April 27, 2020

Even as business aircraft operators remain largely idled by the COVID-19 crisis, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies are committed to servicing aircraft and keeping them ready to fly.

“We’ve definitely seen a drop off in volume, though maintenance work has remained healthy so far,” said Jeff Lake, COO for Duncan Aviation. “Discretionary work like paint and interiors have taken a hit, but the overall situation is better than we saw immediately following the 2009 downturn.”

Supply chain matters are another concern for operators, including availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for aircraft maintenance technicians and other department personnel. “PPE shortages have affected us the most so far, although for a good reason,” Lake said. This equipment is “all going to the medical industry.”

“Just a single person infected [with COVID-19] would have a profound impact on our operation,” said John Holland, general manager for Trimec Aviation. “People working in close proximity are required to wear masks and other PPE. We also thoroughly disinfect aircraft as they arrive and again when they leave, for the safety of our staff and customers.”

However, so far disruptions in the supply of aircraft parts and equipment appear to be minimal. “We deal a lot with OEMs and, so far, we’ve seen zero effects on the supply of parts,” said Stan Baker, president of Baker Aviation. “I’ve heard of issues with some vendors that may have employees furloughed, but for the most part they’re doing okay for now.”

“Parts are still available, but the warehouse may be closed or under reduced staffing, so what might usually be a next-day part may now take three to four days,” Holland added. “It’s not a widespread issue, though, and communication is key. Customers understand as long as we keep them informed about the situation.”

While it’s difficult to foresee when widespread flying may resume, all three MRO executives remain guardedly optimistic. “I don’t think we’ll return to normal overnight, or that everyone will jump on a plane and start traveling again, but I do expect the general aviation rebound to be fairly strong,” Lake said. “People will feel better about flying onboard their own aircraft or charter operator.”

Baker noted that his MRO has focused on maintaining his company’s charter aircraft. “I’m not a believer in taking a good and functional airplane and mothballing it,” he said. “When things improve, I want the entire fleet ready to fly that day.”

“We’re going to be okay, provided our customers aren’t impacted economically for an extended period,” said Holland “The challenge will be how quickly some industries can rebound, like the oil and gas business here in Texas. Most aircraft sit idle today because their businesses are idle. That could create bigger financial issues six months down the road, with a major increase in aircraft saturating the market.”