OEMs and small firms take maintenance services mobile
By: David A. Lombardo
An aircraft on ground (AOG) event is an inconvenience operators want to fix swiftly, and OEMs and independent companies are launching mobile service teams to get airplanes back in the air as soon as possible.
Gulfstream’s Airborne Product Support (APS), launched in 2002, is one such example. The OEM has dedicated 100 percent of the operational time of a G100 to the program. The aircraft has four dedicated flight crews and the company is considering permanently assigned maintenance crews as well.
While most business aircraft today wear non-descript livery, the G100 stands out on a ramp. The tail number (N247PS) announces 24/7 Product Support, the aircraft’s tail sports the logos of the companies that sponsor Gulfstream’s operator’s conference, and the aircraft has “Thank you for voting us #1 in product support” emblazoned on the airframe. Gulfstream added a second G100 in 2007 to cover the times when the original is in for scheduled maintenance.
Mark Burns, president of Gulfstream product support, said the purpose of APS is to deliver flight-essential parts and technicians 24/7. APS is available free of charge to all Gulfstream operators with aircraft under warranty.
According to Burns, sometimes the fastest method is putting the parts, equipment and personnel on an airliner, particularly for overseas AOG events.
“Our senior duty rep does whatever is necessary to solve the problem,” Burns said. During an international dispatch, while the team is en route, the Tech Ops Center is talking to a broker at the destination to arrange for customs and to meet the team and take them through the process as efficiently as possible.
There are numerous stories about how APS has gone the extra mile for a customer. One arrived in Bangor, Maine, from his home base in Europe and the aircraft required AOG assistance. Unfortunately the customer wanted to return to Europe for his daughter’s birthday, and the delay made it appear impossible. The G100 dropped off the APS team in Bangor then flew the customer back to Europe in time for her party.
The G100 is outfitted so the team can get an AOG aircraft back in the air, even if that means only to reposition it to a service center. However, the team can do simple work–such as install windshields and tires– and return the aircraft to service.
Once the almost exclusive domain of the airframers, the mobile maintenance business has gone independent. Some operators serve specific geographic regions, while others will travel anywhere. Some operators have an MRO facility base; others are 100 percent mobile.
Aircraft Specialists of Gwinnett County Airport in Lawrenceville, Ga., has been in business since 1999. From the beginning it had a physical presence on the airport and offered AOG maintenance.
“We specialize in Learjets, Citations, Westwinds and Astras, with an occasional Challenger,” said general manager John Frank. “We’ll pretty much go anywhere along the southeastern seaboard.”
Frank said at one point his company was doing about 90 AOGs a month for a fractional provider that has since made arrangements with local airports it frequents around the country. “AOG work still accounts for about fifty percent of our total workload,” he said.
Spectra Jet of Springfield Beckley Municipal Airport in Springfield, Ohio, started out as a team of itinerant mechanics 10 years ago but quickly built a facility.
“Initially 100 percent of our business was on the road, but early on we saw the value of having an FAR Part 145 repair station certificate. One of the requirements to qualify is having a repair facility capable of holding the largest aircraft for which you’re rated,” said John Yegerlehner, the company’s co-owner and chief inspector. “However, we have our mobile maintenance program listed on our FAA OpSpecs so we can do maintenance away from home under our FAR 145 status.”
Yegerlehner said for several years the company’s business was 75 percent on the road, but by 2006 the amount of home-based maintenance had increased sufficiently that the company had to build an 18,000-sq-ft facility to accommodate the demand. “Once we built the larger facility the work followed and it now accounts for about 60 percent of our work,” he said.
According to Yegerlehner, Spectra Jet’s 145 OpSpecs allows the repair station to perform any maintenance in the field it is permitted to perform in its shop provided the director of maintenance believes he has sufficient deployable resources to do the job to the same level of quality.
“We limit our work on the road to AOG rather than inspections,” he said. “A 300-hour inspection in our shop will take our crew four days, but on the road it will take our two-person team a lot longer than the customer would be willing to wait.”
Yegerlehner said he dispatches teams of two for several reasons. If they’re driving it makes it easier to have a second driver. “We’ve also found that we’ll go on a call and when we arrive the word gets out. We went into White Plains one time for a single call and while we were there we ended up working on six different aircraft. One guy would never have been able to do everything.”
The other problem with doing inspections on the road pertains to FAR Part 121, 125, 129 and 135 operations. “Any time you work on an item that if done incorrectly could cause death or significant damage, such as rerigging flight controls,
it becomes an RII [required inspection item],” Yegerlehner explained. “What that means is we are required to have a separate inspector on location that does not get involved with the actual maintenance… . It gets expensive to have someone around just to inspect the work.”
Purely Mobile Operations
Not all mobile maintenance teams have a bricks-and-mortar presence on an airport. Air Bear Aviation of Derry, N.H., operates out of president Tom Bear’s house. “I looked at getting FAR Part 145 approval, but I didn’t care for the limitations such as the requirement for a facility,” he told AIN.
“I operate the company very close to FAR 145 requirements voluntarily. We have a drug-testing program and tool-calibration conformance, and I’m in the process of setting up computer-based training for our team for every aircraft we work on.”
Bear currently has three vehicles–one each at Nantucket Memorial Airport; Bradley Field in Hartford, Conn.; and Boston Logan. He’s looking into acquiring a fourth and stationing it in the New Hampshire area. Air Bear owns a Piper Warrior II that can be dispatched, and it has access to numerous aircraft and pilots throughout the region. Bear has 21 technicians on-call, strategically located throughout the region, including six in Hartford and the rest scattered from Portsmouth, N.H., to Plymouth, Mass.
“We can cover anywhere in New England, and the goal is four hours from phone call to arrival at the aircraft. Many calls have as little as a one-hour response time,” he said. Bear also has four pilots on call to support the operation. Air Bear charges for parts and a straight hourly rate from the time a mechanic leaves home until he returns.
The company most commonly works on Cessnas, Hawkers, Falcons and Learjets. “We do a lot of work for the fractionals but also have a fairly broad corporate flight department base, too,” he said. “We have the reputation as the ‘go to’ guys if there’s
Bear initially worked only on smaller piston aircraft but as his reputation grew so too did the number of mechanics and the size of the aircraft. He initially had quite a time with the insurance companies. “They just didn’t know what to make of us,” he said. “When you make the decision to go into this business you really have to have all your ducks lined up. It’s similar to having an MRO facility but there are significant differences too,” Bear explained.
“You have to maintain the same standards, provide the same quality and protection, and yet stay lean and mobile.”