Despite the fact that airlines tend to opt for increasingly younger fleets and to send the exploited aircraft into retirement earlier more often than they previously used to, there are still many still operated aircraft that date back to the Soviet Union. Although they have become increasingly unpopular due to their age, engine noise and out-dated avionics, Soviet-made aircraft still make up for a considerable part of the fleets operated by the ex-USSR and Africa-based carriers. Most of them are commonly used for local flights. Although in the upcoming ten years aircraft manufacturers are to deliver more than 16 000 aircraft, the older ones, which require extra maintenance, technical support and financial resources, are unlikely to vanish any time soon.
Within the next decade 50% of new aircraft deliveries will replace the existing ones. About 6800 aircraft of current fleet (33%) will be retired in order to optimize high exploitation costs resulting from the increasing fuel prices. About 3900 narrow-body commercial aircraft will be retired as the remaining 727, 737 and DC-9. Gradually carriers will also let go of the earlier generation MD-80s, A320s and 757s. As concerns the wide-body aircraft types, the owners are expected to exchange about 1600 aircraft of the existing wide-body fleet, turning 18% of them into freighter aircraft.
‘However, there is no single criterion that could be applied in determining whether an aircraft should be considered as ‘old’. Aircraft age depends on a variety of factors, such as chronological age, number of flight cycles, number of flight hours, etc. Other issue to do with evaluating the aging process of an aircraft is the fact that every unit ages differently. There are two basic approaches for managing the ageing process. The first method is to replace the aircraft, the second one is adequate maintenance of the aircraft,’ commented the Deputy Head of FL Technics Training Dainius Sakalauskas.
One way or another, aircraft owners can choose from either investing in technical maintenance of their older aircraft or replacing them with newer models. Although distinct carriers tend to choose different fleet management strategies, this year alone the overall airlines’ expenditures on MRO services are expected to increase by 5.7%, i.e. reach $49.5 billion. The MRO sector growth will be largely affected by the rapidly expanding fleets, rising levels of aircraft exploitation and increasing service pace. Despite the growing number of new aircraft orders, units, manufactured several decades ago are still not that uncommon. In order to ensure flight safety and increase aircraft output, airlines have to invest more money in aircraft exploitation and technical maintenance specialists.
‘As an aircraft ages the requirements for its maintenance only increase. Technical maintenance can be carried out during the flight, in hangars or depots. The hourly pay-rate for those who maintain or repair an aircraft increase along with that aircraft’s age. Exploiting older aircraft requires airlines to significantly increase their human capital,’ explained D.Sakalauskas.
This means not only adequately trained highly qualified specialists, but also their ability to cope with the growing work-load – regardless whether it would be more attention requiring old generation aircraft or the highly sophisticated new generation ‘flying computer systems’. In any case, the growth of the MRO segment also depends on the properly trained staff that can ensure the highest service standards and speed.