Oct. 25, 2022
After years of on-demand ordering and quick deliveries, business aircraft operators of all sizes now face a new reality that adds time, stress and cost to both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance.
“When it comes to accessing replacement parts, things we took for granted three years ago can no longer be expected,” said Greg West, chief pilot and aviation department manager at Part 91 operator Cherokee Aviation. “We used to order a part and expect it to be delivered the next day, or at the least in a few days. Those days are gone. Now, while you may still get a part quickly, you must build in contingencies to account for lengthy delays and even losses,” West notes.
For many reasons, shipping delays are now inevitable, so operators should consider local sources for parts, said Ken Gray, director of operations at charter and flight management company Executive Fliteways.
“Knowing that parts may take a considerable time to get to you – if at all – makes local sourcing much more attractive,” Gray explained. “It may be slightly more expensive, but there is security in knowing that you can send a courier to go pick up a part and get it to you that same day or the next day. And it is certainly a lot less expensive than having to ground your aircraft for days while you wait for a part to be delivered,” he added.
When local sourcing is not available, operators should always consider insurance, especially when shipping during peak demand times such as the holidays.
“Shippers typically offer some coverage, but it would be wise to talk with your insurance broker on how to cover the shipment of parts,” advised Joel Felker, director of aircraft maintenance at a Florida-based operator. “Loss of a high-cost part can be painful, so check with your aircraft insurance provider when this occurs.” But you may not be able to claim every loss, he added.
AOGs are a particular concern when supply chains are broken and parts are difficult to source, so operators should prepare for a new approach when an aircraft is unexpectedly grounded, Felker noted.
“You need to get ahead of things in an AOG [situation], especially if you need a part that is in high demand. You need to work quickly and methodically, so pick up the phone and call your parts supplier, then call the shippers to get a direct contact you can work with, and then call the OEM’s technical help desk and put your airplane down as an AOG. Do everything you can to have your aircraft’s AOG prioritized,” advised Felker.
Operators also need to take a fresh look at their scheduled maintenance routines.
“These days, you have to be better prepared, so if you can, consider stocking up on key parts,” advised Gray. “We wouldn’t have thought about this three years ago, but things like tires and even grease are now difficult to find, so when you can, stock up with an eye on the next six to 12 months.
“If you have an older aircraft, it might also be prudent to have display units and avionics at hand,” continued Gray. “You have to realize that, for now, there is a new level of difficulty to operating a business aircraft, and you have to do what you can to mitigate that.”
That new reality also means building new relationships and strengthening existing ones, said West.
“Get to know your shippers better, get to know the drivers, and see if you can negotiate shipping rates,” West recommended. “It also doesn’t hurt to sign up with a charter operator or two, just so they have your details inputted into their system in case you need to use them in an emergency,” he added. “Essentially, cover every base and make sure you have another option in the likely event you can’t get your aircraft into service because you are waiting on a part.”