American Airlines Gets into Maintenance Line

The company hopes its efficiency and expertise will help it attract its rivals as clients for its work.

The workplace was redesigned to be more efficient. A supervisor lost his office, and now has to settle for a desk next to the crew chief. Workers gave up their break area, as space was overtaken by a more efficient layout for parts and tool storage.

The distance someone has to walk to collect tools and parts shrank from about 4,000 feet to 1,000, said supply area supervisor Tim Martindale.

Reducing the number of steps a worker takes may seem inconsequential, but the cumulative effect is more time spent doing the needed work, he said. It also allows the airline to do the same job with fewer people.

"I lost six stock clerks last year, and we're not replacing any of them," Martindale said. "We increased our productivity and workload, even though we went down in headcount."

Parts inventory is tracked better, and there is better tracking of tools used each day, he said.

Workers are beginning to understand and accept that even with fewer people the base can be more productive, Meza said. "People are seeing that not only can they sustain gains, but working together they can make even more improvements. It's becoming a way of life for them."

While more of the industry has embraced outsourcing, American is simply trying to maximize the multimillion-dollar investment it has made in its maintenance bases, Arpey said.

"We're not doing this because we're more altruistic or patriotic," he said. "We're doing it because we believe we have a legitimate shot at creating competitive advantage and maybe a profit center."

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