MRO- AOG is a four-letter word

AOG aircraft returning to service at Tegel Airport Berlin.
AOG aircraft returning to service at Tegel Airport Berlin.

MRO- AOG is a four-letter word

When an aircraft is grounded, the pressures on everyone involved are enormous. Cancelling flights and disrupting a network are extremely costly, be it for a major airline or a sole business jet operator. Michael Doran takes a look at the people who get the planes flying again.

Operators are increasingly looking for their OEMs and service providers to respond immediately to an aircraft on the ground (AOG) and have a specialised aircraft-on-ground response available 24/7, be it for parts, technicians or tooling.

“The reason our customers buy an aircraft is that they want to fly whenever they want to fly, wherever they want to fly and effectively use it as a time machine,” said Rolls-Royce’s senior vice president for serve, business aviation, Andrew Robinson.

To meet that expectation Rolls-Royce has a dedicated AOG recovery package as part of its Customer Care programme. If an engine issue causes an AOG situation then all of the costs to get that aircraft airborne again are covered by Rolls-Royce.

“In the airline world they typically have their own spare parts, they have spare engines and their own technicians. In the business aviation world they don’t so we have to provide all that. For our Corporate Care customers we are the source of spare parts, spare engines and specialist technicians,” Robinson said.

Rolls-Royce has more than 3,500 business aircraft using its engines and more than half of those are in fleets of one aircraft.  “It’s a very different, very fragmented animal when compared to an airline, the chances are the airline could have 10, 20, 100 aircraft of the same type in their fleet and the flexibility is not the same,” Robinson added.

The process starts with a call to the 24/7 availability centre in Berlin where a team is focussed on returning the aircraft into service. “The first line of defence is our Authorised Service Network and today we have 76 of those around the world, supporting Bombardier, Gulfstream, Embraer and Cessna programs. To support those centres we have spare parts located around the world. In Asia we have parts stores in Singapore, Beijing and Dubai. We also have lease engines located around the world, including Singapore and Dubai and we have tooling that’s ready to be loaned or despatched to support an AOG,” Robinson says.

“We have 72 technicians around the world in 16 locations and our goal is to have a GO Team identified and ready within four hours of the call and to be on site in a max of 12 hours beyond that. So from going AOG to having a team on site with tools and parts should be no more than 16 hours, no matter where the aircraft is positioned. In 2018 we released our Availability App, so if a customer goes AOG he can raise a case through the app that has an AOG beacon it, so we know exactly where the aircraft is. He can submit a video, a photograph, all the info that’s possible and that will be seen immediately in our centre in Berlin,” Robinson said.

In 2016 Rolls-Royce had a customer go AOG on a remote island off the coast of Canada at a small airport in the town of Masset. What followed cost the customer nothing but was a major logistical exercise for Rolls-Royce and its staff.

“We had an aircraft go into Masset, which is pretty much just a runway, and they had a problem with the aircraft and they couldn’t get the engine to start. To fix that we chartered a C-130 freighter to pick up the new engine, the tools and the team and fly it all to Masset, where we did the engine change and rescued the aircraft to get him on his way. That’s the type of thing we do, although this one was quite extreme because of the location. What’s interesting is because it had no facilities and it was somewhat inclement weather it meant the guys had to do the engine change outside, exposed to storms, high winds and extreme cold.

“After that we developed a portable igloo that’s self-contained. It inflates itself through in-built pumps and it wraps itself around the tail of the aircraft. It has its own generator, lights and heating with room for two engines. So you can drop the engine, fit the parts and replace the engine all basically within a transportable hangar. Because no one carries their own spare parts you can have an AOG for a US$50 bracket. We get numerous calls because we are the sole source of parts and spare engines for a fleet of more than 3500 aircraft. Rolls-Royce will actually rent an equivalent aircraft to get the customer where they need to go as quickly as possible, that’s the lengths we go to in an AOG situation,” Robinson said.

Pratt & Whitney operates a global network of Customer First Centres (CFirst) which operators anywhere in the world can reach on one telephone number, 24/7. These CFirst centres are for engine operators to access help whenever they require assistance for AOG or any technical issue. For example, the CFirst centre in Singapore is manned by a team of specialists who take the call and assess the situation to offer first-line trouble shooting. If the customer has its own technical team, the P&W specialists will work with them to implement a fix and resolve the AOG issue.

However, if the customer does not have such a crew or requires on-site technical assistance then the centre will immediately despatch a mobile repair team, based in Singapore and Australia, to the customer’s site. With most common issues, from bird or stone strikes and oil leaks, the mobile team is able to rectify these on site and return the engine to service.

Tom Masters, the general manager for On-Wing & Near-Wing Service at P&W, said that for larger commercial engines they are reducing engine maintenance time with new on-wing or near-wing services. “To alleviate operational disruptions for customers, we are providing solutions to resolve, replace or repair engines either on-wing, near-wing or at network repair facilities worldwide,” he said. “For unscheduled maintenance we are performing quick-turn surgical strikes to replace engine modules or components that need attention.”

“To support current engines like the V2500 fleet or the growing number of new GTF engines entering service, we are teaming with mobile engine services provider, Lufthansa Technik, to perform light engine maintenance at numerous locations around the globe. The LHT Airline Support Team has the required capability to help us provide faster service to our customers. It has a logistics network, which is critical to mobile services, as much of the work is performed in the field. Lufthansa Technik also has a presence in Europe, the Americas and China, supporting quick-response times for our customers,” Masters said.

“With more than 7,000 V2500 engines delivered and the number of GTF engines continuing to climb, Pratt & Whitney is investing in smart, straightforward mobile services that help operators more quickly address unscheduled engine maintenance while optimizing fleet readiness,” he added.

To handle AOG engine issues, MTU Maintenance has developed Onsite Teams positioned at various global hubs, with another soon to be added in China.

MTU Zhuhai CEO Jaap Beijer said: “We try to serve the customer 24/7 so we are not only taking care of the engines in the shop, but we also have our Onsite Teams. The customer can call us 24/7 and we have an on-site team that is dedicated and ready to fly anywhere to solve the issue. A problem we have in China, and all around the world really, is the visa issue for the technicians going into other countries. To get over that we are working together with other companies that don’t have the visa issue where we know they have the quality we demand.  If there are no visa issues, then any of our teams can fly anywhere around the world to fix a problem. For now, we have located dedicated MTU teams in the major areas to overcome the visa issue.”

With major customers like their joint-venture partner, China Southern Airlines, Beijer says that having an AOG response team is fast becoming the expected practice. “I think it is becoming the expected way to handle AOG and a problem is there are many MRO shops that are too small to offer this service. It’s really expensive to have people waiting here, like the fire department with fireman sitting around waiting for the fire and it’s an expensive service to provide. For MTU it is important to serve the customers and we believe in the long term the customer will see we helped them and we are partners and I think that’s really important to us.”

He can see the future where the Onsite Teams will be managed on a global basis and staffed entirely by MTU technicians. “At the moment it is localised but we are talking about when it will be centralised from one MTU site with a dedicated team to manage it globally. For the customer it is better to have an MTU person on the scene and for MTU it is not ideal to have a contracted person on site. You don’t know how good they are or if they give the same level of service we would.”

In most AOG instances, the first issue to be sorted out is the availability and location of the spare parts needed. Lufthansa Technik (LHT) handle these situations globally from two locations, Hamburg in Germany and Miami in the US.

Such is the growing importance of Asia-Pacific, LHT has decided to add a third hub, scheduled to open in the region in 2019. LHT’s head of its AOG Desk, Frank Entrich, said: “Eleven percent of the Hamburg workload is related to Asia and to prepare for the future we have to build up our AOG spares capability in the APAC region. We currently have facilities located in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Bangalore. We get around 1,200 AOG online requests every week and half run automatically through our system. The order is processed and the logistics provider gets a request to send the part directly to the customer without any input from LHT people. Normally the request is for us to send the part and the operator or MRO will fit it themselves. If an LHT technician is needed onsite, say for an engine, we can then arrange that from within LHT.

“If they need this component really urgently for AOG we can order air charter or if we missed the cargo loading deadline, we can order an onboard courier, where someone flies with the part on a passenger flight to the customer,” Entrich said.

He cited an example where a special type of oil was needed by a Formula 1 team at a Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia. An LHT person flew with the oil from Stuttgart to Melbourne, handing over the oil 28 hours after it was called for. “As a reward she was invited into the pit lane for a tour,” Entrich said.

There are also AOG situations where the part needs to be onsite quicker than the existing service contract stipulates.

“In May last year a customer had an aircraft go AOG in Los Angeles and we had this part in our Fort Lauderdale warehouse. The usual door-to-door transit is around eight hours but the customer said we had to do anything to cover the situation because they could not cancel the flight. We found a solution with another customer who flies the same aircraft and had the part in a warehouse in Los Angeles. We organised to do an exchange so four hours after we got the request, we had the exchange unit to the customer and six hours later the flight was in the air.”

LHT is working on a new service offering, focussed on the needs of Asian airlines flying intercontinental routes. The service, AOG Overseas Support or AOS, is to assist airlines that have an AOG issue in a location where they have no existing MRO support in place. LHT will manage the process by sourcing and delivering the part from a local supplier to get the AOG issue resolved and the aircraft on its way.

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