More familiar under wings than on trucks, jet engines require frequent and specialized transport for maintenance and delivery that few logistics players can provide.
The spectacular increase of both business travel and tourism has made air transport one of the fastest-growing activities in recent decades. But one area within that bustling sector rarely crosses voyagers' minds: the transportation and storage of dismounted jet engines usually flying millions of people around the globe.
Moving those engines to and from overhaul centers, and between leasing companies and airlines, presents as much difficulty and risk as it does opportunity. Despite their workhorse efforts keeping huge planes full of passengers aloft, jet engines are quite vulnerable to damage during ground transport and handling.
The potential of impairing engines worth between $1 million and $15 million during transport is bad enough. But in addition to repair costs involved—usually well over $100,000 -- airlines and leasing owners also lose income that sidelined engines would have been generating in the air. Consequently, clients need to be certain transport partners can handle both the rising volume of activity and expert care it involves.
"Jet engines are popped off rather easily for overhaul or use by new airline customers. Transport, handling and storage is central to that process, but must be done right to avoid costly damages," says Scott Farrar, Bolloré Logistics USA's Texas-based global account manager of clients including several MROs, airframe manufacturers, and engine lessors.
Though robust and powerful when in use, the structure of jet engines leaves them sensitive to blows and shocks during transport. Internal cushioning components between the cradle and base of the engine stand can actually magnify the force of transportation shocks if turbines are incorrectly fastened to the trailer.
Meanwhile, though centrifugal force of a spinning turbine evenly distributes the 5,000 kg to 12,000 kg a typical engine weighs, that load becomes centered on the central shaft when it's idle -- inflicting damage when jolted. For that reason, Bolloré Logistics requires hauling vehicles to be equipped with full air ride suspension. It also ensures its partners have adequate forklift, crane and storage capabilities -- and adapted trailers to handle the considerable size of jet engines.
"A truck hauling a $10 million jet engine needs to be low enough to pass under an overpass or bridge without risk of contact," Farrar notes.
Also valuable to clients are Bolloré Logistics’ employees with long and deep experience in the aerospace sector that now staff its transport operations -- and use their knowledge to determine quality partners.
"Once you know what procedures and precautions are necessary in this activity, you then identify the air and trucking transporters that are similarly trained, experienced and proven in handling jet engines," Farrar explains. "We also have detailed requirements and illustrated reference materials to guide Bolloré Logistics’ employees to find qualified partners in markets where jet engine transport may be less frequent and familiar."
In addition to its high standards for moving jet engines around the world, Bolloré Logistics also assists clients with its knowledge of the unusual structure of the sector. While global in its coverage and activity, leasing and maintenance of jet engines is often regionally defined in operational terms.
For example, Farrar says an engine returned to an engine lessor in Japan may be sent to Germany or the UK for overhaul. It could then be sent back to specialized storage centers in Singapore, the US or other places where regional clients are likely to lease additional engines are most abundant. Similarly, while China is on target to become the biggest market in the sector, many jet engines in use there must be overhauled abroad.
"The engine niche is more diffused globally than the wider sector, and requires specialized surface to make sure engines are transported across the globe in a fast but secure way," Farrar says. "That's where Bolloré Logistics comes in."