Invisible Support

Tooling manufacturers offer insight into this often overlooked, but no less important, aspect of aviation ground support, writes Michelle Garetson March 2003 The word tooling in aviation has more than one definition. It can be used to describe...

Aircraft Tool & Maintenance Equipment (ATME) was founded by Michael H. Shelton in California in 1992 and became a licensee of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. In 1999, ATME moved to Las Vegas and two years later, became an approved vendor to General Electric A/C Engines. In 2000, ATME completed improvements including a machine shop, assembly area, quality assurance lab, shipping and receiving rooms, and ample area for future growth. Founder Mike Shelton passed away in July 2001 and his wife, Dorothy Shelton, assumed the role of President and CEO. ATME maintains a wide array of Electronic GSE for the PMEL system for GE and Boeing and McDonnell Douglas tooling. ATME is a licensed manufacturer of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas Electronic Ground Support Equipment and an approved manufacturer for GEAE Support Equipment. They are a quality audited and approved or licensed vendor with Boeing, GE Structured Services, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney.

Customer Base
Aircraft manufacturers are not the only customers needing tooling products. Hydro, Dedienne and ATME serve the airlines and maintenance centers.

"Our main customer is the airlines, which we sell to direct - and also to the maintenance centers," says Volot. "Today, you have more and more airlines who contract their maintenance. Small airlines don't do much maintenance, possibly 'A' checks. We provide to all of the maintenance centers. They want towbars, testing services, jacks, etc."

Hydro's customers are aircraft manufacturers, airlines, maintenance bases, ground handling agents and airport authorities worldwide and explains that in Europe and America, most often it's the airlines and the maintenance bases that have the tooling. In Asia, some of the airport authorities will also have certain degrees of tooling - jacks and towbars for moving aircraft and that sort of thing rather than the individual companies. Although, it's changed now that the companies themselves are buying the tooling as well. As a company, Hydro calls on all of these groups and boasts a customer base of approximately 600 companies - virtually any airline flying and any maintenance base in the world.

"Every aircraft has its own list of tooling," says Hydro. "Whilst there is some commonality, like for instance on the B737 series, there will be some commonality between the 100 series and the 200 series, there will also be large quantities of tooling that will not be common across the entire range. The 737 aircraft, there is now up to the 800 series, so 8 models, so there's really 8 separate lots of tooling required."

ATME's Shelton says that their biggest amount of business comes from contractors who refer the electrical/electronic part of an order to the company. ATME builds equipment and products for the military and aerospace industry as well as for major airlines and airline maintenance facilities. ATME also performs testing and calibration services.

Dedienne provides the automatic Triple Jack for the A340-600 and will provide the Triple Jack and GSE products for the new Airbus A380 scheduled for 2005.

"In a year's time," says Volot, "the jacks have to be up and working and through with testing. We have to build a new test bench because these triple jacks have to be bigger than others to accommodate the larger aircraft."

Volot explains that the number of tooling products available is in the thousands. One aircraft type has many tools associated with it. "In our business, there are two sides to tooling - the Ground Support Equipment - the towbar, the cradle for the engine, the triple jacks, the axle jacks - everything that goes on the ground. The other, you have a tooling license for the special tools for aircraft right down to the wrenches, extractors, slings -that are specific to the aircraft."

Gray Market
Something that crops up in many industries, aviation included, is what's known as a "gray market," which involves suspect or unapproved suppliers and products. Price tends to be the main selling point for these vendors, but if an incident occurs that can be attributed to a gray market supplied item, these companies could possibly just disappear, leaving the end user with the problem.

"Airlines take a big risk when buying these items. The FAA is beginning to take a look at everything in the workshop for an aircraft - from the tool to the parts that will be put on the aircraft to the person who installs the parts," explains Volot.

Hydro offers that the added advantage of being an official licensed manufacturer is that those who are licensed have access to the computers at Boeing or Airbus, which means the customer is getting tools for the latest revision drawings, and these tools will be made of the right material. Drawings within Airbus or Boeing or any of the other companies literally specify what needs to be made and also the materials that need to be used.

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