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MROAM: Airlines highlight maintenance issues

Several carriers have described what they perceive as widespread problems in the maintenance, repair and overhaul industry at a panel at the MRO Americas conference.

The four participants, employees of Federal Express, Atlas Air, Spirit Airlines and TAP Portugal, represent a broad spectrum of business models, aircraft and maintenance practices. Though the individual gripes differed from operator to operator, there was broad agreement on such topics as late turnaround, insufficient data and an inexperienced workforce.

George Silverman, the vice president of materiel at FedEx, used the example of control surface damage sustained to the company's Airbus aircraft at Dallas-Fort Worth in a severe weather episode on 3 April, which also disrupted the MRO conference.

"I'm just giving a specific example that has been replicated many times, we will be sending those elevators to a place called Spain," says Silverman, "And it will take probably upwards of three-quarters of a year to a year to get those back.we'll end up probably having to go on the open market and buy those elevators in the near-term."

The issue, says Silverman, is that manufacturers are increasingly unwilling to give the information necessary for repairs to MROs. Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) generally use the 'razor blade' business model, selling the aircraft at or below the cost of manufacturing and making profit on maintenance. Withholding information from MROs allows OEMs to monopolize the market, leading to capacity shortages and exorbitant prices. Other panel representatives expressed strong agreement with Silverman.

Response times in general were also a focus of the panel's ire. Guy Borowski, vice president for technical operations at Spirit Airlines, said that it was a particular issue for his airline given the relatively small fleet and tight scheduling. Silverman noted that over half the service orders submitted to MROs were completed later than advertised.

Mark Swearingin, vice president of technical operations at Atlas Air, a large cargo airline with a varied fleet, notes that MROs were having trouble training and keeping a knowledgeable work force, a trend he attributes partly to a cultural shift in entry-level workers.

"The talent pool that we're talking aboutwe're just not producing kids anymore who go play with cars and take things apart," says Swearingin. He adds that the problem routinely impacts his operations, and that the problem is not limited to the US.

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