Business Aviation MROs Adapt to COVID-19, As Aircraft Disinfection Takes Precedence

Business aviation Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MROs) providers have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the aviation sector looks toward a recovery.

Business aviation Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MROs) providers have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the aviation sector looks toward a recovery. Business aviation and commercial aviation MROs are turning to alternate, non-passenger related sources of revenue, such as cargo aircraft, or are seeing opportunities in servicing business jet aircraft bought for personal or charter use.

Among all business aviation, MRO customer requests—including aircraft storage, engine maintenance, and avionics upgrades—aircraft disinfection has assumed prominence.

“The biggest proportion of requests pertain to undertaking aircraft disinfection, followed closely by regular testing of maintenance staff for COVID-19,” D. Anand Bhaskar, the managing director and CEO of India-based Air Works, wrote in an email to Avionics International. “For others, designing and following stringent COVID protocols, including testing, social distancing, or ensuring access control have been the rule. While meeting customer requirements, we have also ensured that aircraft engines, APUs & airframes are preserved as per the OEM guidelines, in view of the restrictions on domestic/international flying.”

Air Works provides MRO services for single and twin-engine helicopters and small, medium, and large business jets, including base maintenance for 15 to 20 aircraft monthly.

India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DCGA) has taken MRO-related measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, including extending the validity of Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization (CAMO) services and approving digital training and exemptions on some reporting requirements, steps that Bhaskar said have helped Air Works to maintain continuity of service.

Business aviation MRO work has comprised some 30 to 35 percent of Air Works’ business, and Bhaskar sees an opportunity going forward.

An engineer performs base line maintenance at Air Works India, which has a presence at 19 airports throughout the nation. Air Works

“COVID-19 has stimulated the demand for charters as well as business jets for personal use,” per Bhaskar. “At Air Works, we have been receiving a growing number of inquiries from corporates, travel groups as well as VIPs for both charters and aircraft purchase. Given that growth in business aviation was relatively stagnant over the past few years, this bolds well for the growth of the segment both with regard to the Indian subcontinent, as well as for the Asia-Pacific region, as some such customers will invariably become aircraft owners themselves. However, while the demand for business aviation is expected to grow, material support as part of MRO services has definitely been impacted due to the reduction in international flights.”

Like Air Works, Los Angeles-based Clay Lacy Aviation is seeing a significant number of aircraft disinfection requests from its clientele.

“Aircraft disinfecting services is a very high-demand service,” Scott Cutshall, the senior vice president of business operations for Clay Lacy Aviation, wrote in an email. “We use a combination of bi-polar ionization machines and approved cleaning products applied to the surfaces inside the plane. We had some requests for long term aircraft storage and maintenance early in the pandemic, but most aircraft are back to the operational phase again.”

Clay Lacy maintains and repairs a wide range of business jets, including Embraer Legacy 600s, Praetor 500 and 600s, Phenom 100 and 300s, Dassault Falcon 50, Falcon 900, Falcon 2000, and the Falcon 7X; all Learjet and Gulfstream models; and Bombardier Global Express, Challenger 600, and 300 models.

Clay Lacy Aviation typically has up to 35 aircraft in maintenance, including major unscheduled troubleshooting, light scheduled maintenance, and heavy scheduled maintenance, such as six-year maintenance on a Gulfstream.

“Our volume has been steady throughout 2020, steady busy with most of the main maintenance floor (airframe and powerplant) and all the support back shops (avionics, interiors, parts, and rotables, etc.) at near or over capacity,” per Cutshall. “We have not seen operators taking advantage by pulling their significant events in other than a few exceptions. Wi-Fi system upgrades and installations have been popular especially this year due to the promotions the manufacturers have been offering. We just completed our first install of the Honeywell JetWave system on a Global 6000, and we continue to install a number of Gogo AVANCE L3 and L5 systems.”

A technician performs an ion disinfection of a business jet at Clay Lacy Aviation's maintenance facility in California. Clay Lacy Aviation

To continue maintenance work in the COVID-19 environment, Clay Lacy Aviation installed multiple sanitization stations in late February; scheduled shifts with facilities’ teams to disinfect and clean all common touch areas; modified shifts to reduce the number of employees at one maintenance location at any given time; staggered lunch and break periods for technicians; invested heavily in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and audited PPE use by technicians several times daily.

For its part, Illinois-based AAR Corp. said it has undertaken similar safety measures to continue the company’s MRO work and has used remote inspection techniques with wearable technology and drones to lessen personnel needs. In addition, AAR Corp. has employed handheld devices for virtual audits required by regulators.

In addition to commercial jetliners, AAR Corp.’s MRO works on business jets, such as the Bombardier CRJ-200/-700/-900 and Dash-8 and the Embraer ERJ-135/145 and E170/175/190.

Last year, the MRO worked on some 1,000 aircraft with 40 being in various stages of maintenance at one time.

“Our current volume is 65-70 percent of pre-COVID levels and over the last few months we are seeing volumes pick up again in anticipation of the 2021 spring travel season,” Brian Sartain, AAR Corp’s senior vice president of repair and engineering, wrote in an email to Avionics.

“We see a big change for MRO business with a growing number of projects related to the cargo industry,” he wrote. “As passenger carrier work decreased, we are able to increase the business that we are doing for cargo airlines. Our large flexible network allows us to service a large variety of airframes and have recently been doing 747 freighter work plus a number of engineering projects related to passenger to freighter modifications in the cabin. When the economy recovers we expect there to be a very large bow wave of demand that will be difficult for the industry to support and capacity will be difficult to secure if operators do not have long-term contracts in place.”

AAR Corp.’s MRO has focused on domestic airframes “almost exclusively,” per Sartain, and the retirement of some jetliners, such as the Boeing 767 and 747, from passenger service has led to their use in cargo fleets, which AAR Corp.’s MRO has been servicing.

For Toronto-based Mid-Canada Mod Center, aircraft disinfection after MRO maintenance has been the work requested most by the company’s customers.

Mid-Canada Mod Center performs maintenance on 10 to 12 aircraft per month—a mix of mid and heavy corporate aircraft and light commercial and regional aircraft.

“In terms of dollars, the pandemic has affected our business negatively by roughly 40 percent,” Bill Arsenault, the president of Mid-Canada Mod Center, wrote in an email to Avionics. “Our current modification throughput is roughly 6-7 modifications per month.”

The company has had some work during the pandemic replacing obsolete avionics with modern cabin connectivity solutions, but the company’s clients have declined to pursue HVAC upgrades, as “they are satisfied with their operators’ procedures for disinfection of the aircraft,” per Arsenault.

“Realistically, and when it boils down to basics, any company in the aviation business is, in fact, in the travel business and the travel segment is getting hammered right now,” Arsenault wrote in his email to Avionics. “While there will be some pent-up demand that will get triggered at some point in the future, I believe that it will be some time, perhaps even a decade or more, before travel comes back to pre-pandemic levels. How soon will depend on control of this virus, public perception of lurking yet-known similar infections (read other viruses), and other socio-economic factors? On a more positive note, our major charter and aircraft management customers are seeing a bit of an uptick in requests from potential customers.”

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