T&E: Selecting and Purchasing Ground Support Equipment

What goes into the decision making process for purchasing ground support equipment (GSE) and aircraft maintenance tooling? Who makes the selections and purchase decisions?

What criteria are used to make these decisions? Who provides these decision makers with the technical input and information necessary to make sound purchase decisions? Should purchasing used or reconditioned GSE and tooling be considered during these tough economic times? These are all applicable questions that any sized aircraft maintenance organization should consider when purchasing both GSE and maintenance tooling.

To learn more about purchasing decisions for GSE and maintenance tooling, AMT contacted several different aircraft maintenance organizations and discussed with key people at each of these companies their views and processes used purchasing GSE and maintenance tooling.

A few comments were consistent across all companies. When asked how they go about selecting equipment, all of the people AMT spoke with for this article answered the same, it depends on the aircraft. Specific aircraft require specific equipment. GSE and maintenance tooling is generally recommended by the aircraft manufacturer. Specifications for GSE and maintenance tooling are generally detailed in the aircraft maintenance manuals, the servicing manuals, tool and equipment manuals, maintenance planning documents, and more.

These documents are the best place to start your research.

Additionally, some manufacturers may list specifications for acceptable equivalent equipment types. The people we spoke with also stated that they have contacted other operators of similar aircraft to seek input on their experiences with GSE and tooling types. One of the most important inputs is feedback from their maintenance technicians regarding equipment and tooling experiences and recommendations they can provide. This type of feedback has proven most valuable.

New or used
Peter Zeeb is director of maintenance for Harrah’s Entertainment which operates three business jets. Zeeb shared his experiences with selecting and purchasing GSE and maintenance tooling. At an organization of this size, he is responsible for the selection and purchase of both GSE and maintenance tooling for his company’s flight department.

Zeeb shares that his preference is to purchase new equipment. “I have built strong relationships with GSE and tooling suppliers and manufacturers,” says Zeeb, “and these relationships become very important when selecting and purchasing expensive aircraft support equipment.” When asked if he considers the purchase of used equipment he responds by saying he would only purchase used equipment that has been fully reconditioned. Zeeb says, “If I raise a $40 million aircraft to accomplish maintenance on the landing gear, I want to do it with aircraft jacking equipment that I know has been used properly and has been taken care of properly.”

Buying used is OK but consider the function it will be used for. Another example he used was a hydraulic power unit or “mule” as it is more commonly referred to. The caution he raised was regarding the possible contamination of fluids in a used unit that he has no knowledge of. As for recent purchases, Zeeb states that he recently purchased a couple new aircraft tow bars and for the foreseeable future has no plans for larger purchases. He does continually purchase less expensive maintenance hand tools.

Best value, safety features and recommendations
Jim Sparks oversees the aviation maintenance for a large operator of VIP aircraft. He also has responsibility for the selection and purchase of both GSE and maintenance tooling for his flight department.

Sparks’ approach to selection and purchase of GSE and maintenance tooling is to look for the best value. He does consider purchasing used and reconditioned equipment and tooling, but says he won’t purchase based on price alone. He shares, “We look at the best value and consider the recommendations of our own people along with the views of aircraft manufacturers, GSE and maintenance tooling price, equipment reliability, preventative maintenance, and more. We also look at the safety features of the GSE and maintenance tooling.”

Sparks states that their view is to solicit input from aircraft and test equipment manufacturers and seek references about GSE and maintenance tooling from other operators.

Additionally, Sparks says, “In the past we have required that GSE and tooling manufacturers educate our maintenance technicians on the product as part of certain purchases.” The most recent large purchase was an aircraft tug capable of moving aircraft up to 100,000 pounds.

The new company
Dan Henchal, director of technical services for MSP Jet Center, a recently opened business jet maintenance organization, shares his experiences. Henchal is responsible for the selection and purchase of both GSE and maintenance tooling for this new maintenance company.

Being a new company and cost conscious, Henchal states that they looked to the used and reconditioned market in an effort to maintain cost control. Henchal says, “When we opened we were fortunate to find and purchase a used tooling package for several applicable aircraft types at a very good price.” His approach to purchasing GSE and maintenance tooling is to reach out to the surplus market and utilizes the Internet to locate equipment and tooling for purchase.

“There are operators and maintenance organizations these days that unfortunately are closing. This provides access to a variety of equipment at competitive prices,” says Henchal. He also researches aviation auction houses for availability of good used GSE and maintenance tooling. At times he considers rent and lease arrangements with the intention of purchasing in the future.

For other new maintenance organizations, Henchal advises to keep close control on GSE and maintenance tooling spending. He states, “Everyone wants to sell you new equipment and this is understandable. Sometimes good used and reconditioned equipment will do just fine.” One example he used was the purchase of a used oxygen servicing cart he found for less than $1,000. He says, “We paid the shipping and invested some labor to clean and paint the cart. It serves us just fine and we would have paid many times this amount for a new one.

Henchal says he is constantly looking for GSE and tooling and plans to continually add tooling as their company expands its maintenance capabilities.

In all three of the previous examples the size of the companies was such that the responsibility for selection and purchase for both GSE and maintenance tooling becomes the task of the maintenance department. In the airline industry this is generally not the case.

The sheer size of the airlines, the multiple locations, and the different departments requires that the selection and purchasing for GSE is generally different than that for maintenance tooling. The airport or ground operations departments are the responsible groups for servicing, loading, unloading, and in many cases moving aircraft. They become responsible for the selection and purchase of GSE. The maintenance or technical organizations become responsible for the selection and purchase of maintenance tooling, and a limited amount of GSE that is used for specific maintenance functions.

Similar to the business jet operators, no matter if you are talking about GSE or maintenance tooling, specific airline aircraft require specific equipment. Again, GSE and maintenance tooling is generally recommended by the aircraft manufacturer or called for in a variety of manuals and documents. The airlines may have several people and departments involved in selection and purchasing, and in most cases they consider common use equipment between the maintenance and airport operations departments. This overlap is typically for handling equipment like tow bars and tugs, and perhaps for lift trucks that may be used for maintenance and aircraft servicing. A lot of the aircraft servicing equipment is common use and can be used on multiple aircraft fleet types due to common adapters for air, water, waste, and electrical connections.

Repair stations
There is another aircraft maintenance group to consider in this discussion and that is repair stations for specialized maintenance functions. Many repair stations are small and offer specialized services that require huge investments in equipment and tooling. One example of this is nondestructive testing (NDT) equipment.

AMT spoke with Mike Fortman from Aerotechnics Inc., an FAA repair station authorized for a variety of NDT functions. When asked about his company’s views regarding selection and purchase decisions on specialized test equipment, here’s what Fortman had to say. “The majority of the large equipment we look at is used and reconditioned. In our line of work we often times need to have backup equipment in the event a piece of test equipment malfunctions.”

Fortman shares that his company provides NDT service for a regional airline where the demands of meeting aircraft schedules require them to have backup equipment for certain NDT functions. “We must have additional equipment on hand in the unforeseen event of an equipment problem,” says Fortman.

Last year they purchased two X-ray tubes, one new and one used. The used unit was approximately two-thirds the cost of the new one, and they were both in similar condition. This approach has worked well for their operation. Regarding regular use probes and harnesses, they always purchase new items. Due to the high cost of the equipment, renting or borrowing does not work well for them.

Fortman offers that they continue to look for new business, and they make equipment purchase decisions based on the new business forecast.

Manufacturer’s recommendations
No matter what the size of your maintenance operation, when selecting and purchasing GSE and maintenance tooling always begin with the aircraft manufacturer’s recommendations, servicing and maintenance manuals, and any other related documents.

Soliciting experience from other operators, going to trade shows, speaking with suppliers, and manufacturers about GSE and maintenance tooling can provide you with valuable insight into making your next GSE or maintenance tooling selection and purchase.