The global aviation industry had a tumultuous 2020. Anyone who had booked a commercial flight and had to cancel because of the pandemic knows how bad things became for the global aviation industry during the peak months of the pandemic. However, aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul companies (MRO companies) also struggled a lot because of the COVID19 pandemic.?
Be it significant reductions in airline spending or maintaining parked fleets for long periods ? the aircraft MRO industry faced several challenges of its own during the pandemic. These repair experts also have to prepare for the next generation of aircraft. But, there are fears that the pandemic may have caused various long-lasting effects on the MRO industry.
According to the IATA (International Air Transport Association), the number of grounded plans (Aircraft on Ground or AOGs) increased by?18%?since 2019. Due to these abnormalities, several MRO providers had to drastically change their operations. As these MRO companies and the aviation industry in general slowly climb out of these profound impacts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, let?s explore the key challenges these companies faced.
Significant Drops in Demand
Figures from the latest reports by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggest that the global aviation industry has never been hit like a crisis like this before. The report suggests that –
- Industry-wide losses amounted to?$118 billion?in 2020
- The agency expects the pandemic to cost the aviation industry $38 billion in losses in 2021.
Airline companies have experienced their worst year in history. To deal with challenges like travel limitations and economic slump, airlines have been compelled to find new cost-cutting measures. One cost-cutting measure that several airline companies temporarily adopted was cutting back on MRO spending. The message from the airline companies was clear ? avoid maintenance whenever possible.
As a result, MRO spending fell significantly. According to several reports, before the pandemic, international spending on MRO services was expected to be close to $100 billion. In reality, MRO spending was closer to the $50-billion-mark. This unexpected reduction in MRO spending forced many maintenance experts to re-think their commercial strategies. Even in 2021, overall MRO spending will be much lower than originally expected.
Dealing with An Unexpected Number of Parked Fleets
During the infamous ?first wave? of the crisis, all types of travel were indefinitely called off. As a result, most airlines had to park 60 to 70% of their total fleet. For the first time in history, so many aircraft were temporarily put out of service. As these expensive machines were left inside airports collecting dust, MRO companies had to deal with a completely new breed of maintenance and repair challenges.
Although an Aircraft on the Ground (AOG) experiences less wear in tear when it?s parked, it can?t be left somewhere until required again. It?s not an old car you leave behind in the garage ? it?s a highly complicated machine that needs to be ?flight-ready? at all times. Since most pandemic-related announcements were uncertain, airline companies had to provide active maintenance services to their parked aircraft. Moving them into permanent storage wasn?t an option because the market demands were so uncertain.
MRO experts had to execute detailed repair processes to keep the planes safe when they were parked. Some of the steps included –
- Covering exhaust (and intake) points with protective layers.
- Ensuring all internal systems are clean and in perfect shape.
- Greasing the landing gear
- Shutting down all cockpit controls (and turning them on from time to time)
- Disconnecting batteries
- Conducting basic visual inspections every week.
- Maintain the electrical systems on the aircraft every week.
- Ensuring that the engines? anti-ice systems are functional
- Conducting fuller checks every month
- Starting and shutting off the engine every few weeks.
These periodic maintenance processes are harder than they sound. The maintenance manuals MRO companies use cover topics like how to prepare planes for long-term storage. But, they don?t prepare the MRO experts for situations where aircraft vehicles are out of service for extended and indefinite periods.
How the Top MRO Companies Responded
The uncertainty that MRO provides faced was initially fueled by rumors that many airlines will go bankrupt, causing many MRO providers to suffer from the same fate. However, the best Aircraft Maintenance Service providers were able to ride these challenging waves by taking various innovative steps –
- Many cash-strapped MRO companies found new ways to lower costs. The MRO companies that also serve as reliable third-party vendors of aircraft replacement parts upgraded the quality of their replacement parts. Their new high-tech parts require less maintenance.
- These companies used new innovative techniques like Non-Destructive Testing (NDT), predictive maintenance, etc.
- These companies trained their technicians on how to maintain aircraft vehicles that are out of service for extended periods.
- These companies provided counter-to-counter services to resolve vital AOG issues throughout the pandemic.
- The top MRO providers also offer on-site services, be it conducting material checks or giving paint touchups.
Although 2020 was rough for many MRO companies, the best providers survived by making smart investments into their workforces and providing high-quality repair services. Airline companies that want to experience a much more stable 2021 must partner with such highly advanced MRO companies.