Flying Fit

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Rarely has a simple abbreviation encompassed so vast a discipline.

Consider a complete 747-8 BBJ cabin refurbishment, a Citation tyre change, King Air deep service, IFE software update or an engineer hauling urgent parts to a grounded aircraft, all of them maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) procedures. The vast MRO industry that keeps business aviation ‘flying fit’ is founded on careful recording and monitoring, factors essential in ensuring the highest standards of safety, as well as helping maintain used aircraft values.

​Headquartered in Peterborough, Ontario, family-owned Flying Colours is a model MRO with original expertise in Bombardier jets. In 2009, Flying Colours purchased JetCorp, establishing a US presence at St Louis and subsequently developing it into a thriving MRO, completions and avionics facility. The purchase enabled Flying Colours to increase its overall MRO and completion capacity, adding hangar space and specialist skilled workers – today the company boasts expertise in Beechcraft, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream and Bombardier models.

​A Flying Colours spokesperson remarked: “Thanks to its impressive team, the facility has a strong reputation for maintenance and a growing name for completions/conversions, which it’s underpinned with significant growth in the MRO business. The two locations now mirror each other in terms of capability and output, although only Peterborough offers paintwork.”

​The Canadian MRO is also typical in expanding into Asia, although its extremely close relationship is perhaps a little less usual. Now employing more than 20 people, the operation sits within Bombardier’s Service Centre at Seletar Airport and offers interior refurbishment to complement the OEM’s on-site maintenance work.

​It’s an interesting concept, as the Flying Colours spokesperson explains: “We offer a full range of interior services, including preliminary inspections, removals and installation, repairs, modifications and refurbishment work. The full-service interior offering complements Bombardier’s comprehensive line and heavy maintenance services for the complete Bombardier business aircraft product line.”

If Flying Colours’ global presence is growing, then Jet Aviation’s is burgeoning. The General Dynamics company offers large-cabin maintenance services in Basel, Dubai, Singapore and St Louis, with MRO for all jet types at several more bases in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.

​Company public relations and communications specialist Charles Bosworth explains the rationale behind the wide spread of facilities: “Jet Aviation’s service offerings include maintenance, completions and refurbishment, engineering, FBO and fuel services, aircraft management, charter and staffing. Geographically, our global operations support two broad regions: The Americas, and EMEA and Asia.

​“We have an integrated ‘hub and spoke’ business service model, operating four major MRO hubs, located in St Louis, Missouri; Basel, Switzerland; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Singapore, all supported by other global maintenance facilities to meet regional demand. Our two completions centres are in Basel and St Louis, while we operate 20 FBOs around the world and manage a global fleet of approximately 300 aircraft.”

​Keeping track

​Accurate records are fundamental to safety oversight and regulatory compliance, and while a deft hand in MS Excel might suffice for a single-aircraft operation, specialist aviation engineering software packages exist to integrate, streamline and monitor processes. Among them, Commsoft’s Open Aviation Strategic Engineering System (OASES) has gained a solid foothold among the airlines and their supporting MROs, and is proving increasingly attractive to outfits specialising in bizjet maintenance – Commsoft currently has six such customers, a number Managing Director Nick Godwin expects to grow since OASES developments have focused on vastly improving its functionality for customers, including mobile applications.​

He explains: “The basic principles of CAMO [continuous airworthiness management organisation] and MRO process control apply whatever an aircraft’s role and OASES covers these equally. The corporate jet market is characterised by its much lower aircraft utilisation, typically 250-700 hours per annum for ‘flexjet’-type schemes, compared to 2,000-3,500 flying hours for airliners. As such, OASES, which tracks hours, cycles and calendar-based events in parallel, covers all aspects. The difference is that the operator is more likely to be using a LUMP [low utilisation maintenance programme], which will have more emphasis on calendar-based checks.

​“From the MRO side, the processes of gathering, monitoring and managing production data from the shop floor are the same. OASES has been extensively developed to meet the requirements of our various customers, including Harrods Aviation, to manage invoice generation and commercial management, and help develop future quotes. While the processes for corporate aviation MRO are similar to those of airline MRO, a system like OASES has to cater for a much greater range of ‘drop-in’ customers, requesting smaller packages of work or more varied diversity. Corporate MRO is therefore likely to have a larger range of customers from a wider registration base with smaller work content, all of which must be quoted clearly and invoiced promptly.

​Beyond the benefits already described, Godwin says: “We find the corporate aviation market tends to use embedded systems, among them corporate aviation maintenance planning, which are included in the initial aircraft price as a service offering for the first one or two years. Offered as a managed service, the systems have benefits, but can lead to issues of CAMO oversight. “CAMO organisations often use OASES to look after aircraft for several customers. Some of these will be controlled entirely in the software, while others will be monitored over and above the existing subscription service to give greater oversight. This is particularly true for Airworthiness Directives [ADs] and Service Bulletins [SBs], which must be very carefully monitored for each customer and, where SBs might have a cost with an economic or performance benefit, agreed with the customer.

​“Our direct customer base has around 85 customers, looking after more than 120 aviation fleets. The customer can, subject to its contract with the CAMO, be given read-only or direct access to its maintenance website. OASES has many security controls and transaction logs, with auditing capabilities to control many such environments.”

​OASES is built around the basic principles of CAMO and MRO process control, which apply equally whatever the aircraft size or role. Several customers use OASES to monitor mixed fleets of jets, piston-powered fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Godwin says: “The technical principles are the same, but the differences may be economic. And although a smaller aircraft, with less to control, can be monitored in Excel or similar general software, such systems are usually not maintained adequately should someone leave an organisation, and data is not easily linked with other systems or functions. Increasingly, airworthiness authorities prefer a fully supported, professional system, backed by 24/7 support.”

​MRO split

​Providers deliver targeted MRO for particular components, systems and aircraft types, frequently depending on the size of their operation. Hangarage and runway capacities have particular effects on aircraft size and, inevitably, how a company splits its MRO capability.

How does Flying Colours divide its capacity? “Heavy checks are 50% of the workload at St Louis, where we’re experts on the Bombardier Challenger and Learjet, and Dassault Falcon. Cabin refit and smaller maintenance jobs account for most of our remaining business there, while at Peterborough we offer about 60% cabin completions/modifications, paintwork and upgrades, and 40% maintenance work.”

​The Peterborough facility historically lacks runway and hangar capacity for aircraft significantly larger than the Bombardier CRJ, effectively excluding Flying Colours from ACJ and BBJ work. With both types in widespread service, is the company missing a significant share of the market? “Up until now we’ve not offered MRO services for the ACJ/BBJ. We’re comfortable with the niche we’re in, although we receive many customer requests for this narrow body work. We’re now looking at expanding into the sector and working with the airport to expand our footprint at Peterborough, while looking at options in St Louis.”

​Beyond its fixed bases, Flying Colours is again typical among MROs in offering a reactive aircraft-on-ground (AOG) service. “We have a team of engineers that we dispatch to aircraft with technical issues anywhere in the world and regularly send them out from both facilities. We have monitored AOG support phone numbers and email addresses for all the aircraft types we work on.”

​Comprehensive records are an integral component of aircraft sales, depending on MRO providers to maintain and update records so that aircraft travel between clients with a fully traceable, accountable and transferable document chain. Missing links are usually costly to fill. A missing AD record, for example, can mean the work needs repeating. Undercarriage units without scheduled overhaul documentation may need working again. Indeed, the financial burden can be such that an airframe becomes unsalable, or cannot be returned off lease without considerable investment.

​Godwin summarises: “Any aircraft that’s been professionally controlled and has extensive documentation, backed by reports and audit logs in a system like OASES, will have a higher resale value and be more marketable. When an aircraft is returned or re-delivered to a lessor – a situation prevalent for many years in the airline world and a growing market sector in corporate aviation – the documentation must be accurate. Without it, major costs or penalties can be incurred as highly paid specialists wrestle to determine the aircraft’s true airworthiness state.”

​The far-reaching benefits of maintenance software now being realised within bizjet MRO are among several developments changing the industry. Over the last decade, it has grown around routine inspection and upgrade, work Flying Colours describes as: “Very methodical, routine and task orientated.” Now, “Task orientation will continue, but technology has been enhanced and this will help reduce maintenance intervals. When you combine this with connectivity capabilities, and improvements in next-gen avionics, it will modernise the MRO business as it becomes more sophisticated.”

​Godwin also sees the influence of connectivity, and says it’s already having an effect: “OASES has been extensively connected with various operations systems for airline and corporate use, although corporate operators tend to view operations data in isolation. It’s being successfully fed with engineering data from Class 1, portable electronic technical log devices from the fight deck and these devices can also be programmed to receive information related to scheduled maintenance events.

​“We’re also developing a range of applications for use on mobile devices. The first deployed enables pilots to access a forecast for maintenance events from their CAMO customer’s system. These systems are already in use and more will be deployed in response to customer demand.”