk on all that inventory. The pool provider takes that,” said Feddes. As well, “they wind up a significantly less complex supplier management operation. Typically, they’re managing just one supplier versus potentially hundreds, so they’ve really outsourced to the repair provider all of their repair cycle management obligations.”

In other words, there is a price of admission to belong to a parts pool. But the price of admission is worth it.

Here To Stay

One thing seems certain in the very uncertain world of aviation: the cost savings, supply guarantees and rapid AOG resolutions provided by spare parts pooling means that this approach to parts management is here to stay.

“At this point, I think pooling is now a permanent fixture of our industry,” Feddes said. “For most carriers, it’s proven itself to be the best way to provide component support to their fleets.”

“Parts pooling has been in the aviation industry for over 40 years,” noted Solomon.”Due to its convenience, we expect this aspect of the industry to continue to grow rapidly.”

A case in point: at Lufthansa Technik, “Total Component Support (TCS) is definitely among the most popular products in our portfolio,” Heiling said. “Today, we are supporting more than 140 airlines on almost all continents with these kinds of services. As many of our customers are seeking flexibility in recovering from the COVID crisis, while still keeping an eye on their cash situation, we expect the popularity of this product to gain further momentum.”

The popularity of this approach is now being driven by digitalization,” he added. “Data-driven digital maintenance platforms such as our AVIATAR can leverage significant benefits for component support offerings. On the one hand, their data analysis capabilities enable services such as Predictive Maintenance, thereby ‘detecting’ parts failures before they occur and initiating timely replacements. On the other hand, these prediction capabilities can also positively impact the parts pools by connecting automated stock optimizations and thus further cost reduction.”

Meanwhile, IATP maintains more than 7000 active parts pools,” said Wood. “The number of pools and items staged is fluid, as seasonal changes of stations served and fleet types fluctuate regularly, so do the spare parts requirements.” Intriguingly, the introduction of the newest generation of long-haul aircraft (i.e., the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787) into airline service is actually reducing the availability of spare parts for pools “due to the heavy reliance on Power-by-Hour (PBH) programs and OEM Gold Care programs for these fleets,” he said. “This tends to leave the airlines owning far less inventory of their own to provide for pooling. [Still], Opportunity does exist here for other suppliers to enter this space and establish pools to support airlines for items not covered or not covered well enough by their current PBH contracts.”

The bottom line: spare parts pooling is good for commercial aircraft operators, the MROs and pool providers who serve them, and the passengers who rely on them. It’s not often that a true ’win-win-win’ business case occurs these days, but this is one of them.

storing part on rack

Adopting a Safety-First Mindset to Prevent Falls

Adopting a Safety-First Mindset to Prevent Falls

Companies that strive to meet highest standards and listen to customers are best positioned for safety and innovation.

Working at height is a hazardous job that can expose aviation maintenance professionals to unplanned falls resulting in severe injuries, such as fractured bones and head trauma, or even death. Falling is a top aviation maintenance error worldwide, and it is among the most common causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Alufase says their aircraft maintenance platforms can be adapted to perfectly fit an aircraft. Alufase image.
Alufase says their aircraft maintenance platforms can be adapted to perfectly fit an aircraft. Alufase image.

In fact, falls compose more than 20% of all workplace fatalities in the United States, with 850 workers across all industries — including but not limited to aviation — dying from falls, slips, or trips in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Injuries and fatalities from such incidents are relatively rare, perhaps lulling some workers into a false sense of security. OSHA has named fall protection as its most-cited violation each year since 2011.

Companies that design and manufacture aviation maintenance structures and equipment such as platforms, stands and ladders, where technicians work at height, are constantly improving and innovating their products in order to meet the needs of their customers while also meeting the industry’s ever-evolving safety regulations and consensus-based standards.

Standards and Customers Driving Improvements

In 2017, OSHA issued its final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems under 29 CFR Part 1910 to better protect workers in aircraft maintenance and other industries from these hazards by updating and clarifying standards and adding training and inspection requirements.
Over the last decade, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) have also released many updates to the ANSI/ASSP Z359 Fall Protection and Fall Restraint Standards to address fall protection equipment and systems for climbing, work positioning, fall arrest, rescue, evacuation and other fall hazards. These consensus-based standards also address training, and how to identify and abate hazards to prevent injuries when working at height.
“Most of the advances in what we do come from changes in regulation or changes in consensus standards,” said Kevin Kelpe, continuing education manager at Diversified Fall Protection, a full-service fall protection integrator based in Ohio.

“For example, one of the updates to the OSHA 1910 standard that in recent years has had the biggest impact on companies designing and manufacturing lifts, platforms, work stands and scaffolding for aviation maintenance work performed at elevated heights, is the rule prohibiting workers from going within 15 feet (4.6 meters) of a leading edge in general industry workplaces where they are elevated 4 feet or more without using some kind of fall protection,” Kelpe said.

Alufase stresses safety and regulatory compliance in their customizable options for scaffoldings. Alufase image.
Alufase stresses safety and regulatory compliance in their customizable options for scaffoldings. Alufase image.

“In the environments that we’re talking about — aircraft maintenance — those workers are always exposed to falls,” he said. “There’s nowhere for them to stand where they not exposed to a hazard, according to OSHA,” he added, noting that most of what’s developed and designed to protect aviation maintenance workers are active systems, meaning they have to use a harness or a lanyard for fall protection.

The 1910 standard put forth requirements for the testing and certification or recertification of equipment both at the point of installation and later intervals; the training of authorized and competent individuals to use and train people on using the equipment; and the annual inspection of the equipment, as well as the inspection of certain types of equipment per each use.

“All those rewrites and changes related to training inspections, and to some degree fall protection equipment, really drove the development of new products for us,” Kelpe said.

The enhanced requirements are significant because before being codified in OSHA 1910, “these requirements weren’t always clearly articulated in the law,” explained Kelpe. “They’ve always been part of the consensus standard, but now they’re part of the law, which means if an OSHA inspector’s on a job site and doesn’t find a PPE (personal protective equipment) inspection log showing that the equipment was inspected at required intervals, not only can the inspector fine the employer but they also have the power to stop work,” he said.

Diversified Fall Protection regularly helps its customers implement evolving fall protection regulatory requirements to bring existing structures up to code, said Kelpe. For example, the company is currently helping customers incorporate new self-retracting lanyards (SRLs) into longer-span truss systems to comply with 2021 ANSI safety standard changes under Z359.14 for self-retracting devices (SRDs) used in personal fall arrest and rescue systems.

Since American and European regulatory requirements are widely considered to be the highest available safety standards for countries to aspire to, companies like Madrid-based Alufase, international manufacturer of aluminum aircraft maintenance platforms, will often fulfill regulatory requirements for a given country by using European standards or American standards to ensure the local region’s safety standard is exceeded, according to the company’s sales manager David Donado.

“Regulatory compliance is complex,” he said. “Aviation is one of the safest places to work, so you have to go with the highest standards or you are out. Even if you go to different countries and they have their own standards, they can usually accept European standards or American standards, depending on where they are, because those standards are more globally common, and this is something they will find as an understandable solution.”

Simpson Aerospace Services (SAS), an Indiana-based company providing aircraft maintenance stands for commercial and military aviation, recently has taken a different approach to fall protection with its latest maintenance stand used to install Wi-Fi and Satcom equipment on the top of narrow- and wide-body aircraft. Having gone from concept to market within the last 18 months, SAS’s new stand offers a number of innovations, including a completely enclosed working area, that eliminate the need for a worker to be tethered.

Simpson Aerospace Services (SAS) is an Indiana-based company providing aircraft maintenance stands for commercial and military aviation. Its latest maintenance stand was designed to install Wi-Fi and Satcom equipment on the top of narrow and wide-body aircraft. SAS image.
Simpson Aerospace Services (SAS) is an Indiana-based company providing aircraft maintenance stands for commercial and military aviation. Its latest maintenance stand was designed to install Wi-Fi and Satcom equipment on the top of narrow and wide-body aircraft. SAS image.

“We have engineered and are building stands that allow mechanics and tech crews to safely access the top of the plane and install, repair, or maintain those components, while giving them a safe, confident feeling and allowing them to work more efficiently. That cage, or work pen, also has metal shields preventing tools or equipment from falling, a common hazard that can result in damage to a fuselage, wing, or, worse still, someone on the ground,” said Bill Medley, SAS representative.

SAS relies heavily on customer input to guide its designs and ensure safety. “We worked with our customers and brought them in and had them actively give us feedback on the design,” said Medley. “For example, even the size of the step, the height of the step, and the broadness of the step. You think about people carrying things up the steps to get up to the aircraft, and there can be simple little injuries — things we kind of dismiss but they’re real. A slip on a step can cause a lot of damage to somebody and that’s what you don’t want,” he said.

“Airlines are looking for maximum utility with stands,” Medley said. “They want to be efficient because time on the ground is money, and airlines are sensitive to that. They know planes have to be maintained properly, but they also have to keep those aircraft in the air to make money.”

Aviation Fall Protection WinGrip Multi User

Kansas-based LockNClimb, which provides ergonomic ladders for MROs, is another company that views customer feedback as essential in designing the safest products for aviation mechanics who need to reach elevated areas. “Our ladders are developed with input from airline safety directors, management and mechanics. We take the prototypes onto the flight line, and the mechanics study them and tell us how we can improve them,” said president and CEO Jeff Green.

The company’s special-purpose ladders offer specialized safety features requested by mechanics that help prevent trips, slips and falls, including extra-wide treads and safety handrails. The ladders are also designed to ensure that the user is facing the work they’re doing instead of turning sideways, and also keeping their body inside of the rails of the ladder, per OSHA requirement.

Training maintainers how to properly build and use a stand safely is key, according to Bill Medley at SAS.Alufase image.
Training maintainers how to properly build and use a stand safely is key, according to Bill Medley at SAS.
Alufase image.

Training for a Safety-First Culture

Maintenance technicians who don’t adhere to the highest safety standards when working at height risk not only fines and company reprimands, but also their own lives. Manufacturers can be a part of creating and encouraging a culture of safety in aviation for these workers.

“You’re putting men and women 30 feet up in the air, it’s dangerous work. Those of us who provide equipment to do that start with a position of safety first,” said Medley.

“We look at the standards and we want to be better than them,” he explained. “Whether that’s a grade of steel or aluminum, or whether it’s involved with a step or an angle, a lot of it is keeping people from doing things when they shouldn’t be doing them. Everything that’s on that stand is purposeful, not only for the function it’s doing, but also in what it won’t do.”

Training is more important than ever in light of aviation maintenance staffing shortages, according to Medley. “It’s very important that you can build a safe stand, but just as important is teaching how it works and how you use it,” he said.

“Most airlines, I’m sure, would tell you, there’s a tremendous change of staffing right now. All of our clients see a real need for more people, more technicians and trained people in this business, and that means an accelerated level or need for good training on all aspects of their job — and that includes safety,” Medley said.

In ensuring safe use of ladders or other platforms for maintenance workers, Green likewise emphasized the need for companies to have a training component as part of their services. “When our customers use our training videos in conjunction with the ladders, it drastically reduces falls and accidents,” he said. “In one company, we prevented 90% of their cost of ladder falls in one year just by using our training with the ladders.”

“It’s part of our responsibility to train people in a proper way that maybe they aren’t used to,” Donado said. “Regardless of country, if a company doesn’t have higher standards in terms of safety and they require trained people to use the equipment, we offer this to the customer and most of them appreciate it. It’s on us to get the people involved in this part of it, and create a safety-focused community, so we’re all safety first.”

Alufase emphasizes that aircraft scaffoldings must be safe and secure as well as comfortable places to work.  Alufase image.
Alufase emphasizes that aircraft scaffoldings must be safe and secure as well as comfortable places to work. Alufase image.

When doing a cost-benefit analysis, most companies know they’re going to have to spend money to create a safe working environment, and they look to the law and the standard for the minimum level of safety, according to Kelpe. Yet, fall protection is still the number one safety violation 12 years running. “It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone who works in safety wouldn’t know how common the violation issues are,” he said. “It goes to show you how common it is to meet the minimum requirement and stop spending money.”

Kelpe chalks it up to an opportunity to educate people, so they know that the minimum level of safety has been raised for fall protection standards. “Our services department works really hard keeping up with everyone’s inquires and calls asking to recertify equipment and train people. OSHA 1910 has been in effect since 2017 but now that citations are flying, people are trying to become compliant,” he said.

According to a recent ASSP survey, some of the top reasons for falls had to do with errors around using the equipment and being properly trained. “It’s not that companies don’t have fall protection programs in place, but people aren’t current on the standards, so they’re using the wrong equipment, or using the equipment wrong, or their manager isn’t training them. It’s something we have to be vigilant about — training and retraining and staying on top of it to prevent those things from happening,” he said.

“In our practice, we’re inclined to teach people the minimum and also teach them what we see as best practice for protecting workers and saving lives,” Kelpe concluded. “Everything tends to converge to the strictest standard, so we teach that, too. It’s alarming to think how catastrophic one accident can be.”

INSIDE STORY: Borescopes Vital to Engine Inspections

INSIDE STORY: Borescopes Vital to Engine Inspections

Borescope inspections are a routine but vital part of engine maintenance but combining with new technologies is opening up new opportunities. Ian Harbison reports.

Borescope inspections (BSI) are an essential but intrusive technique to establish the internal state of an engine. Given that they have to penetrate the outer case of the engine, Adam Mallion, senior business and project manager at OC Robotics, says borescope access points might be essential but they are complex and costly to engineer. While some engines have more than others, he expects future engines will have fewer, with the design emphasis being on finding the best location for the greatest access to the engine’s inner workings. These will not only be designed for BSI but will be to handle other tools for a variety of purposes.

OC Robotics

UK-based OC Robotics, which specializes in snake-arm robots, was acquired by GE Aerospace in 2017 after it became involved in the development of the HPT Blade Inspection Tool (BIT) for GEnx-1B engines on the Boeing 787 and GEnx-2B engines on the 747-8.

BIT is used for HPT Stage 1 and Stage 2 blade inspections. Unlike traditional borescopes, which use stereoscopic tips to generate a 3D map of the environment and require regular calibration, BIT uses a simple one-hand installation process, with fixed position cameras, to provide consistent, high-quality images of the blade and knowledge of the blade geometry to provide a simple measurement process. The images are processed using AI technology, which can be used to measure both lines and areas on blade surfaces, to make an accurate assessment of the condition of hardware.

A standard inspection can be carried out by one person (two for a standard BSI) in 45 minutes (up to 15 minutes more for BSI). A more detailed Significant Measurement Required can take up to 90 minutes (four hours for BSI).

The information can be exported to a USB or PC and is automatically uploaded to the GE cloud, creating a safe and secure backup of inspection data. The User Interface (UI), developed with airline inspector feedback, groups images together to reduce operator burden. Operators can flag blades of interest and add notes, which will appear in an automatically generated inspection report at the end of the inspection.

Ease of use is important for operators in harsh conditions, such as Africa, China and the Middle East, where high temperatures, dust and sand can adversely affect engines and so inspections tend to be more frequent. Mallion says the huge amounts of data generated by BIT inspections means that predictive maintenance techniques can now be utilized to refine the inspection intervals, and over time, the maintenance intervals, optimizing shop visits.

However, the company’s MiniX snake-arm robots are being developed to use the BSI access point for other purposes. These are self-supporting and can be precisely controlled to obtain access to other areas of the engine. Applications include cleaning, boroblending (minor repairs in situ) and reapplication of thermal coatings.

OC Robotics’ MiniX snake-arm robots, like the one shown here, are self-supporting and can be precisely controlled. OC Robotics image.
OC Robotics’ MiniX snake-arm robots, like the one shown here, are self-supporting and can be precisely controlled. OC Robotics image.

Dr. Jan Oke Peters, engineer technology development, explains, “I think it is safe to say that the engine OEMs learnt a lot from MRO experience gained over the decades with the predecessor ‘bread and butter’ models such as CFM56 and V2500. The latter model’s high-pressure compressor (HPC) proved especially tricky for borescope inspections as it only offers seven borescope inspection locations for ten stages, and only one borescope access point for the complete LPT (low-pressure turbine) module.”

Lufthansa Technik says it expanded its product offerings during the last several years with its Mobile Engine Services (MES) offering. The group says this service can help avoid or postpone major overhauls and can be carried out on-wing, on-siteor in specialized repair shops. 
Lufthansa Technik image.
Lufthansa Technik says it expanded its product offerings during the last several years with its Mobile Engine Services (MES) offering. The group says this service can help avoid or postpone major overhauls and can be carried out on-wing, on-site
or in specialized repair shops.
Lufthansa Technik image.

He says that, in contrast, new generation engines such as the PW1000G and LEAP families have one borescope port for each HPC and LPT stage. This significantly improves accessibility for MROs, and moreover opens up the possibility to inspect both the leading and trailing edges of two successively positioned stages through a single port. In addition, the newer engine types feature an additional borescope port in the first stage of the high-pressure turbine (HPT) nozzle. This extra port greatly eases the inspection of the trailing edge of the Stage 1 HPT nozzle and the leading edge of the Stage 1 HPT blades. On older engine types, access to this complex location always required the use of a flexible borescope, which, in a complicated move, had to be inserted in the combustion chamber and between the airfoils of the HPT nozzle.

Lufthansa Technik

For Lufthansa Technik, the add-on technology was a 5G campus network in Hamburg, which started operations in 2020 in an engine workshop dedicated to CFM56 and V2500 overhauls.

Before that, borescope inspection (BSI) activities regularly comprised both routine/scheduled as well as unscheduled/on-condition inspections. The former category, for example, included all inspections mandated in an engine manufacturer’s maintenance schedule or Maintenance Planning Documents, as well as OEM Service Bulletins. The latter category for example includes post-bird-strike inspections or cases in which an engine experienced abnormal vibrations or a sudden drop in the exhaust gas temperature (EGT) margin.

In addition to that, the company performed inspections during every overhaul shop visit, both on incoming engines as well as on outgoing engines. Other noteworthy fields of activity comprised both off-wing and on-wing borescope inspections on leased engines, for example, during a transfer of ownership or from returns from lessee to lessor.

5G-based video streams have helped Lufthansa Technik keep pace by allowing virtual parts inspections and digital borescope inspections. Their Virtual Table Inspection (VTI) is now a business-critical part of their inspections process. Lufthansa Technik image.
5G-based video streams have helped Lufthansa Technik keep pace by allowing virtual parts inspections and digital borescope inspections. Their Virtual Table Inspection (VTI) is now a business-critical part of their inspections process. Lufthansa Technik image.

Of course, initial operations of the network coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Now aviation has left the ‘crisis mode’, current BSI activities are not that much different than before pandemic situation,” Peters says. “Except maybe in the aspect that, during the crisis, we significantly expanded our product offerings in the direction of Mobile Engine Services (MES), our term for smarter repair and lifespan-extending solutions. These can avoid or postpone major overhauls and can be carried out on-wing, on-site or in specialized repair shops. This segment still enjoys significant popularity and it is another interesting field in which we can put our comprehensive borescope expertise to good use.”

Michael Kirstein, Lufthansa Technik
Michael Kirstein, Lufthansa Technik

Michael Kirstein, vice president operations engine services at Lufthansa Technik, says: “Since the pandemic situation, virtual parts inspections and digital borescope inspections have clearly gained acceptance in our company. In fact, the Virtual Table Inspection (VTI) quickly advanced from a test project to a business-critical infrastructure, as travel restrictions prevented customers from travelling to inspect their engine parts. The 5G-based video streams have helped us enormously. In the past, such inspections often had to be planned several weeks in advance. Now we can schedule inspections at very short notice, which our customers really appreciate.”

In 2021, the 5G-powered VTI was fully integrated into the company’s AVIATAR Digital Operations Suite. Peters comments that this connectivity to digital technical operations and fleet management platforms is an important focus area in the further development of borescope equipment. A seamless connection to offerings such as AVIATAR can greatly improve the cooperation and interaction between the borescope inspector at one end, the engineering team in the middle, and the customer at the other end.

In his view, the quality and resolution of borescope imagery has constantly increased, and today’s state-of-the-art equipment already delivers a video quality that fulfills the requirements of many smart software tools and solutions utilizing technologies such as artificial intelligence or machine learning. The company is currently preparing the first such technique for entry-into-service in the coming months in line with tailored repairs within the MES portfolio.

From a pure application point of view, Peters can see a few development steps delivering further improvements to the entire borescope process. One very important driver emphasized by Peters is standardization. A consistent positioning of the sensor and camera, for example, could help to create more reproducible views that would significantly improve the reliability of the inspection results, even when performed at very different repair stations or locations. More standardized procedures could also help in the measurement of defects, providing more consistency, more accuracy and higher speed (shorter turnaround times), he believes.

Arne Straatmann, MTU
Arne Straatmann, MTU

Another trend he sees is the growing use of hardware and software to provide smart assistance for borescope inspectors. Here, for example, AI will definitely play an important role. Concerning flexible borescopes, upcoming development steps will presumably focus on aspects such as improved durability of the bending sections or improved articulation.

Shown here is the Everest Mentor Visual iQ (MViQ) VideoProbe by Waygate Technologies. Waygate Technologies image.
Shown here is the Everest Mentor Visual iQ (MViQ) VideoProbe by Waygate Technologies. Waygate Technologies image.

Finally, he says an additional focus area on the Lufthansa Technik development roadmap for borescope technology is the corresponding tool landscape. The aforementioned software tools supporting borescope inspections by utilizing AI for various (often niche) applications are only one example in this regard. Another good example is the development of special guidance or navigation tools (usually hardware but also software) that help improve the accuracy of the positioning of the sensor head in order to optimize the borescope’s view. Another tool which is under development aims at automatically turning the N1 spool during the inspection. This purposeful and target-oriented future development of the company’s borescope equipment and techniques, could probably even lead to the development of entirely new on-wing repair solutions for the MES portfolio.

Recently, the network was extended to a second workshop handling LEAP and CF6-80 engines. The company emphasises that customer decisions often involve six-digit cost figures, so the high resolution video and the stable, reliable and confidential 5G connection to the customer are essential. In fact, in one case, it demonstrated that scratch marks of just 0.3mm in length could be reliably identified.

One unusual aspect of the operation was the engine facility’s location on the edge of Hamburg Airport, so there were concerns about possible interference from the 5G network with aeronautical services, as has happened in the U. S. As it happens, the frequency band used by Lufthansa Technik is between 3.7 and 3.8 GHz. Compared with the public 5G band in the United States (3.7 to 3.98 GHz), the safety margin to the frequency band used by radar altimeters on commercial aircraft (4.2 to 4.4 GHz) is twice as large. In addition, Lufthansa Technik has so far employed 5G technology exclusively inside industrial buildings, which, with their high steel and concrete content, massively shield all wireless networks from the outside world.

MTU Maintenance

Within MTU Maintenance, borescope inspections, boroblend repairs as well as other on-wing or near-wing repair workscopes are performed by its ON-SITEPlus service teams, who can rapidly deploy to where they are needed from regional service centers in the USA, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Australia and China. If blade damage is detected and repairable, MTU can perform boroblending on CF34, CF6-80, CFM56, GE90, LEAP PW1100, PW2000, and V2500 engines.

MTU’s head of on-site services, Arne Straatmann, says, “Although MTU uses state of the art equipment and technology, the key element remains the skill and expertise of our inspector combined with the knowledge of our extensive network. In addition, it sometimes pays off when we perform BSI inspections that we have much more knowledge to judge any damage because we design, manufacture and repair airfoils, so we know the product in depth.”

Straatmann adds, “The ON-SITEPlus service team always try to keep an engine on wing if possible. We are always monitoring the latest digital technologies and indeed we are sure that AI-based applications will play a significant role going forward. This new technology actually enables us to reduce effort and time while at the same time even further increase quality. It is this consistent quality that enables MTU to be the only provider in Europe of OEM approved HPC boroblend repairs for the V2500 family.”

Aiir

Another company using AI is Amsterdam-based Aiir Innovations, which was formed in 2016 after the AFI KLM E&M engine shop in Amsterdam invited an assistant professor in Computer Vision and five graduates in Artificial Intelligence to see if they could develop a system to automatically analyze borescope video streams to identify faults such as cracks, scratches and dents. Bart Vredebregt, CEO and co‑founder of Aiir (and one of the students) says that initial results were promising but it took a few years to return to AFI KLM E&M with a viable product.

Automatic defect recognition (ADR) shows great progress in minimizing human error rates. Waygate Technologies image.
Automatic defect recognition (ADR) shows great progress in minimizing human error rates. Waygate Technologies image.

The Aiir software, which includes automated blade-counting, uses image analysis to very quickly generate a report — damage is flagged before the camera probe has even left the engine, while historical footage can be reviewed online. Video and other files are loaded on the company’s cloud-based platform and reviewed by the AI software. A detailed report then highlights any defects or damage detected. If further analysis is needed, comments can be left next to the relevant image. Other team members can see these immediately via the platform and offer their own evaluation. By generating a secure link, third parties can also access images and footage, eliminating the need to email large attachments or screenshots.

As well as AFI KLM E&M, users include Regional Jet Center in Amsterdam, which specializes in maintenance of Embraer E170, E190 and Lineage aircraft. The system was also trialled by easyJet in 2021.

It has also been incorporation into the Everest Mentor Visual iQ (MViQ) VideoProbe from Waygate Technologies, where it runs offline, while a further variant is Aiir Lite.

This is a standalone still image version of the analytic used by the Aiir Inspection software. The analytic was trained using more than a thousand hours of borescope footage from a wide variety of clean and dirty turbine engines including CF34, CF6, CFM56 5A/B/C, CFM56 7B, GE90, GEnx, LEAP, PW 1100, PW 2000, Trent 700, Trent 1000 and V2500. To enhance analytic robustness, images were captured from a multitude of incident angles and stand-off distances from the target component during historical borescope inspections.

It is available in two versions — Aiir Lite – Combustor and Aiir Lite – Rotate. The first covers the combustor, and sections of the high pressure turbine with Thermal Barrier Coatings, the second covers the high, intermediate, and low pressure compressor, intermediate, and low pressure turbine.

In a separate development, Aiir Innovations has been selected as one of eleven new startups to join the fourth cohort of Aerospace Xelerated. The program, led by industry partner Boeing in partnership with Tawazun Council, the defence and security acquisitions authority of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is supported by the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), GKN Aerospace and Etihad Airways.

The 11 startups, chosen from a pool of over 150 applications from around the world, will cover the program’s key focuses: Flight & Passenger Journey Optimization; Supply Chain Intelligence; Next Generation Workforce; and Operational Efficiency. They will benefit from a £100,000 investment from Boeing, with potential for additional funding from partners. Through Aerospace Xelerated, startups will be introduced to a network of angel investors, venture capitalists and key stakeholders amongst the aerospace industry, throughout the 12-week program. Successful companies will also get more than £100,000 in program benefits from partners including startup providers Oracle, Amazon, HubSpot, Digital Ocean and many more.

Eyes on the Inside

While there is optimism around technologies like AI, there also has to be some caution. One of the problems with AI is that many projects fail because they are ‘innovation for innovation’s sake’ and that they fail to take enough account of human involvement, especially when there is no associated legislation in place. As a result, while prototypes may be easy to create, they are difficult to get accepted by workshop personnel, who can see it as a threat to their jobs, being replaced by a machine.

In addition, in a safety critical environment like commercial aviation, it is important that there is complete confidence in the results. Numerous research projects have fooled AI visual recognition systems into misidentifying or, more importantly, missing vital details.

It is interesting to note that Waygate Technologies publishes an important caveat: “Analytic applications are intended to assist the user whilst performing in-situ visual inspections. Results will vary depending on your application. State-of-the-art analytic applications are generally not 100% accurate and this analytic is no different. Do not rely on this analytic to detect all indications.”

BSI is here to stay but its evolution will see connectivity, AI and colocation with other tools as the way forward.

Q&A with Schaeffler Aerospace's Christopher Duffy

Q&A with Schaeffler Aerospace’s Christopher Duffy

AVM: Give our readers a bit of background about Schaeffler’s history and involvement in aerospace.

Duffy: Schaeffler Aerospace’s team lineage goes back to bearings used in the Spirit of St. Louis’ first trans-Atlantic crossing. Its predecessor companies’ manufacturing facilities are the famed Schweinfurt, Germany, bearing factory and the Danbury, Conn., factory which made the secret Norden Bombsight work. Today, whether it flies under water, in the air or in space, Schaeffler Aerospace has a dominant presence.

Main Engine Bearing

AVM: Focus in on the MRO work that Schaeffler does. What capabilities does your company have and when should maintenance professionals look to Schaeffler for help?

Duffy: Our primary focus is overhaul of main shaft power plant bearings which have the highest value in a jet engine. In addition, we work on high-value components associated with bearings such as planetary pinions or bevel pinions in helicopter transmissions. These associated components typically fit well within our capability of manufacturing rotating parts. Along with main shaft bearings, we routinely work on gearbox bearings such as upper tower shaft positions. If it is a bearing that flies, no matter what the value, we can at least do a relubrication or inspection with recertification. On lower-value items, while many are not able to compete with new part pricing, we can compete with lead times. Raw material lead times for aerospace precision bearings are currently 62 weeks with an additional 26-week manufacturing lead time. An inspection and recertification are typically less than seven calendar days, while an overhaul is typically less than three weeks.

AVM: Schaeffler is well-known for bearing work — talk about what makes your services in this area unique and standout.

Duffy: I think there are several reasons. First, our global footprint allows us to service our customers in the region for the region. Secondly, Schaeffler and its predecessor aerospace companies are known for engineering solutions where the OEM has a problem. We aggressively seek to develop material processes and combine those with our other technologies to bring those solutions to market. One example would be the combination of plasma nitriding with silicon nitride rolling elements. Another would be Schaeffler’s proprietary Cronidur 30 material. Our global aerospace network can bring our technology to market and upgrade existing componentry where the customer needs it. We are not a low-cost provider nor merely a commodity supplier. Finally, we think all customers are important. We do not have A, B or C customers. We try to work with everyone where a solid business case exists.

AVM: Give our readers some specifics on how you analyze and diagnose components when they come to you.

Duffy: We do it from two sides. On the OE side of the business, in support of our customers testing for new product, our engineering teams do a comprehensive evaluation and propose changes to enhance durability and life. On the MRO side, some of what we do is statutory. Inspection for hidden damage, handling damage and shipping damage are part of the regulatory requirement. Going beyond that, of course we apply the approved or accepted technical data, but with our vast bearing experience, we can apply our latent knowledge to further enhance serviceably. And finally, we apply our tests developed over the years, such as noise testing or torque testing, to further ensure bearing serviceability.

AVM: Schaeffler does work for both the civilian market and military communities. Where possible, give some examples of work that the company does in both markets.

Duffy: It is really the same business; however, it may be limited to a given region. For commercial work, our global repair station network can handle all that work. We will “storefront” where a particular location does not have a qualification or inventory and internally send work to our network where that qualification/inventory exists, while still meeting turn times. An example would be the CFM56 series engines or the Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) series of engines. We still must follow export controls. In some cases, on the commercial side, we can support a replacement or surplus option where we procure our bearings, overhaul them, and make them available to the market. On the military side, export controls and international trafficking of arms regulations limit us to keeping that business within one of our organizational regions. For example, with the F119 engine which goes on the F-22 Raptor, these bearings and components are only manufactured and serviced in North America. In some of these instances, we may have a performance-based logistics solution in place where we guarantee a monthly volume of repairs with a surge capacity.

AVM: Supply chain woes continue to haunt aerospace. How is Schaeffler able to help operators and MROs during this time of supply chain challenges?

Duffy: Schaeffler does face similar challenges with the supply chain; however, Schaeffler decided early on in the pandemic to maintain a high raw material inventory and keep staffing levels at pre-pandemic levels to help insulate our business form some of the possible and now occurring disruptions in the supply chain. Of course, as time marches on, that inventory has been drawn down, and with a 62-week raw material lead time, we are having to look out ahead several years for purchases. In addition, while not always price competitive, the MRO option helps our customer base keep going.

AVM: Talk about market demand — what are you seeing in this area and how is Schaeffler responding?

Duffy: Up, up and away. In our Americas region, the pandemic had little impact on our MRO business and our OE business remained strong. 2022 was an extremely strong year in the Americas with our repair stations performing substantially above budgeted sales and at times straining our turnaround. In fact, growth in the Americas did not seem to be impacted by the pandemic. Globally, 2022 started to see the wide-body market return to some level of normalcy and our European market closed close to pre-pandemic levels. Our challenge now is getting the raw material, human capital, and equipment to service this extremely strong demand, while maintaining efficiency.

AVM: Does Schaeffler have new programs that our readers should be aware of?

Duffy: We are always working on future projects with OEM’s but regrettably, because of two-way nondisclosure agreements, I can’t name names or mention specifics other than to say the projects cover fixed wing and rotary wing applications, including EV technologies. These are both of a commercial and military nature. On relatively new programs like the Pratt & Whitney GTF series, we have very strong participation with both IAE LLC and Pratt & Whitney as the primary OE of the main shaft bearings and 100% of the bearing MRO business on all makes and models of the GTF program. This participation has allowed us to start reaching beyond bearings and actively bid on non-bearing components. We are diligently working with GE on their portion of the LEAP-X program and we were the first MRO supplier for the GENx engine that is dominant on the B787.

AVM: Talk about how your company can work in very diverse areas including wide-body and narrow-body, civilian and military, fixed wing and rotor areas. How does Schaeffler manage that?

Duffy: Our global footprint allows us to have some specialization in the regions. An example of this would be in the Americas region with two manufacturing locations, each with a licensed MRO facility within them. One location focuses on larger or high-thrust commercial and military engine bearings. The other facility focuses on smaller power plant components, auxiliaries, gearboxes, and miniature/instrument product. On the MRO side, one facility focuses on large main shaft bearings with licensed OEM repairs. Meanwhile, the other facility focuses on lower-value bearings like in a helicopter transmission, smaller power plants with a lower level of repair, and non-OEM repairs. This facility also processes high volumes (over 1000 per month compared to 200) of parts per month.

AVM: What changes are you all seeing in the regulatory environment? Are things improving or getting more difficult? What can the regulators do to improve the regulatory environment?

Duffy: Improving as we move towards more bilateral agreements. It has improved both understanding and costing. For us, the CAAS in Singapore now covers for the FAA in the U. S. Instead of paying for an inspector to do oversight from the FAA IFO in Los Angeles, the local authority does that oversight. While relations may currently be tense with China, as the Chinese regulatory environment matures, developing more bilateral agreements will further smooth the process. The CAAC has an agreement in place with the CAAS in Singapore, so like the FAA, the CAAC will be covered by the local civil authority. With the exit of Great Britain from the EU, bilateral agreements will be developed to cover business across the globe and help minimize the impact of the change.

AVM: Schaeffler invests in research and development in many areas. Talk about the company’s commitment to R&D. Share some ideas that have been brought to life from your R&D efforts.

Duffy: Schaeffler is a firm believer in R&D across all the markets it participates in and some of those technologies can work in several markets at the same time. In the past, examples as I have given include Cronidur 30 material, M50NiL material, plasma nitriding and using silicone nitride rolling elements in conjunction with nitride surfaces.

AVM: Electric vehicles are becoming a reality, even in aviation. Is Schaeffler getting involved in this area? What insights can you share about that?

Duffy: As you may have read, Schaeffler has a strong commitment to the EV market given that sustainability is one of the company’s core values. Often, this technology is developed for the automotive portion of the business, and then scaled up to meet the demands of aerospace. An example would be an EV booster system used on a police interceptor. While not on the market yet, you certainly could take that technology and use it on a powerplant for an aircraft for boosting during critical portions of flight such as takeoff or landing. About drones, we already are supplying OEMs that make small EVs for aerospace. Schaeffler’s commitment is further exemplified by acquisitions that would support the EV marketplace.

Christopher Duffy is the director of strategy and business development at Schaeffler Aerospace where he is responsible for the growth and support of the aerospace bearing repair and overhaul business with locations around the world. He has matrix management responsibility for the global repair station network including expansion and addition of new locations. In addition, he is responsible for establishing and maintaining the aerospace MRO and new parts strategy.

Hiring Help How to Hire Honest People

Hiring Help How to Hire Honest People

In my previous article in Aviation Maintenance, “Hiring Help: Why Aren’t You Including This Crucial Element in Your Job Descriptions?,” we considered why smart businesses hire for character as well as competence. In this follow-up piece, I’ll present a few questions you can and should ask of job candidates to evaluate their honesty, one of 10 crucial qualities of high-character employees. Let’s go!

If They Look Honest, They Probably Are — Right?

My father once bought a life insurance policy from an agent who was a likeable guy. Warm, friendly, and a good listener, Eric was just the kind of person you wanted on your team. His impeccable credentials, strong references, and a professional demeanor made him an understandable choice to handle such an important part of my father’s financial portfolio.

He also turned out to be a crook.

After my dad discovered that Eric had embezzled thousands of dollars, my father sued him, and I went to the trial. I’ll never forget what Eric’s own attorney said to the jury: “No one will ever trust Eric again.” When your own attorney publicly declares you to be untrustworthy, you’ve got some real integrity problems. Eric was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to prison. After his release, he operated a limousine company and died at the age of sixty-two.

Had you met Eric, I’ll bet you too would have believed him to be an honest person you could trust as your insurance agent. He is an excellent, if tragic, example of how difficult it is to evaluate a job candidate’s honesty.

But because honesty is one of ten crucial qualities of high-character employees in aviation maintenance and everywhere else, the following questions may be helpful to you.

Bruce Weinstein

Evaluating Honesty in Job Candidates: Question #1

Ask this in a job interview: “Tell me about a time when you had to tell a direct report an unpleasant truth. What were the challenges and how did you get past them? What were the consequences?”

A few years ago, I gave a talk on ethical leadership to an engineering company. I asked the audience if someone would be willing to discuss a time they had to tell an uncomfortable truth at work and something good happened.

An audience member I’ll call Jeff (not his real name) told a story in which he made a major mistake on a project. He had to tell the client that completion of the project would be delayed by several months. Jeff was afraid the client would be angry but knew that he had to reveal what had happened.

How do you think the client responded? With gratitude! “I appreciate your having the courage to tell me the truth,” the client said. “And when this project is over, I’m giving your company another contract.”

I asked Jeff how much that second contract was worth.

“Three million dollars,” he responded.

Here is a direct line from honesty to a quantifiable financial benefit. Of course, honesty doesn’t always have this result. Sometimes the benefit is a qualitative one, such as improved morale. It feels good to do the right thing.

This story has a fascinating postscript. I asked the audience of 95 senior executives from across the country, most of whom knew Jeff, to raise their hands if they’d heard the story before. Only one hand went up — Jeff’s engineering partner.

Does it make sense to you that such an inspiring story was one of that company’s best-kept secrets? The only reason the leaders learned about Jeff’s story is because someone had asked for it.

A high-character job candidate who applies to work on your team may have a story like Jeff’s, but you have to discover it by asking the right question.

Evaluating Honesty in Job Candidates: Question #2

Ask this in a job interview: “Have you ever cheated, and if so, what did you learn from it?”

From time to time, I interview high school students who are applying to the college I attended. A few years ago, I mentioned to Rob, the young man I was interviewing, that I’d just written a book called Is It Still Cheating If I Don’t Get Caught? I told him how dismayed I was by stories in the news of cheating in high schools and colleges and asked him point-blank if he had ever misrepresented himself.

“Yes,” he said. “My friends and I have done it more than once. School is so competitive now you have to cheat to get good grades.”

Rob got a “Do not admit” recommendation from me on the college evaluation form. Yes, he told me the truth, but it was a truth that should have been told with remorse, that deep sense of guilt we get after we do something wrong. Instead, Rob was nonchalant about his cheating.

There are two downsides to asking a direct question about dishonesty. First, it immediately strikes fear in the candidate’s heart, even if the candidate is an honest person. I don’t like making a job candidate squirm.

The question also seems to present a no-win situation for candidates. They may reason that if they admit to having cheated, they won’t get the job (as happened to Rob), but if they lie, they’ll be worried about getting caught and rejected. Only candidates who have never cheated have nothing to worry about, except being believed.

But the savvy interviewer will not reject candidates simply because they admit to having cheated. What bothered me about Rob wasn’t so much his admission of cheating but the fact that he exhibited no remorse. He even attempted to justify it.

The smart employer looks not for perfection but for an explanation of how the consequences of a dishonorable act affected the candidate and others. It is also helpful if the dishonorable act in question occurred a long time ago.

Several of the HR managers I spoke with in doing research on this topic told me, “You’d be surprised how often people will just come out and tell you about the dishonest things they’ve done.” I agree.

What are the other qualities of high-character employees? Earlier I mentioned that honesty is one of ten crucial qualities of high-character employees. The other nine are:

  • Accountability
  • Care
  • Courage
  • Fairness
  • Gratitude
  • Humility
  • Loyalty
  • Patience
  • Presence (focus, mindfulness)

You can and should ask questions of job candidates that reveal their commitment to each of these. We’re out of room to present more interview questions here, but I wrote a book that’s chock-full of them. It’s called The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees, and it’s available as a paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

A Call to Action

To evaluate the honesty of job candidates, ask these questions during interviews:

“Tell me about a time when you had to tell a direct report an unpleasant truth. What were the challenges and how did you get past them? What were the consequences?” And, “Have you ever cheated, and if so, what did you learn from it?”

Neither you nor the public can afford for your aviation maintenance business to have a single dishonest employee. If you heed the call to action from the previous article in this series (include references to your company’s values in every job description you post) and ask character-based questions during job interviews, you will go a long way toward having only honest people at every level of your company.

New Thinking on A&P Certificate Requirements By Carl Ziegler, A&P IA

New Thinking on A&P Certificate Requirements By Carl Ziegler, A&P IA

While I was standing under the wing of an Airbus, an unfamiliar mechanic approached me and said, “Hey Carl, I heard you have your IA. I’ve had my mechanic’s license for three years now and was thinking of getting my IA, so I could work on little airplanes on the side. Can you give me any advice?” I asked, “Have you ever worked on a 58 Piper Apache or a 71 Skyhawk or a Piper Navajo?”

“No,” he replied. “But I got my license here at the airline and I’m pretty sure I can pass the IA test,” he said.

What would you say? Qualified? Capable? Safe?

During the past decade there has been an exodus of experienced technicians from the aviation industry, accelerated by the effects of Covid on the country. Air carriers in particular have been affected by this exodus and recently, just as the pilot shortage has spurred lowered requirements for cockpit crews, carriers and MROs have started in-house internships and programs to fill those vacated technician spots. The use (past and present) and acceptance of experience requirements as indicated in FAR 65.77 (b) has allowed applicants to gain certification based primarily on tactile time versus both tactile and knowledge learning, as would be acquired from a certified aviation maintenance school. While mentoring has certain merits for training, it is not a substitute for learned knowledge in such varied fields as we routinely find ourselves immersed.

The general aviation scene is even worse than the airlines, specifically as far as the skill set of new mechanics entering the workforce. Airlines and MRO businesses are addressing this with mentoring programs meant to give applicants the required hands-on experience to satisfy the hours requirement for the FAA A&P license. While this may be great for the larger businesses that can afford these programs, it appears everybody else (including the FAA) has ignored the lack of talent required to maintain the more than 200,000 general aviation aircraft operating today. The only license training available for general aviation maintenance technicians is that which is provided by Part 147 technician schools. As a result of these issues and problems I am seeing in the industry, I have proposed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to modify technician license requirements for Part 65 applicants.

I propose to break the AMT license into an “unlimited rating” and a “limited rating”. In a nutshell, the unlimited rating would be afforded those that have gone to an approved Part 147 school. General aviation (GA) maintenance skills are continually deteriorating due to the loss of skilled technicians and the influx of new technicians that have only acquired the rating based on tactile time with no formal classroom training. The intent of the proposal is to provide ongoing and future safety margins for the general aviation fleet, in particular, because those individuals that are licensed on a “tactile hours”-based process are not necessarily qualified to work on light aircraft. Conversely, airline maintenance programs are structured and have oversight protection not available in GA Part 91 operations. This disparity in the skills gap has grown substantially, specifically in the last five to ten years. I feel it is time for an evolutionary change to help maintain the thin safety margins that we now have.

The “limited rating” license is predicated on the type/category or model of aircraft that the applicant has accrued the required tactile experience for sign off to take the written, oral and practical crash tests. The limited rating starts you off at the FAR work level you based your experience on. In order to move down to the GA level, an IA would endorse your skill level for makes and models. To move up to the transport level would be seamless, as mentioned above, since the airline operations have more structure and oversight, as well as additional training available.

An additional significant benefit to this proposed change is that it will afford a mechanism to facilitate mentorship, cited as a major issue in several industry publications, with no additional cost to consumers, to help mitigate the skill decline and knowledge gap that continues to widen with each passing quarter. This will also emphasize the importance of certificated maintenance training schools in the industry and hopefully provide incentives to further expand training initiatives and continuing investments in such.

An in-depth overview and operation of proposed changes to FAR 65 is online in the NPRM proposed rules docket section of Regulations.gov FAA-2023-0050-0001. Carl Ziegler can be reached at planemech@yahoo.com.

The Future of Aviation Lubricants By Dan Racke, Michael Douglass and Paul Bessonette, ExxonMobil

The Future of Aviation Lubricants By Dan Racke, Michael Douglass and Paul Bessonette, ExxonMobil

Looking ahead to the advances in flight expected over the next few decades, several trends in the aerospace industry will offer unprecedented challenges for lubrication technology. The trend toward more powerful and efficient turbine engines that run hotter will continue in the near term, pointing to a demand for lubricants with increased thermal stability. Other possibilities — including hybrid-electric and even hydrogen-fueled planes — are expected to take the aviation industry into uncharted territory, creating demand for next-generation oils, hydraulic fluids and greases to meet the specific needs of new types of aircraft.

As fleets grow and transform in the coming years, aviation lubricants will need to play an even greater role in removing heat, protecting aircraft components, preventing deposit formation, and reducing friction and wear across a wider range of temperatures. Collaboration between suppliers and OEMs — which play a large role in defining lubrication specifications — will be more important than ever to ensure success.

Today’s lubricants were designed for aircraft whose basic lubrication needs haven’t changed much over the past few decades, and step changes in more advanced, hotter-running engines are relatively easy to anticipate. Looking ahead over the next few years, new geared turbo fans will require load-carrying capabilities that exceed those of today’s highly thermally-stable lubricants. That’s expected to lead to the use of “enhanced ester” oils and other synthetic fluids that can remain thermally stable while meeting tomorrow’s load-carrying demands.

Known Unknowns

Looking further ahead, we start thinking about different low- or zero-emission airplane architectures that rely more on electric motors with very different lubrication needs. We’re already seeing announcements from OEMs developing turbogenerator technology that includes small engines designed for hybrid-electric applications. Such a system would serve as an on-board power source to help extend aircraft range and complement the use of sustainable aviation fuels. If OEMs and their commercial airline customers opt for fleets powered by a combination of electric motors and turbine engines, these hybrid aircraft will have specific performance requirements for their lubricants. Their motors might, for example, require novel greases to reduce noise as well as oils that retain their jet engine lubrication functions while also accommodating electric motor cooling needs.

Even as a handful of airlines order electric planes that could potentially be used for regional flights, fully electric-powered aircraft face several challenges today, none greater than battery size, weight, and efficiency. Jet fuel can hold about 50 times more energy compared to batteries per unit mass, according to Gökçin Çinar, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. Çınar’s September 2022 article in The Conversation also points out that one pound of jet fuel would provide the equivalent power of 50 pounds of batteries. As the efficiency gap between jet fuel and electric batteries narrows, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) organizations should be thinking about lubrication strategies that account for a greater number of electric motors. These motors might be used as a power assist during takeoff and climb, replace heavy hydraulic systems, or simply to power aircraft taxiing to the runway.

The lubrication requirements for hydrogen-powered aircraft likewise remain in the realm of speculation, although some OEMs have begun designing prototype systems, ranging from classic turbine engines that burn hydrogen to more speculative fuel-cell-powered aircraft. Assuming the technology continues to develop and gains traction in the industry, these aircraft will still require motors and some sort of propeller or turbine. Although many of the engineering and technical challenges remain to be worked out, lubrication experience tells us hydrogen-powered planes will need advanced lubrication products that pass all the necessary safety regulations and enable new technology options, as well as a lubrication supplier prepared to meet their needs.

Experience Counts

Years of experience developing lubricants for electric cars and trucks are helping us prepare for a time when electric vehicles could be the predominant form of air transportation. We’re also gaining valuable experience developing and testing new formulations in small batches to meet the needs of OEMs developing prototype hybrid aircraft. These type of pilot projects ensure we know what to expect from these vehicles as they eventually move into commercial production and use.

Regardless of how aircraft are powered moving forward, the common factor is they will rely more and more on electricity and other nontraditional energy sources. This gives suppliers an idea of what’s coming and how they can adapt and respond.

oil drop in pool

The FAA Issues its Safety Management Proposal

The FAA Issues its Safety Management ProposalThe FAA Issues its Safety Management ProposalThe FAA Issues its Safety Management Proposal

In an almost anti-climactic move, the FAA published its long-awaited notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to implement Safety Management Systems (SMS). In a surprising move, the FAA’s proposed rule does not apply SMS principles to repair stations. U.S. repair stations should not consider themselves to be free of SMS requirements, though, as we will discuss later in this column.

Proposal Omits Repair Stations

It was widely believed that the proposed rule would apply to repair stations. One reason for this is because the rule is based on a provision published by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The ICAO provision, known as a Standard and Recommended Practice (SARP) requires governments to establish SMS requirements that apply to repair stations.

Although the pre-publication version of the proposal was a government secret, the title of the proposal as it made its way through the internal government processes was “Safety Management System (SMS) for Parts 21, 91, 135 and 145” so it was widely believed that repair stations would be included. It appears that an appeal by a group of trade associations was successful in having the repair station applicability stripped from the proposed rule.

The trade association appeal was based on the fact that the FAA SMS provisions were similar in nature to a Quality Management System (QMS) regulation that was proposed about 20 years ago. The QMS regulation was unsuccessful because of cost-benefit analysis problems (and the FAA implemented a much weaker requirement for a quality manual). The recent trade association communications suggested to the FAA that SMS would be subject to the same economic problems that caused the QMS rule to flounder. It is not known whether this is the sole motivation for the FAA to strip repair stations from the SMS proposal, but it certainly seems logical that this argument would have been persuasive.

Proposal Applies to Operators and Some Manufacturers

The FAA’s proposed rule would increase the applicability of the current rule — which currently applies to Part 121 air carriers — and would expand it to apply to all operators who carry for-hire. This will include Part 135 operators as well as certain Part 91 operators (like commercial air tour operators).

The proposed rule also applies to type certificate holders (TCH) and production certificate holders (PCH). It is important to note that this will mean that TCH/PCH businesses making aircraft engines and propellers will have SMS obligations, but those producing under TSOA and/or PMA will not have the corollary obligations.

Despite being excluded from the proposed rule, there are still a number of ways that repair stations could find themselves subject to SMS requirements, including commercial pressures, foreign regulatory requirements and self-imposed safety initiatives.

Commercial Pressures

When the SMS regulations become final, repair stations will find themselves in an industry where the manufacturers who produce the parts that get installed, and the aircraft operators who fly the aircraft into which parts are installed, are all required to have SMS programs. This creates an industry where repair stations are surrounded by business partners required to have SMS programs. This alone could result in a strong commercial pressure to adopt SMS programs that are analogous to those of the other regulated parties.

In addition, one element of SMS requires collection of safety data, and another requires communication of safety information. This means that the business partners with SMS will have an incentive to communicate in an SMS environment with the repair station in order to both collect safety data and to share safety information. In fact, the FAA is bolstering these obligations by adding new language to the proposed rule that would require SMS holders to (1) consider the system interfaces in conducting system analysis, and (2) notify interfacing persons about hazards when the interface is “best able to address or mitigate the hazard.” This implies an expectation that interfacing businesses, like repair stations, may be expected to “address or mitigate” hazards identified by those with regulated SMS programs. This creates further commercial pressure for repair stations to develop SMS interfaces and SMS processes in order to support their manufacturer and operator business partners.

Foreign Regulatory Requirements

The United States proposal created a common set of SMS regulation in a separate Part 5 and applies that Part 5 to all affected sectors. One of the dangers in this one-size-fits-all approach is that it might not really create an optimal fit between the regulations and the regulated parties. This poor fit is likely to be related to the decision to remove FAA repair stations from the applicability of the NPRM.

Other countries have found other approaches to the application of SMS to repair stations. China has announced that it is integrating SMS into the Chinese quality assurance regulations for repair stations. Calling it “QSMS,” the Chinese approach is useful because it integrates the quality and safety regulations together for repair stations, resulting in safety management provisions that are specially tailored to repair stations, and making it potentially easier to comply with the single body of regulations.

Although the FAA decided to forgo SMS for repair stations in this most recent NPRM, other aviation authorities are applying SMS to repair stations. Some, like Japan, have applied SMS to repair stations for many years while others, like the European Union, have only recently applied SMS to repair stations.

The European Union is one of the most important trading partners for the United States aviation community. Before Covid, China was identified as one of the fastest growing major aviation markets. If the major trading partners of the United States apply SMS to their repair stations, then it is possible that these jurisdictions might refuse to accept maintenance performed in the United States unless the repair station adopts an SMS. Europe could do this by naming SMS as a special condition under the BASA Maintenance Annex (which would mean that EASA-certificated repair stations in the United States would have to adopt SMS programs). Nations like China that do not have maintenance bilateral agreements with the United States would simply apply their domestic repair station rules to the U.S.-based repair stations that hold CCAR-145 certification, which would be consistent with the plain language of Chinese law.

If a significant number of U.S.-based repair stations adopt SMS because of foreign requirements, then it may cause a snowball effect in which smaller domestic repair stations without foreign certifications feel increased commercial pressure to adopt SMS programs like their competitors.

Self-Imposed Safety Initiatives

SMS is being enshrined in the regulatory systems of the world’s aviation authorities. It appears that SMS is the future of safety for the aviation industry. Past history has shown that unregulated sectors in the aviation industry who regularly interact with regulated sectors have a tendency to adopt the programs implemented by the regulated parties. For example, PMA companies in the 1990s adopted quality systems analogous to those required for TCH/PCH businesses (the regulations were later changed to impose a uniform standard of quality assurance on all FAA-regulated manufacturers). Another example exists in the world of unregulated distributors, who commonly adopt quality assurance systems under the FAA AC 00-56B program (a program that was developed based on a concatenation of air carrier, manufacturer and repair station quality practices and regulations).

Even where a business does not feel commercial pressure to adopt SMS, there will be repair stations who voluntarily adopt SMS because it represents a current “best practice.” It is very normal for repair stations to adopt good safety practices because it the “right thing to do.” This could reflect the best implementation of SMS, because it allows a repair station the flexibility to adopt a program that genuinely supports safety, without having to “check the box” on regulatory requirements.

Join Us in Munich March 29-30 for Aerospace Tech Week Europe

Join Us in Munich March 29-30 for Aerospace Tech Week Europe

Aerospace Tech Week is an event that has been held in one form or another since its origins, when it was known as the “Avionics” show in 2001. It has been expanding the technology sectors that it covers since that first one and it now covers connectivity, MRO IT, flight ops IT, testing, MRO, space and sustainability. This event has grown and developed in new and wonderful ways recently, with a sister event being held in the U.S. in Atlanta, Georgia, this past November and we will hold it again in Atlanta in November of this year.

But now, we invite you to join us in Munich, Germany, on March 29 and 30 for the upcoming European Aerospace Tech Week event. The event is specifically designed to bring together airlines, aircraft operators, maintainers, OEMs, innovators and aerospace developers in one easy-to-get-to location to share ideas, learn from one another and see what is coming next in our industry. One thing we have learned during the past several years is there is nothing like being together, face-to-face, to spark creativity, learning and advancements.

There will be speakers from the likes of The European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, commonly known as Eurocontrol, which is an international organization working to achieve safe and seamless air traffic management across Europe which currently has 41 member states and is headquartered in Brussels; The European Space Agency, an intergovernmental organization of 22 member states dedicated to the exploration of space; as well as The European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment which deals exclusively with aviation standardization, for both airborne and ground systems and equipment.

One topic at the event will cover growth areas like EVTOLs, UAMs and drones. EVTOLs/air-taxis and drones are an area to watch in the near future. All require airspace and air traffic management in the shared airspace with commercial aircraft and around airports. What is the future of the air taxi service, how will they operate near and within commercial airspace (UTM) and how does the current infrastructure need to evolve (including TCAS)? All of this will be discussed at the event.

Another topic will cover trends in data and cybersecurity. Data is the new lifeblood of any aircraft that the operator or OEM can use to analyze and find areas for improvements, efficiencies and cost savings. But how do we decide what data is first required — can data structure hierarchy assist? How do we get that data to the ground securely, with the prevalence of cyber threats, and within the bandwidth (on-board vs. on-ground computing)? How do EASA and FAA guidelines compare for consistencies? This will be debated at the event.

We will also have a look at how innovation can assist in aviation sustainability. With the need for the aerospace sector to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030, innovation and technologies will continue to play a major role in the development for a sustainable aerospace industry. What innovations are already being deployed, and what developments are around the corner? During this track there will be presentations from leaders like Marylin Bastin, head of aviation sustainability at Eurocontrol and Mattia Nurisso, Airbus Air traffic management program manager in charge of the SESAR Very Large Demonstrator Albatross managing ATM related projects in close cooperation with the major stakeholders of the worldwide ATM community, in Europe, focusing on supporting SESAR program. We hope you will come and learn about some amazing developments that can help your company achieve their sustainability goals.

Connectivity has become de rigueur in modern air travel both in the flight deck and the cabin. In Europe alone, skies are expected to see a large increase in flights in the next 20 years.

Systems such as Iris and Certus are designed to help the air traffic modernization program, which can also adopt System Wide Information Management (SWIM) applications to facilitate greater sharing of information such as airport operational status, weather information, flight data, and status of any airspace restrictions. There will be a session looking at use case examples and how airspace modernization can work for the airline. Speakers from the likes of The Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO), a representative body of companies that provide air traffic control, and others will discuss the coming challenges and what needs to be done to keep up with this phenomenal growth. If connectivity is of concern to your operation, this is the track for you.

There will also be certified training at the event. Some sessions will cover Aircraft-Cybersecurity Certification for Airlines: The DO-326/ED-202-Set Operational Aspects; Applying DO-178C / ED-12C (Europe) Avionics Software Guidelines and The New Aviation Safety Paradigm ARP4761A Is Coming – What’s Next?

In addition to the incredible content at this event, consider the setting. It’s being held in Munich, in the German state of Bavaria, which is home to gorgeous centuries-old architecture, museums and rich history. The city is known for its beer halls, including the famed Hofbräuhaus, founded in 1589. In the Old Town, the central Marienplatz square has landmarks like the Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (town hall), with a popular glockenspiel that chimes and reenacts stories from the 16th century. There is something for everyone here so stay a few extra days and plan a few excursions. Day trips abound, like to the fairy tale castle, Neuschwanstein or over the border to Salzburg, Austria.

Register online now at www.aerospacetechweek.com, book your flight and hotel, bring your partner and we will see you there in March.

Aviation Oils and Lubricants: A View from the Top

Aviation Oils and Lubricants: A View from the Top

The quest to increase commercial airliner range while cutting fuel consumption is being led by the high performance engines on these aircraft. This fact puts a heavy responsibility on companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell Aviation Lubricants, who make the oils and lubricating substances that keep these engines running safely and smoothly.

To get a top-level view of the challenges associated with this responsibility, Aviation Maintenance magazine was fortunate to speak with the people in charge of these efforts. They are Edward L. Barnes, Global Chief Engineer of ExxonMobil Aviation Lubricants; and Vincent Begon, General Manager of Shell Aviation Lubricants. The following is a roundtable discussion based on their answers.

Aviation Maintenance: What kinds of demands are modern oils and lubricants having to cope with on commercial airliners, such as higher engine temperatures on ultra-long-range aircraft such as the Airbus AS350-900 and Boeing 787?

Vincent Begon: Many advances in commercial airliners have taken place over the last few decades which have put heightened demands on modern oils and lubricants. More modern maintenance practices and improvements to engine performance through efficiency gains in fuel consumption have resulted in higher operating temperatures and pressures, creating more severe lubricant operating conditions.

The rise of ultra-long-haul travel in particular has resulted in the need for engine oils with very good (and improved) thermal stability since this type of travel inevitably creates higher temperatures in engines, which can have a significant impact from a maintenance perspective. One consequence is that the higher engine temperatures can increase the temperature of the turbine engine oil (TEO) being used. This can have a negative impact on TEOs not designed specifically for such conditions, potentially resulting in unwanted carbon deposits in the engine – a process otherwise known as coking. This can be very costly from a maintenance perspective.

Choosing the right TEO, notably third generation TEOs such as ASTO 560, is one of the most effective ways for airlines to handle the maintenance pressure of ultra-long-haul flight on their engines. Just as the trend towards longer flights is the product of decades of manufacturing advancements, engine oils have likewise been adapting over this time to continue to service the requirements of the latest engines. While turbine engine OEMs are now moving away from standard performance oils to high performance oils, many airlines continue to use standard, second generation oils rather than third generation oils which are designed to prevent such coking issues.

Edward L. Barnes: Higher engine temperatures is not a demand or a concern across the board. It is engine design specific. For example, when it comes to the engines on the 787, there’s a choice. You could have the Rolls Royce Trent 1000, or the General Electric GEnx-18.

The rise of ultra-long-haul travel has resulted in the need for engine oils with very good thermal stability since this type of aircraft engine usage inevitably creates higher temperatures in the engines, which can have a significant impact from a maintenance perspective, according to Vincent Begon, general manager of Shell Aviation Lubricants.
The rise of ultra-long-haul travel has resulted in the need for engine oils with very good thermal stability since this type of aircraft engine usage inevitably creates higher temperatures in the engines, which can have a significant impact from a maintenance perspective, according to Vincent Begon, general manager of Shell Aviation Lubricants.

Now the engine OEMs take different approaches to designing their engines, and that results in different levels of demand on the lubricant. The Rolls Royce engines tend to be a little hotter — it’s part, part and parcel of their path to efficiency. (In fact) All of these new engines have higher gas path temps, the RR Trent 1000, XWB and 7000 models have higher lubricant temperatures because of their design details. That will limit the types of oils that are allowed or approved for some of the newer Rolls Royce engines, such as our Mobil Jet Oil 387.

Now, as I said, the OEMs take different approaches here. For example, General Electric’s GE9X engine, which will be on the B777X aircraft when it enters service, does not place these same kinds of demands on the lubricant. The lubricant temperature is simply not as hot.

So the spectrum of approved oils is broader there. They allow those standard oils for those engines, and standard oils are working very well in many other new engines already in service, such as the PW1110G, the CFM LEAP-1A and -1B. So there’s not a consistent trend across the new engines that all of them require higher performance oils. That’s not true.

Aviation Maintenance: What is coking, why does it happen, and what damage does it do to engines?

Vincent Begon: One key maintenance challenge which occurs as a result of selecting an engine oil that cannot withstand the operating conditions of the engine is coking. This is essentially the build-up of unwanted carbon deposits, formed when oils break down under high temperatures.

If preventative measures are not applied, coking can be costly and unsafe. Carbon deposits can block oil filters and pipes, and in extreme circumstances, blocked filters can lead to oil starvation or carbon in the oil being fed to the bearings, resulting in bearing failures. Blocked oil scavenge tubes can also lead to engine fires.

Aviation Maintenance: What other problems can occur with aircraft if aviation oils and lubricants aren’t sufficient for their tasks?

Edward L. Barnes: Well, load carrying is always important. You need to be able to protect bearings and loaded contact surfaces of gears and accessory gearboxes.

That has not been a problem in the industry. It’s something we’ve coped with. Our standard oils carry load very well. The older MIL-PRF-23699 HTS oils also do the job and that’s accomplished with additives.

One area of particular trouble in the past has been the interaction of lubricants with seal materials — in particular, fluorocarbon, which is commonly known by its trademark name of Viton. The wrong species of Viton, combined with the wrong type of turbine oil with some additives can cause issues. The seals can degrade, they can swell, they can soften, they can fail.

Preventing this from happening was featured very prominently in our design of Mobil Jet Oil 387. We understand the chemistry of that seal interaction issue historically, we learned from it, and we designed a product which is very benign to seals, which can’t be said for all of the competitive products.

Vincent Begon: The other key challenge associated with using the incorrect oils and lubricants is elastomer compatibility. Whilst some antioxidants can provide good thermal stability and low coking propensity, some can be aggressive to certain elastomer materials used in some engine oil systems. If an oil is incompatible with an elastomer, it can lead to degradation, with cracking or deterioration of rubber ‘O’ rings which can lead to leaks, high oil consumption, maintenance headaches and, by consequence, higher operating costs. Currently, ASTO 560 is one of very few market solutions found to work on most engines without degrading elastomers.

Edward L. Barnes: There are other issues to consider when an operator makes a lubricant conversion, such as deposit washout and the effects the new lubricant may have on seals. The operator should work with the OEM and the lubricant provider to understand the risks.
We understand those risks well, and conversion is a manageable process, but OEM guidelines must be followed.

Aviation Maintenance: What other challenges do you expect commercial aviation oils and lubricants to face in the future, e.g. with the emergence of eVTOLs?

Vincent Begon: In the short to medium term, eVTOLs will not significantly impact the existing civil commercial market. Initial eVTOL aircraft are designed to carry a small number of passengers or cargo over an inter-city range. Today, this market is served by buses, trains, cars and helicopters, hence the limited impact on commercial aviation oils and lubricants in the near future.

Edward L. Barnes: The pace of change in commercial aviation is very slow because of the conservative, risk-averse nature of the industry. The military is a different animal: They can experiment a little bit more and be a little bit more aggressive with totally radical technologies for propulsion engines.

Along with that will come different lubricants and coolants for those situations. But for commercial aviation, I don’t see a revolution coming. The same turbine oils that are in use today will probably be in use 20 to 30 years from now.

The introduction of electric or hybrid electric technology where you might have, let’s say, an APU that’s powered by hydrogen generating electricity for multiple electric fans – it’s probably going to use the exact same lubricant despite using different fuels like hydrogen or sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). The SAF products will not require a revolution in lubricants. The current technologies will work. There may be slight adaptations, some additional products coming down the pipeline, but I don’t see them being revolutionary. They will be very similar and compatible with what we’re using today.

Electric motors don’t use a lot of lubricant in most cases. They will have greased and sealed bearings. However, there may be specialized electric vehicle fluids in transmissions if the motor assembly has a transmission. This is what is happening in automotive technology: Most of the electric vehicles have transmissions that use specialized transmission fluids, and ExxonMobil is very heavily engaged in that development. We have the Mobil1 EV product line in development, and some of that chemistry may be adapted to aviation if there are electric driveline transmissions employed.

Aviation Maintenance: Going forward, what advances in oils and lubricants are you working on now, and to what end?

Vincent Begon: On the lubricants side of the business, we are investing in strengthening our supply chain, expanding our distribution and extending our product approvals. For example, in 2021 we added a grease manufacturing plant to our lubricant manufacturing network and formed new distribution partnerships in China, India and Latin America.

We are a lubricant supplier with high-performance products for all aviation customers, from light-sports aircraft owners to MROs. All products must meet minimum specifications, but not all approved products are the same, and some can make a significant financial difference so we’re continuing to work on communicating this to our customers so they can benefit.

We are also focussed on garnering support across the aviation ecosystem to drive the adoption of higher performance capability, fourth generation lubricants. Shell is working with engine, airframe and oil OEMs as well as airlines to ensure more oils are evaluated and approved for use so that airlines have a wide array of high performance oils and lubricants to choose from.

The same is also happening in the wheel bearing grease space, with Shell having developed the latest high performance wheel bearing grease, AeroShell grease 58, based on our successful lithium-based grease ASG33 technology. This solution is being worked on with airlines and wheel OEMs to secure full approvals for use but it’s a fantastic solution as it has been designed with the same technology as AeroShell Grease 33 and 64, meaning the three products together can cover virtually all the grease points in a commercial airliner and eliminate incompatibility issues that can otherwise arise when different greases are used together.

Edward L. Barnes: We are working on advances, but we can’t go into any detail because most of it is related to the military. Most assuredly, the ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering Company is heavily engaged with the US Air Force Research Laboratory, the US Navy, and various OEMs in developing new technologies. But they are on the drawing board along with the aircraft that they might be used in. It’s decades away in most cases.

Vincent Begon: One final note. At Shell, our target is to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050. This means reducing emissions from our operations and from the fuels and other energy products we sell to our customers.

As such, we recognise the need to decarbonise lubricants and are working on solutions, in partnership with OEMs, to fulfill the need for decarbonised oils and lubricants. Part of this means decarbonising our operations, which we’re doing by using post-consumer plastics in our packaging, for example, and installing solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs of seven lubricant plants in China, India, Italy, Singapore and Switzerland.