Air Carriers Developing the MRO Interface

Special requirements by the operator can affect MRO performance.

Last month I spoke about MROs preparing for the air carrier interface. In this segment I’ll look at the air carrier side of this complex relationship. Air carriers are accountable for the performance of contractors who perform maintenance on their aircraft. The lens most used by air carriers is the MRO’s compliance with Part 145. Audit criteria used by the operator’s quality organization are aimed at assuring the MRO is in compliance with its standards.

Here lies a key difference between each organization. Air carriers are really good at being air carriers. They are operating to their set of rules; a highly structured organization intended to provide the safest travel experience possible to the public. However the cost of maintaining that infrastructure is pretty high. As a result, they outsource what they can to manage costs. In maintenance that often means the use of repair stations or MROs for heavy checks. An MRO, on the other hand, is really good at being an MRO. They have met all the requirements for compliance to Part 145. In addition many have extensive qualifications and certifications for use of state-of-the-art management and maintenance processes. But they don’t operate aircraft for hire. So the business needs are different and have to be harmonized in some way that results in successful projects to mutual benefit.

Air carrier audits are only one part of the MRO evaluation

It seems fairly simple on the surface. The repair station accomplishes the work per the operator’s maintenance program requirements. It’s audited to check its ability to do so. The checklist is fairly common and covers all of the elements necessary to verify that they are compliant. But, as a rule, auditors are checking for compliance to 145 and MROs as I have said are good at being MROs.

Production aspects and processes while visible to auditors and air carrier personnel are not always understood. MRO personnel are expected to meet the expectation they created when they sold their service. But the service did not explain the means by which the MRO expects to accomplish the project. Audits don’t account for the skill of the MRO when unexpected events occur such as an unanticipated inspection finding that creates more ground time than the air carrier planned. Further the production and planning process from the air carrier to the repair station differ.

A repair station is geared to load and unload the aircraft to manage the labor to a budget. With labor cost normalized to daily staffing these considerations don’t largely concern air carriers. They are not deriving revenue from the check; their goal is to arrive at the gate on time with a quality aircraft. MROs have to deliver aircraft on schedule but have to make money at it. Processes are devised to monitor and control resources on a heavy check so that anticipated revenue from the project is realized.

Check plans established by the air carrier must take into account the labor that the MRO has available. If there are additional lines of work in the hangar from other customers these lines are not independent of each other. They are sharing resources. Most MROs do not have sufficient resources to commit personnel, tooling, and administration exclusively to each aircraft line. There is always some level of sharing between projects. There is also competition. One project manager is struggling to make his output date and the loss of key persons or equipment for a new project can impact his delivery goal. An auditor can look into these situations when evaluating the MRO. He can, with practice, assess the operator’s project controls and support processes as a method of evaluating project management strengths and weaknesses.

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