Aircraft line maintenance is the repair, inspection or modification of an Aircraft. Inspection of an aircraft is done by predetermined schedules. Line and base maintenance are the ways which help in inspection of the aircraft where base maintenance includes activities which require the aircraft to be taken out of service for longer periods whereas line maintenance activities are mostly carried out during normal turn around periods. Out sourcing of line maintenances services and technological advancement are the future trends for aircraft line maintenance market.
Increasing adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) also continuous innovation in technology to enhance services are the driving factors which help in the growth of aircraft line maintenance market whereas lack of availability of trained workers and short of common data standards act as restraining factor for this market.
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Image Credit: inform-software
The key players influencing the market are Delta Air Lines, HAECO, British Airways, SAMCO Aircraft Maintenance, SR Technics Switzerland AG, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa Technik, United Airlines, SIA Engineering Company and FL Technics.
In general, aircraft maintenance can be divided into line and base maintenance. Whereas base maintenance includes activities which require the aircraft to be taken out of service for longer periods and which require special equipment only available in a hangar, line maintenance activities are mostly carried out during normal turnaround periods where the aircraft is on the ground. During line maintenance, the aircraft is not always taken out of service and the maintenance activities can be done at the gate or stand itself (or in a hangar if time permits). Unlike base maintenance, which is always scheduled for longer ground times, line maintenance cannot always be scheduled, since it can imply dealing with unplanned issues arising during normal flight operations. Being well prepared for unplanned maintenance is fundamental to getting an aircraft back into service quickly after experiencing a technical issue, avoiding delays and cancellations. However, as many maintenance departments still communicate via radio or conventional telephones, technical information necessary to perform an unplanned task isn’t always easily available, causing engineers to take longer to complete their job. In order to understand the situation better, let’s have a look at the current workflow in more detail.
The global aircraft line maintenance market is expected to experience strong growth. Industry forecasts predict that the world aircraft fleets will more than double over the next 20 years. Such growth offers a number of new opportunities, but at the same time, challenges will also be on the rise. So how do airlines and aircraft maintenance service providers prepare for such future developments?
What are the main challenges faced by line maintenance departments today? How does Swiss deal with them?
Switzerland is considered to be a high-cost country. Since Line Maintenance is a very man-hour driven business, labor costs are equally high. As a consequence, the reduction in costs is our focus and optimizing our processes by introducing new technologies as well as improving the workflow with the help of the Kaizen methodology is our day to day business. In order to maximize the aircraft utilization, planned maintenance is carried out whenever and wherever the plane has ground time. Even though cost saving is imperative, we do not compromise on safety or reliability.
ICAO forecasts the world aircraft fleet to more than double within the next 20 years, increasing the demand for engineers and technicians, even leading to skill shortages in certain areas. How are Swiss maintenance departments preparing for such future growth?
In Switzerland we face difficulties in this area as industrial and labor apprenticeships have become less popular among young people and their interests have shifted toward the finance and service sectors. We have been monitoring and observing this development for some time now and realized the need for action. After looking into several options, we concluded that we need to build up our own training department in order to hire and train our future B1 & B2 aircraft maintenance engineers. Therefore, we will invest about CHF 4M ($4.025M USD) in building up a training department, enabling us to hire and train up to twenty B1 apprentices per year. According to our estimation, the annual costs will be around CHF 4.2M ($4.22M USD).
Newer aircraft will send even larger amounts of valuable data to airline maintenance departments. What opportunities do you see for your maintenance department?
I see our maintenance department going from a reacting into a proactive organization. An organization with the goal to have more resources on the monitoring and prediction of maintenance tasks which will assist us in minimizing unscheduled and unforeseen events. This will support us in guaranteeing on-time departures and will also support the trend for shorter transit times.
In what technologies have you invested in recent years to support your maintenance operations?
The key factor for process optimization is the introduction of new IT solutions. We are currently introducing electronic logbook (ELB) for the entire Swiss fleet which will reduce the paperwork massively. This is the first step in turning the Swiss Maintenance Department into a paperless maintenance organization. In order to optimize our real-time resource management, we are in the process of implementing INFORM’s Line Maintenance solution. Furthermore, other IT projects such as the use of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) for component traceability will be implemented within the next months. However, our focus is not only on IT solutions, but on all tools being used in the maintenance of our aircraft.
How do you see the Swiss maintenance department evolving over the next decade?
SWISS Technical Division will be the European benchmark amongst airline technical divisions and leading in applying innovations. We, as part of the Technical Division, provide Swiss passengers the highest reliability and comfort by maintaining our fleet at competitive cost through optimal supplier management while adhering to supreme quality and safety standards.