Planning and managing a major aircraft refurbishment can be an overwhelming chore that can closely parallel the building of a new house. According to Consumer Build, an independent New Zealand organization that provides information to consumers planning a home construction project, there are 10 steps in the planning process. By applying these same steps to a large aircraft project, we can give you a good idea of how to plan for major aircraft refurbishment.
More and more operators are choosing to refurbish their current aircraft over purchasing a different one. This work is typically completed when the aircraft has a major maintenance event due because downtime, access time and costs can be drastically reduced by combining these events into one.
First, you will need to identify all upcoming required maintenance items. Your tracking program can assist with this. You will also need to consider time. Most maintenance events are performed on an hourly, monthly or annual basis, which determines the dates needed for aircraft input into a maintenance facility.
In addition to setting the input timeline, you need to decide what other work will be done, looking at the potential of new paint, interior updating and avionics upgrades. Things to consider include the following:
You will want to speak with potential service facilities and personnel because it is very important that they be brought on board early on for the project to have the best results.
Mary Lee, Senior Aircraft Interior Designer with Duncan Aviation’s Lincoln, Nebraska, location, explains, “Our involvement occurs very early, when the project is in the sales phase. We need to assist in finding solutions for a customer in a timely fashion. The customer may need illustrations, a floor plan, cabinet drawings, material specifications, visual aids and color boards to present to their principals.”
Mary adds that the extent of the project, the materials used and the design are all important planning aspects that often take place before an operator chooses a completions facility. The considerations include whether the interior will be re-configured, if you want new lighting, new entertainment, or a new sound-proofing package, and more. Pre-planning for a large refurbishment often starts as much as a year or more in advance, depending on the project’s scope. Certification can play an important role in the pre-planning time necessary. “It is important to know if and how the existing interior is certified,” Mary notes. “This will help tremendously in certifying any new modifications that may be completed.”
Organization of finances is an obvious and very important step for operators. Once you have determined the scope of the project, the next step is to get quotes from different maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities. You should share budget requirements with the MRO, as they can work with you to meet needs, schedules and budgets.
During the process, you will need to match all of your requirements with the many different capabilities of the MRO. MROs have varied capabilities, dictating that there may only be a few that will match all of your project needs.
If this area is new territory, a visit to some different facilities may be in order. A site visit will give you the opportunity to see the facilities first-hand, to visit with people from different areas of the company, and to make assessments based on what you have seen rather than what you are told.
Some questions to consider during this phase include:
When discussing these needs, you should include a detailed workscope along with photographs, if possible. It may be necessary for MRO representatives to visit your facility to gain access to the aircraft and ensure that in preparing their quote, they are as accurate as possible.
Besides looking at capabilities and requirements needed for the project at hand, you will want to consider value-added services, or intangibles, in your comparisons, including a wide variety of items from insurance to hazardous waste disposal.
To help you compare facilities, Duncan Aviation has an MRO comparison worksheet that might be useful at www.duncanaviation.aero/fieldguides/ –select MRO worksheet.
The next three steps can be combined for our purposes. As alluded to previously, the key step in a large aircraft refurbishment project is choosing the maintenance facility that will complete the work to the standard you expect.
As Mary states, planning is absolutely essential for major projects, and it starts well in advance of aircraft input. Besides determining just what will be done, the shop will need to plan project-f low and set periodic deadlines to keep the project on time. At Duncan Aviation, customers are assigned a project manager who will play a key role in managing the planning and day-to-day progress on major projects. The project manager is also the one main point of contact going forward for the customer.
Managing complex projects is where Duncan Aviation project managers really shine. Their goals are to meet the customers’ expectations, to meet interim project milestones and, ultimately, to meet—or better—the promised delivery date of the aircraft.
The organization of such a large undertaking is a culmination of effort from many parties and disciplines. It takes organizational skills from a management perspective. On a large refurbishment project, there will be a lot of things happening at one time, and a schedule needs to be set and adhered to.
The reality is that adjustments will need to be made to the schedule, and as a team you can meet and discuss these to find solutions and alternatives that keep the project on track. A firm grasp of the overall project is required, because in maintenance you never know what may come up or what could be uncovered.
When considering a major aircraft refurbishment project, you will also need to determine any interior or avionics modifications that will be done, or any major changes that will be made. In an industry as regulated as aviation, this will include discussion about the approval path for those changes.
These can sometimes be complex, but are typically resolved and a solution found. When a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) is required, however, facilities that have Organization Designation Authority (ODA) with Major Repair and Alterations (MRA) and STC approvals will be helpful. These delegations have allowed the industry more autonomy and efficiency.
After all the planning, the day of input finally arrives and “construction” on the project begins. The first few days will be busy and you will meet many people. At Duncan Aviation, team members are encouraged to get to know the customers, and develop rapport directly with them.
You may choose to be on-site at the facility during a major event. Doing so allows you to see the progress and maybe see parts of the aircraft that you will not see while doing daily maintenance or smaller inspections at your own facility. It also can be good to be there to make decisions and approve work when needed.
For customers who cannot or would rather not remain with their aircraft, Duncan Aviation offers an online project communication and tracking tool called myDuncan. Available online and on mobile phones and tablets, myDuncan lets customers communicate directly with their project manager and share information, photos, item approvals and budgets.
It may seem that on a large project there will never be an end in sight, yet there always comes a point when you can really see things start to come together. It’s exciting to see the new product, from the new woodwork, plating, carpet and seats to a new paint scheme.
It’s also reassuring to know what lies beneath all of that is safe and airworthy because you have chosen a facility with a great reputation, and that really knows your aircraft and is confident in their ability to put out a very safe product. Inspections will assure that all supporting data and documentation is prepared and available for the customer.
The last step for a large project is to follow up. Feedback—good or bad—is important to all parties; we all need to know how we did otherwise improvements will be difficult to make. At Duncan Aviation, we carefully review this information and continually tweak and improve our processes to make our service better and more responsive for customers.