How To Minimise Aircraft Downtime

30th Sep 2015

It’s no secret that an aircraft is a huge investment, with list prices easily reaching nine digit sums; the A350-900, which celebrates a year in service in January, would set an airline back by a massive $304.8million, or $1.2million a month in lease fees. Thus every second that an aircraft is on ground with no bums on seats costs an operator big bucks, so minimising this downtime is of utmost importance.


Of course, there are moments when grounding an aircraft is simply unavoidable; maintenance checks such as the traditional A, B, C and D checks are required to be undertaken at certain intervals outlined in the manufacturer’s maintenance planning documents (MPD), which includes MRB (Maintenance Review Board) requirements, for example.


But, what steps can airlines and engineers take to help minimise aircraft downtime while still ensuring the safe running of these highly valuable assets? Here are just a few ways to minimise downtime and most importantly, save money.


Utilise data for predictive maintenance


It’s clear that next generation aircraft are all the rage; the A350 has clocked up 782 orders from 40 customers and the 737MAX and A320neo are the talk of the industry. Aside from being elegant, innovative and more fuel-efficient, today’s aircraft provide airlines with more in-flight data obtained from thousands of on-board sensors and advanced IT systems that are able to better predict when parts might fail.


By receiving valuable in-flight data from these systems, operators are able to send messages to ground staff for troubleshooting to help determine what actions should be taken to prevent a part from failing, or if parts need replacing they can locate them while the aircraft is still flying. The paperless cockpit also opens the door to even more real-time data as any information logged on a pilot’s EFB (electronic flight bag) about possible faults with an aircraft can be picked up by engineers ahead of landing. It’s this air to ground connectivity that allows for predictive maintenance, shorter turnaround times and reduced costs.


Invest in innovative tools and integrated systems


As OEMs advance their product lines the rest of the industry reacts. This is why it’s important to stay one step ahead of the game and be innovative with investments. Airlines and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) providers should lead the way not only with their product but also with the tools that they’re using to carry out or manage maintenance.


And, it was only a matter of time before drone technology made its way into the hangar. One company that is setting the trend here is easyJet, as the low cost carrier announced in June that it plans to incorporate the use of drones into its maintenance checks. easyJet’s decision followed a successful trial inspection using Blue Bear and Createc’s RISER automated drone technology, which was able to scan and inspect an aircraft and report back to engineers on areas that may need further attention.


By using drones in maintenance, both airlines and MROs are able to benefit from more streamlined processes. Airlines can save money due to a reduction in man-hours, as there is no longer the need to construct scaffolding around the aircraft to allow for staff to visually inspect an airframe for damage, thus saving huge amounts of time and money. And, for MROs investing in such advanced tools can only help to win business. 


Another tool that both operators and MROs are coming to swear by is MRO software. Being able to use one platform to manage everything from shop floor data, inventory, quotes and invoices, fleet health, maintenance documentation and business data, has substantial benefits. 


Having all of this information available at the click of a button makes way for better operations, both internally and externally, and helps to reduced downtime thanks to more efficiency in the workplace. What’s more by using MRO software, companies are helping the industry-wide goal of achieving a paperless aircraft operations. 


Make the most out of downtime


Over the years, longer intervals between maintenance checks have become popular as they can lead to fewer heavy maintenance visits (HMV) during an aircraft’s lifetime. And, as HMVs can take several weeks to complete the time and money saved thanks to reducing these is quite something. 


Another strategy that the industry has seen is to divide A- and C-check tasks into smaller work packages, which can be carried out overnight. This is something that easyJet implemented into its maintenance strategy in 2004 when SR Technics introduced a Equalised Maintenance (E-check) concept that promised to cut downtime by 17 days per six-year period. 


Thanks to easyJet’s fleet being parked up overnight due to noise restrictions this made perfect sense for the airline and allowed it to utilise such downtime cost-effectively.   


Airlines have also been known to carry out other maintenance work while an aircraft is in the hangar undergoing other repairs. This is a simple but hugely cost-effective strategy that sees a reduction in man-hours and downtime.


Get smart with inventory


While having money tied up in large spares pools used to be far more common, now airlines are freeing themselves of this hefty investment in favour of smaller inventories. As a result suppliers are offering more comprehensive solutions when it comes to material management.


Of course, there is a downside to not having a spares pool on hand, especially when a major component like an engine needs to be replaced. In these instances turn-around times can be lengthy, causing an aircraft to be out of service for a financially damaging amount of time. That’s why systems that manage materials and allow for companies to openly communicate with suppliers to locate parts, are priceless.


For example, Rusada’s ENVISION software features an Inventory Management module that allows a user to send quotes, process part sales and invoices, and track all aviation standard spares transactions. It also contains a full suite of stock management tools complete with information on shelf life, while offering other functions for stock ownership and contracted parts.


The smooth running of an airline is dependent on having a streamlined maintenance process in place so being able to access inventory and manage all aspects of material and purchase management both quickly and easily is hugely important and can significantly minimise downtime.


 Find out more about Rusada’s MRO software solutions below...