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Airplane Maintenance for Better Operation Efficiency Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 3rd, 2020

The aviation industry is one of the highly competitive sectors due to stringent regulations and high costs of operation. Therefore, engineering managers should plan and work strategically to ensure cost-effectiveness in the operation of airplanes. One of the ways to achieve this goal is to speed the airplane turnaround time specifically during the routine maintenance checks. Airplanes are supposed to undergo routine checks after flying for a determined number of hours.

If not managed well, maintenance could lead to delays and the associated loss of revenue due to penalties and refunds to customers. Therefore, causes of delays during maintenance should be identified and addressed to ensure smooth and timely operations of aircrafts. This paper discusses the role of maintenance as one of the causes of flight delay and the strategies used to eliminate this problem and improve efficiency.

Maintenance as a Cause of Flight Delay

The term “aircraft maintenance” refers to all operations and procedures that are undertaken in order to ensure the airworthiness of airplanes. The goal of maintenance is to guarantee the reliability of different aircraft parts, thus ensuring safety and smooth operations. Maintenance could be scheduled or unscheduled. In the airline sector, scheduled maintenance processes are classified into three categories – A, C, and D checks. A-checks are also known as “line maintenance”, which are light activities that are carried out in the hangar to slow down the deterioration of airplane parts and systems (Budd & Ison, 2017).

C and D checks are termed as “heavy maintenance” processes, and they take more time to complete as compared to A-checks. Regardless of the type of maintenance, if the necessary work is not completed in time, it may lead to flight delays and avoidable losses in the form of penalties and refunds. Therefore, proper planning and resource allocation are important factors in dealing with unnecessary delays during airplane maintenance.

Maintenance-Related Factors Leading to Delays

Poor Planning

The companies contracted to maintain, repair, or carry out overhaul services may face the challenge of inadequate planning. This problem could be caused by the lack of enough human resources to work on the aircrafts or unorganized work schedules. Poor communication could also contribute to this issue because when information is not passed to the right people at the appropriate time in a way that it could be understood easily, execution becomes a problem because the involved parties do not know what is supposed to be done. Overall, any factor that affects organizational performance falls under this category, and it leads to long turnaround times, which could lead to losses.

Poor Logistics Process

Logistics in this context imply the processes involved in securing spare parts and human resources needed for the proper maintenance of aircrafts. Companies involved in maintenance depend on other firms for the supply of the needed materials. Therefore, an inadequate supply chain of spare parts could potentially lead to delays, especially when the materials are not available when needed (Palma-Mendoza & Neailey, 2015).

Additionally, wrong spare parts could be supplied if the logistics process is not streamlined. This problem is compounded by the lumpy nature spare parts needed for aircraft maintenance. As such, it is difficult to predict the nature of spare parts that would be needed for repair and maintenance, and thus delays could be experienced when trying to source the right materials.

Troubleshooting Problems

Finding defects and coming up with the appropriate solutions could take longer time than expected, thus leading to delays. This problem could arise due to the incompetence of the involved technicians or the complexity of the issue at hand. Identifying a problem is the first step, but solving it is another task. Therefore, depending on the competence of the maintenance technicians, delays could be experienced. On the other hand, while the technicians could be experienced and competent, the nature of the problem could be complicated thus needing more time (Rushton, Croucher, & Baker, 2014). For example, the location of some parts could force technicians to spend a lot of time trying to make replacements.

Unscheduled Maintenance Requirements

In some cases, pilot reports may indicate the need to check some parts of the aircraft without prior scheduling. In addition, in the process of their routine work, maintenance technicians could identify other needs that must be addressed for the proper functioning of the airplane. At times, aircrafts operate with minor defects, which ultimately accumulate to cause major breakdowns (Wu, 2016). Consequently, the affected aircraft stays on the ground for a longer time than expected, hence delays.

Unscheduled maintenance is one of the major causes of flight delays in the aviation industry, due to the multiple layers of issues that need to be addressed without prior planning. For instance, a certain spare part may be required promptly without enough time to make the required logistical arrangements. As such, an aircraft may be grounded for days, which affects operations negatively.

Strategies to Improve Efficiency

Each maintenance-related problem highlighted above has specific solutions that are employed to ensure smooth running of operations. The identified solutions include:

Using Maintenance Requirements Planning (MRP)

MRP facilitates the maintenance of machines to ensure that they are ready and safe for use when needed. Players in the aviation industry use specifically designed software to accomplish task-based procedures, thus overcoming the problem of poor planning (Bazargan, 2015). MRP creates the necessary maintenance requirements records to ensure that all the needs are addressed appropriately through effective planning. From the software, maintenance route dependencies could be established, records updated, affected items viewed, and plan for any scheduled or unscheduled processes. Therefore, the maintenance teams are always prepared to handle even unexpected requirements.

Effective Supply Chain

As mentioned earlier, an ineffective supply chain is the major source of logistical problems that contribute significantly to flight delays due to maintenance issues. Organizations in this industry mostly apply the two-echelon supply chain with a three-level model. In this case, the consumers (maintenance organizations) are closely coupled with suppliers. As such, any information concerning the depletion of a certain product from the consumer’s inventory is relayed to the supplier in real time (Parjane, Dabade, & Gulve, 2017).

Therefore, all the required spare parts are always available when needed for the maintenance of aircrafts. When calculating the time needed for the timely supply of spare parts, the system assigns production period to each unit considering transportation requirements and other associated factors.

Inspection of Workload

The troubleshooting problem is a common issue related to maintenance-caused flight delays. One of the ways to ensure that technicians are prepared for the task ahead is to carry out heavy inspection workload before the start of any maintenance process (Regattieri, Giazzi, Gamberi, & Gamberini, 2015). This step ensures that all the defects that should be fixed are identified and the appropriate solutions created before any work could start. With this kind of planning, maintenance technicians are ready to make the needed changes within the stipulated period, thus avoiding unnecessary flight delays and the associated costs.

Maintenance Steering Group – 3 (MSG – 3)

According to Mrusek, Kiernan, and Clark (2018), MSG – 3 procedures are scheduled maintenance processes under the provisions of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA). Aircraft manufacturers and other stakeholders are required to come up with protocols that should be followed to avoid unexpected defects that could be noted during routine maintenance or through pilot reports. This preventive maintenance “supports the airworthiness of an aircraft by gathering and evaluating component reliability data to determine when certain components need to be removed or undergo maintenance” (Mrusek et al., 2018, p. 1). Therefore, it becomes difficult to encounter an unexpected maintenance requirement, thus reducing the time that aircrafts are grounded.

Autoregressive Integrated Moving Average

This mathematical series analysis is used to forecast the uncertainty of demand for different spare parts in an aircraft (Wesonga, Masimbi, & Nabugoomu, 2014). This model solves the problem associated with lumpy aircraft spares. Radio frequency identification (RFID) is also used to enhance the forecast of spare parts. According to Liukkonen (2015), RFID makes it “possible to identify individual objects in the production automatically and wirelessly, so it has an increasing potential in various applications which can make manufacturing more efficient and productive” (p. 861). By forecasting what is needed, spare parts could be availed in time to avoid delays during maintenance.

Conclusion

Flight delays caused by issues arising during the maintenance of aircrafts are some of the major problems in the aviation industry. Maintenance can be either scheduled or unscheduled. Factors that lead to delays during maintenance include poor planning, lack of efficient logistics processes, troubleshooting problems, and unscheduled repair requirements. However, these problems could be solved by employing tested solutions such as using MRP and MSG-3 systems for timely services. With the appropriate measures, maintenance would occur within the stipulated times. Unscheduled maintenance would also be avoided, and flight delays would be minimized.

References

Bazargan, M. (2015). An optimization approach to aircraft dispatching strategy with maintenance cost: A case study. Journal of Air Transport Management, 42, 10-14.

Budd, L., & Ison, S. (2017). Air transport management: An international perspective. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Liukkonen, M. (2015). RFID technology in manufacturing and supply chain. International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 28(8), 861-880.

Mrusek, B. M., Kiernan, K. W., & Clark, P. J. (2018). UAS maintenance: A critical component in maintaining airworthiness. International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace, 5(5), 1-18.

Palma-Mendoza, J. A., & Neailey, K. (2015). A business process re-design methodology to support supply chain integration: Application in an airline MRO supply chain. International Journal of Information Management, 35(1), 620-631.

Parjane, M. B., Dabade, B. M., & Gulve, M.B. (2017). Two echelon supply chain integrated inventory model for similar products: A case study. Journal of The Institution of Engineers, 98(3), 353-358.

Regattieri, A., Giazzi, A., Gamberi, M., & Gamberini, R. (2015). An innovative method to optimize the maintenance policies in an aircraft: General framework and case study. Journal of Air Transport Management, 44(45), 8-20.

Rushton, A., Croucher, P., & Baker, P. (Eds.). (2014). The handbook of logistics and distribution management (5th ed.). London, UK: McGraw Hill.

Wesonga, R., Masimbi, B., & Nabugoomu, F. (2014). Airline delay time series differentials: Autoregressive integrated moving average model. International Journal of Aviation Systems, Operations, and Training, 1(2), 64-76.

Wu, C.-L. (2016). Airline operations and delay management: Insights from airline economics, networks and strategic schedule planning. New York, NY: Routledge.

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