Standardization: A Lost Fantasy

Greg W. Nist is Fleet Manager of Ground Support Equipment for U.S. Airways, Inc. in Pittsburgh, PA. Q: How did you get into aviation? A: I was raised on the south side of Pittsburgh, about four miles from the Allegheny...

With Purchasing, through many management changes, I have experienced two basic philosophies. The first is, to purchase the best equipment based on quality and projected life time cost. This philosophy usually included grouping purchases together for anticipated cost savings with quantity buying. Often, deliveries were scheduled through the year to meet expansion or budget plans. This made life easier for us in GSE, as we usually had sufficient time to work with suppliers to establish tight specifications and improve our fleet standardization. Of course our suppliers preferred this approach, allowing them to plan their component deliveries and production.

The second common approach is to purchase GSE based on price alone. While there is justification to this approach, especially when the economy is slow, standardization suffers and this can add considerably to the life time costs associated with fuel and maintenance.

It's nice to have the capital and time to plan purchases, but with equipment failures, changing markets or marketing strategies or just the availability of funds, we always seem to have pressing equipment needs which result in unplanned purchases, and the GSE folks scrambling to meet the corporation's equipment needs.

Q: What are some of the major trends you have seen developing over the past 20-30 years?

A: The trend to electronics and automated equipment has been the biggest initiative. While this works well in many areas, it is also brings new challenges to the maintenance team and has a major effect on initial and lifetime costs. The airlines are trying to drive overhead down, but complicated equipment and reduced pay scales make it difficult to recruit new employees with the skills needed to keep up with the technology, for both carriers and maintenance contractors.

Q: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced over the years?

A: The biggest was - and continues to be - trying to sell the importance of annual equipment replacement programs. A few years back, a CEO once stated "We are in the business to fly people", which is hard to argue with. Airline capital needs to focus on the primary task of attracting and transporting passengers. Aircraft, terminal areas and items which touch the passengers are the focus items at budget time. Areas such as GSE, sometimes get placed near the bottom of that hierarchy.

Q: If not in GSE, where would you be?

A: I enjoy almost everything outdoors. I would rather be outside, even in cold nasty weather, repairing a loading bridge, than sitting in an office. If I could start over, I would like to try Forestry or a career in the National Park Service.

Q: What golden nuggets of wisdom would you like to pass on to our readers?

A: The airline industry continues to redefine itself to achieve profitability. GSE, while acknowledged as a required business tool, will continue to be an area forced to run on limited budgets. The last few years have been tough on most of us, regardless of our role. In the future, no doubt we will need to re-examine how we build equipment, buy equipment, use equipment and maintain equipment, to achieve the greatest dollar value we can deliver.

Q: You have been mentioned as a mentor by members of the industry. Was there anyone you looked up to as you entered the industry?

A: I look up to many of the folks from other airlines, vendors and those within my company. The GSE industry is a unique division of the airline industry, with many fine people. I met people along the way, who took time to discuss technical issues, industry developments, aircraft interface issues or whatever the topic of the times. Everyone I talked to had something to share, an experience, an idea or a better way. I took advantage of the knowledge these folks had to offer and tried to pass it on.

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