Air Transport World

Third-party shops are watching dominoes. (business expected to boom for aircraft maintenance shops)(includes directory of businesses)

Third-party maintenance shops that serve-or soon will serve-the airlines are gearing up for an expected onslaught of business based on a number of circumstances that are lining up like dominoes. The question is whether the dominoes will fall with the numbers up or down. And that depends on the economy.

What is having the most impact on third-party maintenance shops is the FAA's Aging Fleet Program. Based on a June, 1988 conference and an airworthiness assurance task force, the FAA basically has changed its philosophy on how to deal with aging aircraft. Whereas the agency previously relied on inspections to find any potential problems, now it states that by themselves, inspections are "an unacceptable procedure to assure safety" and the "modification or replacement of parts must be accomplished to preclude the occurrence of the problem."

Phase one of the program currently is directed only at Boeing aircraft, although proposals are in the works to cover the other manufacturers. Boeing's range of aircraft is under a 4-year "Final Aging Aircraft AD Action" that affects some 115 727s, 737s and 747s in the U.S., and could affect almost 4,000 Boeing aircraft worldwide. FAA is calling it an AD action, although in fact, the work is being done under a series of some 175 service bulletins.

Taking into account the money involved, it's easy to see why third-party maintenance shops are gearing up for the work. Using FAA figures based just on the next four years, the program includes 67 727s at $1.06 million per aircraft; 28 737s at $898,000 per aircraft and 20 747s at $2.3 million per aircraft-or $142.16 million just for those three aircraft types.

The next domino in line is the sheer number of jet transports in the system and on order. Boeing's annual World Jet Inventory shows a worldwide total of 9,160 jet transports as of Dec. 31, 1989, of which 4,464 are in the U.S. An additional 3,328 new jets are on order, of which 1,100 are for U.S. carriers. Of the almost 10,000 jets now in service, a third are older than 15 years-including several Concorde SSTs, the first of which production aircraft flew in 1973.

Add the aging-aircraft requirements on to the normal maintenance for these aircraft and it quickly takes on a dimension beyond what the airlines can handle in-house. Also, it eliminates the possibility of doing "rolling inspections," in which portions of the C and D checks are programmed into each A and B check to prevent the aircraft from being down for long periods of time. …

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