What is Aircraft MRO?
Have you ever wondered what goes into maintaining and tuning an aircraft? Air travel has earned the reputation of being the safest method of transportation due to a strictly regulated and highly efficient maintenance program. In this blog, we will discuss what procedures go into aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) and what it takes to keep a plane airworthy.
Like any machine with moving parts, aircraft must be regularly examined and maintained. However, unique to aviation is its status as a high-reliability organization, meaning that while catastrophic accidents could occur, they are avoided through the standardization of procedures. As such, the risk of dying in an airplane crash is 1 in 11 million. Additionally, several regulations regarding MRO are regularly reviewed and amended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These regulations specify the tasks needing to be performed before an aircraft is deemed airworthy while also determining the personnel that may maintain and inspect the airplane.
Under regular MRO operations, the several tasks that must be accomplished are broken up into different categories. The first of these categories is the scheduled maintenance check. Most MRO facilities and airlines characterize the type of check they are performing as either A, B, C, or D, with the complexity of the examinations increasing from beginning to end. An A check is the least intensive and most commonly performed, typically being carried out every 400-600 hours of flight. In this service, maintenance crews will inspect both the interior and hull of the aircraft for any damage, corrosion, or deformities. They may also perform checks on other pertinent systems, such as the emergency lights and brake pressure.
B checks occur every 6-8 months and take much more time and personnel to complete. At this level of inspection, crews may complete A-check tasks in addition to more intensive checks centering around nose landing gear alignment, wheel wells, hydraulic tubing, and fluid leakage. C checks are considered "heavy" and occur less frequently, approximately after 20-24 months or 6,000 flight hours. The inspections completed in a C check typically take 1-2 weeks to complete, and the aircraft remains out of service the entire time. Also, due to the nature of the checks needing to be performed, this level of inspection requires a bigger space to complete. Here, load-bearing components on the wings and fuselage are inspected for deformities or corrosion, electrical systems are tested and assessed, and various structures and cables will be relubricated.
The final, and most labor-intensive, of the scheduled aircraft inspections are the D checks. These heavy maintenance visits are required every 6-10 years depending on the aircraft and are only done at specialized facilities. Completing a D check can take up to 50,000 labor hours and take the plane out of service for over a month. During the check, the entire aircraft must be stripped and removed of equipment, allowing an opportunity for airlines to upgrade or refurbish parts.
Also included in MRO operations is a unique program dubbed "power by the hour." In this program, airlines will lease an engine from an owner and pay them a fixed-rate dependent on the monthly flights. While it may not seem intuitive to lease an engine instead of owning one, airlines are protected from the high cost of premature-engine failure and refurbishment. Additionally, it gives the lessee an accurate forecast of annual operating costs, allowing for a more precise budget.
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