Large Aircraft Modifications

To talk about modifications and upgrades to large transport category aircraft, AMT visited Aviation Technical Services (ATS), a large MRO provider located at Paine Field in Everett, WA. ATS provides MRO services primarily for Boeing narrow and widebody...

Travel on most any airliner today and you have right in front of you a monitor for the in-flight entertainment systems (IFE). Lumexis Corporation contracted with ATS to install its first ever Lumexis FTTS™ system on a customer’s new post-delivery B737-800. Not only was it the first fiber-optic IFE system for aircraft, but being the first Boeing Sky interior delivery it added even more unique challenges. The first project included removal of the existing seats, parts of the interior, installation of the fiber-optic cable system, the main control system, and installation of the preassembled seats with monitors installed in them. This particular project includes a total of 44 new aircraft.

Phil Fields, vice president of business development, says of the Lumexis project, “ATS was chosen over one year prior to the first aircraft being accomplished. A large effort went into planning this project. All the necessary ATS departments and people were involved in the planning meetings all the way through to the first aircraft.”

Brian Kucherepa, installation manager for Lumexis Corporation, shares what he feels makes a successful project. “Communication and open working relationships between the airline, supplier, and the MRO provider. With such tight schedules if you have any communication breakdowns it could lead to delays from hours to days.” Kucherepa goes on to say, “Without good planning you have less time to recover from unknown issues that may jump up. ATS was very well prepared and was always able to supply manpower and knowledge to every situation that arose during the installation.” Kucherepa concludes by saying, “When working with an MRO provider from C-checks to IFE installations it’s important to have a solid team involved.”

Dedicated crew concept

Landon Nitschke, vice president of operations, explains what they call the unique aircraft visit (UAV) crew concept. Nitschke shares, “Planning and scheduling the technical work force for large modification projects can be a daunting task and can also be disruptive to the routine work being performed in any maintenance organization. We’ve been experimenting with a crew dedicated to all off-schedule projects no matter if they are avionics installations, interiors, structural modifications, or drop-in maintenance.”

With the amount of work ATS has, the dedicated crew concept works well. Nitschke explains the UAV concept has been tried on several different airlines, different aircraft types, and different types of work including damage repair, lightning strike repairs, or the large scale modifications. ATS establishes a crew to produce a certain amount of work each day and factors in about a 10 percent variation to that plan. When questioned on having technicians working avionics projects one day and structural modifications the next, Nitschke says, “We still have to borrow technicians for specialized skills but we try very hard to not disrupt the routine heavy-check crews. We have approximately 75 people that we use for UAV work with a cross-section of skills.”

Keimig says, “At ATS more aircraft are going through drop-in maintenance and modifications than do the routine heavy-check work. There are efficiencies gained by having the same crews working these unique projects nose-to-tail. We feel there are benefits to us and to our customers.”

Shared best practices

Beck stresses the importance of early planning regardless of whether work is routine or a complex modification. Beck shares, “We perform what we call scripting before starting any project. It’s a dry run consisting of all the people involved and includes all materials, workcards, instructions, inspection requirements, tools, fixtures, software programs; etc. I can’t stress enough the importance of this exercise for any large modification.”

Keimig says, “Sorting through the material kits well in advance of induction of the aircraft is very important, especially with interior-related projects. Unfortunately as good as the suppliers are you are likely to still have missing items or items with incorrect part numbers. The key to success with material kits is to find this out well ahead of time instead of during installation.”

Fields concludes, “This brings us to the point that airline customers should choose their maintenance partner early. The MRO provider will be reluctant to go too far into the planning phase during the early stages of contract negotiations if they don’t receive the work.” Fields calls this the Bid Barrier, referring to a customer requesting bid quotes from numerous MRO providers and working through the selection and approval processes, all the while the clock is ticking and the first aircraft induction date is rapidly approaching. Fields also offers that the airline’s engineering department and the MRO providers engineering department don’t always build a relationship early enough in the program. Field shares, “The down-stream impact to the MRO provider’s efficiency working the program can be huge.” 

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