Recip Technology: Mobile Maintenance Service

We have all had to call a plumber, electrician, or some other trained serviceman to come and address a problem with our home air-conditioning system, dishwasher, or other appliance. The trained serviceman arrived in a van equipped with all the necessary tools, equipment, and hopefully, the right parts. After some troubleshooting, the problem was corrected and the repairman was off to the next call. Now, take that same concept, and apply it to expensive corporate aircraft. This may be the beginning of a major change in how corporate aviation engines and APUs are maintained.

Dallas Airmotive is one company that is leading the trend. It is adding its third mobile service unit. Dallas Airmotive manages the engine and APU business for BBA Aviation. The BBA Aviation family of companies employs more than 10,000 people while providing flight support and aftermarket services and systems in 11 countries on five continents. BBA Aviation’s Aftermarket Services and Systems business includes overhauling jet engines, supplying aircraft parts, and the design, manufacture, and overhauling of landing gear, aircraft hydraulics, and other aircraft equipment.

The AOG mobile service vehicle is a new way for customers and service providers to interact face to face. Further, this new service approach supports the modular design of engines and APU, and provides round-the-clock availability that meets the needs of global customers. This type of maintenance service will surely up what is expected from aviation maintenance technicians. Service at plane side will require AMTs to have new skills, since customers, FAA agents, and other parties may participate in the maintenance event. This close interaction will require the AMT to demonstrate excellent technical, communication, and customer service skills. I wanted to hear the back story for Dallas Airmotive’s AOG mobile service units and discuss the different AMT skill requirements in more detail.

According to Chris Pratt, director of marketing and strategic planning for engine repair and overhaul, “The AOG mobile service concept and strategy was an easy call.” This is an evolution of service that is currently provided by Dallas Airmotive’s four overhaul facilities and 11 regional turbine service centers that are FAA certified and accepted by EASA. With a global footprint and around-the-clock service already in place, bringing AOG’s unscheduled and scheduled maintenance service to plane side was not a hard sell.

It has been a four-year effort to build, and is still a work-in-progress, according to Jeff Clarke, national APU sales and service engineer, who has a true passion for this effort. It was the responsibility of Clarke and Mark Russo to turn AOG from concept into an effective and profitable operation, a considerable challenge given today’s competitive aviation service sector.

Clarke and his team had other challenges as well, including overcoming the “we have tried that before, but it wasn’t successful” mindset, along with changing the paradigm in their large, successful company from a “back shop, overhaul” service model to a “field service” approach. The team succeeded due to the combination of good timing and smart strategies. Good timing thanks to the modular design of today’s modern turbine engines and APUs, which are compatible with the onsite maintenance concept. Smart strategies included input from OEMs, customers, and the FAA, identifying that the corporate aviation sector was ready for this new approach.

Rolling repair shop
The mobile service vehicle has to be as capable as any physical repair shop for the specific engine task at hand. It has to be a rolling repair shop and parts warehouse, while contending with serious weight restrictions and limited space. With the help of other Dallas Airmotive experts, Clarke and his team analyzed the maintenance and repair processes, developing specifications for the mobile shop. The vehicle contains just the right amount of required items and nothing more. All required tools and equipment are calibrated and certified to manual specification, and powered by an onboard generator and air compressor. To make the most of space, it stocks only the number and types of LRUs and spars required for onsite maintenance. The IPC, maintenance manuals, service bulletins, and other documentation are available via laptop and CD-ROMs.

Each mobile service vehicle is staffed by a dedicated maintenance team, ready 24/7. Pratt verifies that the AMTs need to have both strong interpersonal and excellent technical skills, and that “there was significant internal competition for these positions.” The current AMTs on the mobile service vehicle have between 25 to 30 years of experience working in overhaul and regional centers. They are cross trained on a variety of engine types and series, are NDT qualified, and can do anything on the vehicle except unstack the rotation assembly and split the gearbox. Pratt also states that “the technicians on the mobile service vehicle are public relationship professionals and ambassadors of the company.” They get audited by the FAA, spot checked by the customers, and frequently have flight crews watching them work.

A day in the life
An example is technician Karl Holton who was at Dulles wrapping up a service bulletin job on a Challenger 300 owned by a major oil company. Holton’s job was to change out the carbon seal on a Honeywell, 150 BD APU. The customer’s technicians removed and replaced the APU, while Holton’s job was to replace the seal and perform the maintenance manual required run outs, pressure, and vibration checks. Holton then helped the customer’s technicians reinstall the unit, and waited on the functional and ops checks. It took about a day and a half to complete the job, making it Holton’s 25th seal change this year. When asked how he liked working the mobile service vehicle, his first response: “I like it a lot because you get to meet so many great people. I also have the opportunity to travel and learn about different airframes.” Holton says that there is pressure because on many jobs he is working with customers looking on. There is no room for mistakes.

On this particular job, the customer’s head of the flight department spent considerable time monitoring the maintenance activity. When asked how he deals with the pressure, he attributes his 18 years of shop experience and support from Dallas Airmotive. He states that the AOG mobile vehicle concept “was supported by everyone from CEO Hugh McElroy on down. I think the company is fully committed to this service. They provide all the necessary tools and equipment, and send us to school so that we stay current on the different APUs and engines. I have been to four Honeywell schools this year.”

Extended reach
There are three AOG mobile vehicles in active service that are qualified and authorized to perform both scheduled and unscheduled engine and APU maintenance. This service and the vehicle appear to be a hit. When the Dallas Airmotive mobile service vehicle arrives plane-side, there is always a successful maintenance solution. Repairs or replacement usually take one to two days. In addition to being a support shop the vehicle is self-marketing. Whenever and wherever it stops, the curious soon appear.

Customers and OEMs like Honeywell especially like the concept, because generally an APU shutdown comes as an unwelcome surprise to the owners and operators. There is not much APU instrumentation in the cockpit, and the units usually pick up FOD or their performance deteriorates to the point that the crews notice slow or failed engine starts. The flight crews swear this always happens in those faraway places.

It is a safe bet that the industry and Dallas Airmotive will continue to grow this type of service. With corporate traffic rebounding, locations will be determined by the proximity of existing repair facilities and the number of aircraft or traffic in a particular location.

Parent company, BBA Aviation ERO president Hugh McElroy states, “AOG mobile response vehicles help extend the reach of our field service organization and regional turbine centers.

The advantages of our mobile service are numerous including lower repair costs, less downtime, no aircraft repositioning expense, and no rental engine requirement. As we implement our long-term strategy of moving deeper into regional services, we’ll continue to add vehicles and, where appropriate, regional turbine centers in order to provide local, quick response service to operators.” Mobile service may indicate a new direction in the place and manner maintenance will be performed.

Charles Chandler is AMT’s Field Editor. He received his A&P from Spartan College of Aeronautics.

Curb Side Maintenance Service

It appears that there is a new trend underway in the corporate aviation maintenance. Now industry services giants like Dallas Airmotive provide maintenance not only at their service centers, but at the customer’s front door. OEMs like Cessna Aircraft and Bombardier have joined in. Cessna is extending this service to plane side with a concept called ServiceDirect. This is a business strategy to support the growing market for general aviation in Europe, Asia, the Mid East, and Africa.

Cessna Aircraft’s goal is to have customers feel confident that wherever their aircraft operates or is based, they will get the same quality of maintenance service and support that is provided in a Regional Citation service center. Cessna’s ServiceDirect offers customers a range of maintenance options, such as posting independent technicians with the customer for a short period of time, or embedding them long term. Cessna can also become the customer’s complete in-house maintenance department. Whatever option is selected, the corporate customer’s scheduled and unscheduled maintenance is delivered by either Cessna trained maintenance specialists, the mobile service units (MSU), or the Air Response Team (ART).
The age, location, and condition of the customer’s aircraft generally determine the type of service provided. If the AOG is in a remote location, and the necessary LRU is in another country, then ART is quickly on the way. Last year, ART flew about 160 such missions. Or, if the AOG is in a local airport that does not have maintenance service, then an MSU can be dispatched.

MSUs are full-size service trucks that perform a variety of diagnostic and maintenance functions. Today, Cessna has four MSUs located in North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, and Southern California. According to Matt Melillo, general manager of ServiceDirect maintenance operations, Cessna plans to add additional units in the Midwest, Central Texas, the South, Great Lakes, Northern California, the Northeast/New England, Florida, the Rockies, and Canada.

According to Stan Younger, vice president service facilities, Cessna is able to provide this service because it has a staff of well-trained and dedicated maintenance technicians. Last year Cessna delivered around 7,000 man-hours of training to its maintenance technicians. When hiring local technicians for a service center or to work independently in the customer’s organization, Cessna looks for motivated self-starters that have both business and service experience. Per Younger, Cessna carefully recruits, hires, and develops AMTs that will deliver the Cessna brand promise. “It is essential that our global customers know that when they buy a Cessna aircraft they will get cradle to grave service and support from professional maintenance technicians.” This concept has been a business success, and has received positive reviews from both owners and operators. The bar is being raised on both aftermarket maintenance service and for AMTs that will deliver this service.
— Charles Chandler