With airlines outsourcing plane maintenance to specialists, transport and logistics services provide faster, cheaper movement and handling of repaired parts.
When airlines decided to cease the costly and heavy work of servicing aircraft to focus exclusively on passenger and freight operations, their embrace of maintenance specialists as natural partners seemed like a perfect marriage. But as those new industrial couples soon discovered, a crucial link was missing in their association. To bridge that gap, global freight forwarders with networks specially adapted to the aerospace sector have stepped in to ensure quicker movement of parts at lower costs.
Those shifts came as airlines halted previous practices of outright purchase and upkeep of their fleets to focus on the core business of transporting people and goods. Servicing of leased aircraft was instead contracted to plane manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEM) or other maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) specialists. That meant decreased costs for airlines, and additional activity for maintenance providers – up to a point.
“It represented a ‘win-win’ situation for airlines and MROs, but they needed transport and logistic specialists to create the link to make it ‘win-win’,” says Jérôme Le Grand, director of aerospace for Bolloré Logistics in Paris. “Our networks and expertise help them achieve the efficiency and savings their partnership were designed to generate in the first place.”
To do that freight forwarders offer clients on both sides of the maintenance equation increased speed in which decommissioned equipment can be serviced. They similarly reduce as much as possible the time and space required for storage during the repair process. Getting fixed components back on planes quickly is vital to decrease craft owners’ biggest concern: airplane-on-ground (AOG) situations caused by incapacitated planes.
“An aircraft in the air is generating revenues, while AOG cost owners large amounts of money,” Le Grand explains.
The first step by freight forwarders to enhance the maintenance process is providing global – and just as importantly, regional – transport and logistic networks. That mix allows selecting the shortest route and fastest action available between plane owners, MROs and OEMs or third-party Parts Manufacturing Authority (PMA) once components needs work. To do that, sector freight forwarders must build a stable of reliable partner companies in regions where client airlines operate most.
“Before, a part in Sydney needing repair would routinely be sent back to Europe or the U.S., but now regional centers in Singapore or Malaysia can usually have MRO done locally,” explains Mr. Le Grand. “Cutting distances and transport increases speed of servicing, and savings realized.”
An accompanying step is organizing storage facilities and cargo flows based on analysis of where particular parts are likely to be needed by airlines most. That involves mutualizing components used in similar aircraft, and operating storage units for those near airports where use of those planes is highest.
That organization, as well as constant updating of flow and warehousing data by freight forwarders, aims to have operational OEM or PMA parts ready for redeployment at any given time. Yet by also limiting numbers of those repaired components through mutualization of stocks, space and cost of storage is held to a minimum.
Freight forwarders have sought to improve performance and savings to aerospace clients in other ways, too. One successful effort in that has been adopting the same lean management techniques customers have applied to heighten their own efficiencies.
Another has been working with multiple service providers for any single function. That variety of partners ensures freight forwarders are always able to respond to client demand even in urgent and short-notice cases, and select the best possible solution in normal situations.
“Anyway you can increase speed and resumed use of parts to cut AOG means financial gain for your client,” Le Grand says. “You need to be robust, flexible, and highly reactive.”