MRO THE OTHER PILLAR OF AIR SAFETY
By François Blanc
Copyright : Pecchi Anthony
Maintenance centers approved by civil aviation authorities, whether national or supranational, constitute one of the strongest links in the air safety chain around the world. Helicopters are evidently not exempt from their scope.
MRO. THREE LETTERS WHICH REPRESENT A PILLAR OF THE CIVIL AVIATION INDUSTRY. A STATUS IMPOSED ON ALL PLAYERS IN THE SECTOR TO BE RECOGNIZED AS REGULATED ORGANIZATIONS. NOT EASILY OBTAINED FROM THE SUPERVISORY AUTHORITIES, THE “MAINTENANCE, REPAIR AND OVERHAUL” CERTIFICATE GRANTED TO ORGANIZATIONS ENTIRELY DEDICATED TO THE SUPPORT SERVICE OPENS DOORS TO THE CIVIL AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE MARKET AROUND THE WORLD. THE NUMBER OF THESE HIGH–LEVEL WORKSHOPS IS DIFFICULT ASCERTAIN FROM ONE CONTINENT TO THE NEXT. ALMOST ALL COUNTRIES HAVE AT LEAST ONE. FOR INSTANCE, ARGENTINA, ACCORDING TO THE AIRLINE UP DATE INTERNATIONAL FILE, HAS A TOTAL OF THREE (INCLUDING ONE FOR THE LINE MAINTENANCE OF TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT), WHILE THE US HAS 204. THE UK ACCOUNTS FOR 63, FRANCE 25, ITALY 9, NEW ZEALAND 107, AUSTRALIA 19 AND AFGHANISTAN JUST ONE. THE REASON BEHIND THIS DISTRIBUTION (EVEN IF THIS ARTICLE ONLY PROVIDES A BRIEF OVERVIEW) IS NATURALLY BASED ON A NUMBER OF CRITERIA – HISTORY, GEOGRAPHY, INDUSTRY, ECONOMY, GEOPOLITICAL SITUATION, ETC. ABOVE ALL, THE GLOBAL NETWORK OF MRO APPROVED WORKSHOPS DEFINES THE TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC CLUSTERS GOVERNING THIS PARTICULAR ACTIVITY.
Three areas of expertise.
Out of the thousands of organizations specializing in aircraft maintenance and repair located throughout the five continents, a certain proportion include helicopters into the scope of their services. To begin with, this clearly includes helicopter manufacturers (potentially through subsidiaries) as well as the engine makers that supply them. The common thread across these organizations is that they have all been assessed and deemed to be compliant with regulatory specifications by a national or supranational authority. The European Aviation Security Agency (EASA) is one of them. Marc Gragnoli, Senior Continuing Airworthiness Organisations Team Leader of the EASA explains: “the Part 145 regulation defines the requirements with which organizations involved in the maintenance and repair of aircraft registered in Europe must comply. These are workshops that benefit from the status of maintenance organization in the regulatory sense of the term. However, keep in mind that in Europe there are three zones to be considered in the issuance of this type of approval. First comes the European territory where national authorities issue their own approvals. Next, the domain of bilateral agreements between States such as those for example that exist between Europe and the United States, or between Europe and Brazil: in which case the EASA is the competent authority. Lastly, in terms of the rest of the world (excluding Europe and bilateral agreements) the Part 145 regulation applies. As part of the bilateral context, it should be specified that in the event a difference arises in the assessment of the level of safety between the EASA and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we would then ensure that the European requirements are properly understood, and even request additional requirements to achieve this. And this adjustment works both ways, when the FAA believes that it has to adjust the range of requirements compared with European regulation”.
Each civil helicopter in operation around the world, from the time its operator has chosen to comply with the requirements set by European (or US) regulation, must therefore be maintained and repaired in accordance with predetermined rules. “Just like there are regulations applicable to operating an aircraft (the operations), there are technical requirements, defined by Continuing Airworthiness Management, or CAM,” stated Marc Gragnoli. “These relate to a maintenance program, airworthiness directives, and so on, with which the operators must comply in order to ensure a valid airworthiness certificate, in other words that the aircraft is suitable for safe flight. To do so, maintenance (and repairs, if necessary) must be performed by an approved workshop. The link between the role of these workshops and airworthiness is found at this level.” The approval process also follows a predetermined procedure. Marc Gragnoli: “If an organization that is not covered under the scope of a bilateral agreement turns to the EASA to obtain approval under Part 145, we ask it which type of aircraft it plans to work on, which components, which engines, which propellers, etc. As long as all the material in question is certified in Europe, the organization is eligible. We also check where it operates, since this determines the competent authority (national if in Europe, or the Agency if outside Europe). The applicant then explains how it plans to work, provides information on how it is organized, the staff and management within its organization, etc. The Agency then ensures that everything complies with the regulation including the standards of the procedure. Finally, it sends someone on site to verify that everything is set up and works as stated.”
An approval is often not issued on the first request. “Once corrective actions have been performed in the applicant organization and it complies with the regulation, we issue the certificate. The workshop then has Part 145 approval. Of course, this certificate is not acquired for life. We then enter into a two-year cycle at the end of which we ensure once again that the organization’s relevant activities comply with the regulation,” added the EASA manager. From the point of view of workshops, Part 145 approval opens up major market opportunities. However, it is not the only one: “ISO certification can also increase the appeal of an MRO,” stated Brian Hughes, sales and business development director of the helicopter program for Standard Aero. He added: “in the world of engine maintenance, it is common to have staff trained in the methods of the manufacturers or engine makers. Similarly, it is common to work with manuals and tools approved by these manufacturers. But not all workshops follow these provisions, just like not all authorities impose the same minimum standards to certify an MRO.” In some parts of the world, the competition between workshops will therefore justify certain investments. Accordingly, business development for this type of expertise is essentially founded on “reputation and references” explained Brian Hughes. These are built from an ongoing demonstration of know-how. However to find customers, marketing and service offerings are not always enough. “A good MRO service provider visits its customers and prospective customers. It is essential to ask questions about their environment, the nature of their business, learn as much as possible about their needs. And discuss in person with their contacts.” However preferences expressed by operators can prove diverse: “Some like to deal with local service providers, flying their helicopter to the workshop. For others, it is the opposite. They are not opposed to the idea that they can get better service and customized solutions by accepting to ship a certain part to the other side of the world,” added the sales director. Positions likely to stir up even more competition on a global market.