Nov. 25, 2019

Whether your flight department is a large operation with dozens of employees, or simply a pilot and an airplane, contract MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) personnel and facilities can be a valuable tool to ensure your aircraft are ready to support your business.

Doug Gordon, maintenance manager for Executive Jet Management, noted his single-airplane operation in South Florida utilizes contract help “almost weekly,” but when speaking of EJM’s multiple locations and more than 200 managed airplanes worldwide, “I’d put it closer to at least daily.

“We hire contractors to do what we can-not do ourselves, either due to manpower or the required equipment and support,” Gordon continued. “I’m one guy with one airplane, and that airplane flies a lot. More than two-thirds of aircraft are operated by a single owner, and it’s not practical for them to hire an entire flock of people to maintain it. Someone needs to do that work.”

“We use contractors for lots of things,” added Joel Felker, director of aviation maintenance at CNL Financial Group.

“That includes C-checks, paint jobs and all of our avionics work. Of course, we also utilize contract labor when faced with AOG (aircraft on ground) situations on the road.”

In such cases when time is at a premium, it helps to have an extensive list of resources from which to draw.

“We maintain a list of trusted con-tractors, both in the U.S. and around the globe, able to respond quickly to an AOG,” Felker said. “Additionally, most large MROs now have their own apps that we can use to determine their level of expertise and available slots.”

As part of a larger operation, Gordon benefits from EJM’s knowledge base and list of approved contractors.

“The central location handles oversight of all aircraft maintenance, and they’re my first source to see what resources we have in that location,” he said. “Beyond that, it becomes more about developing relation-ships with dependable and reliable vendors in a given area.

“I’m responsible for sourcing people not already on our approved list,” Gordon continued. “We have a two-fold obligation here – not only to protect our asset and the owner’s asset, but also to consider the contractor and protect their own interests and liability.”


Vetting a new contractor doesn’t need to be a drawn-out process, but it does help to do your homework and schedule as far in advance as you can. Debi Cunningham, vice president of marketing at West Star Aviation, emphasized the importance of finding an MRO familiar with your aircraft.

“I can’t stress enough the benefits of planning ahead,” she said. “Visit prospective companies that you are thinking about using whenever possible, so you can then tell if they have the tooling, trained technicians and specialized equipment that may be needed for your aircraft.”

If such visits aren’t possible, Cunningham recommends asking about a shop’s experience with the specific work needed for your aircraft.

“This is important when doing major inspections for specific airframes,” she continued. “If the company has done one or many, they have a better idea of the troubles that can be found with the specific airframe and inspection, as well as downtime and pricing. That’s all to your advantage.”

“Vetting is very important,” noted Felker, “not only to ensure the contractor meets all regulatory and insurance requirements, but also to verify they are able to handle the job and complete the work in a timely manner.

“For example, it’s nearly impossible right now to get an aircraft into an avionics shop due to the volume of ADS-B installs. It takes a little pre-planning to make sure the time frames work for everyone.”

Larger projects requiring supplemental type certification (STC), such as engine mods, may also represent added expense and downtime. Cunningham recommended finding a contractor with an FAA Designated Engineering Representative, Designated Airworthiness Representative or Organization Designation Authorization on site.

“The project STC can be done in-house without going out to the FAA and possibly having a lengthy wait for approvals,” she noted. “This is an important step to look at for major floor-plan changes, or interior modifications or new cabin-management systems.”


The situation may become more fluid when dealing with an AOG, particularly in remote locations without a major MRO facility nearby.

“Then it becomes more about who’s available and in the area,” Felker said. “I think we sometimes exclude companies without a big name or a large repair station, but I hate to see shops lacking repair station certification for a particular aircraft lose work they’re perfectly capable of handling on an AOG. The concern is getting the airplane fixed.

“Of course, they must also adhere to all the necessary regulatory standards and licenses,” he continued, “but I’m not necessarily looking that they have a repair station certificate or a fleet of work trucks. We can walk them through the requirements to an extent.”

Even when time is of the essence, some due diligence can help stave off unexpected headaches.
“Do a little research and ask for references,” Cunningham advised. “Find out about the company’s culture and their process, from input through delivery.”

“Regardless of the size of their operation, anybody working on our airplane also must go through training prior to signing it off for return to service,” Gordon added. “We’ve made this a fairly straightforward task, with web-based training highlighting knowledge of our maintenance manual and critical areas of the aircraft.”

That may also include assisting smaller MROs with meeting insurance requirements defined by your company’s insurance provider and risk manager.

“Those standards will be specific to the aircraft’s value and other considerations,” said Felker. “However, some local A&P technicians and maintenance directors may not carry that much coverage, so I’ll occasionally put them under my own management company policy for that job.

“That doesn’t happen very often, but it’s useful for one-off help,” he concluded. “The ultimate goal for everyone concerned is to get the aircraft fixed and returned to service safely.”

Additional information regarding the use of contractors to support your flight operation and bolster its effectiveness in maintaining your aircraft are available in Section 4 of the NBAA Management Guide.