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The Current State of the Aviation Supply Chain

2024-06-26 / 5 min

The aviation industry is currently navigating some pretty rough skies. From fewer planes being produced than planned to rising costs and labor shortages, the sector is facing several challenges that are causing significant turbulence. At Locatory.com, we understand these issues deeply and are committed to providing solutions through our aviation marketplace. Here’s a breakdown of the key challenges and how we can help mitigate them.

Production Delays and Manufacturer Backlogs

Airplane manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand, producing fewer planes than planned. This has led to growing backlogs, especially for narrowbody aircraft. Airlines are left waiting longer for new planes, impacting their operations. By diversifying their supplier base through platforms like Locatory.com, airlines can mitigate delays and keep their fleets running smoothly. Our marketplace connects airlines with a vast network of suppliers, making it easier to find the parts and materials they need more efficiently.

Technical Problems with New Planes and Engines

Newly introduced planes and engines are facing unforeseen technical issues, resulting in unexpected groundings. This means fewer planes are available for flights, causing scheduling headaches for airlines.

Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan (GTF) engines, primarily used in popular narrowbody aircraft like the Airbus A320neo, have encountered various technical problems since their introduction. These issues range from minor software bugs to significant mechanical failures. The most pressing problems include premature wear of engine parts, cooling system failures, and durability concerns with turbine blades and seals.

In late 2020, the PW1100G Block D standard was introduced with enhancements aimed at improving the durability of the hot section. However, these modifications were insufficient in a crucial aspect: the durability of the combustor. While changes to the pattern and size of the cooling holes in the revised combustor helped to double the time on wing compared to the previous standard, a persistent issue with the thermal barrier coating led to premature erosion inside the combustor liners.

As a result, Pratt is developing two additional upgrade phases. One will feature improved airfoil coatings, enhanced cooling for the hot section, and upgraded air seals. Following that, another one will introduce further enhancements to airfoil coatings and additional durability upgrades for the hot section. Concurrently, Pratt is implementing phased improvements to the oil systems of the PW1500G and PW1900G models to address specific durability concerns.

Pratt is balancing the production of new engines designed to remain on wing longer with the need to supply enough spare parts for older models, which now require more replacements than initially expected. In the meantime, airlines must adapt as Pratt accelerates inspections for hundreds of engines earlier than previously anticipated.

These technical difficulties have led to numerous unplanned groundings of aircraft equipped with these engines. Airlines have had to pull planes from service for extended maintenance checks and repairs, resulting in schedule disruptions and financial losses. The groundings are particularly troublesome for carriers operating high-frequency routes where fleet availability is crucial.

The impact of these engine problems extends beyond immediate operational disruptions. Airlines are facing increased maintenance costs and logistical challenges in sourcing replacement parts. The shortage of spare parts and the time required to perform necessary repairs further exacerbate the situation, leading to prolonged aircraft downtime.

Moreover, the reliability concerns surrounding Pratt & Whitney engines are affecting fleet planning and expansion strategies. Airlines that had planned to rely heavily on narrowbody aircraft with GTF engines are now reconsidering their options. Some have delayed the delivery of new aircraft, while others are exploring alternative engine suppliers or different aircraft models altogether.

Pratt & Whitney has acknowledged the issues and is working diligently to address them. The company has initiated several corrective measures, including design improvements, enhanced maintenance protocols, and increased production of spare parts. They are also working closely with airlines to provide technical support and expedite the resolution of engine problems.

Toma Matutytė, CEO of Locatory.com, emphasizes the importance of having a reliable supply chain in such situations: “When technical issues arise, it’s crucial for airlines to have quick access to replacement parts and maintenance solutions. At Locatory.com, we are committed to supporting airlines by connecting them with a global network of suppliers, ensuring they can address these challenges promptly and keep their fleets operational.”

Aftermarket Pressures and Delayed Retirements

With rising demand for passenger travel, airlines are keeping older planes in service longer. This puts extra pressure on maintenance operations and increases the need for aftermarket parts and services.

Older aircraft require more frequent and intensive maintenance to ensure safety and reliability. For instance, the Boeing 747, which many airlines have kept in service longer due to growing passenger demand, needs regular inspections and replacements of critical components such as landing gear, avionics, and engines. This increased maintenance workload necessitates a higher supply of aftermarket parts.

Older engines, such as the CFM56 which is used on many Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft, need periodic overhauls to maintain performance. The increased use of these older planes results in more frequent engine removals and repairs, driving up the demand for spare parts like turbine blades, seals, and bearings. Companies specializing in engine MRO services see a surge in business as airlines seek to keep these engines running smoothly.

As aircraft age, certain components become more prone to failure. For example, older hydraulic systems might experience leaks and pressure issues, leading to a higher need for replacement parts and specialized repair services. This not only increases the workload for maintenance crews but also drives demand for companies that can supply and service these components.

To keep older aircraft attractive to passengers, airlines often invest in interior refurbishments, such as new seats, updated in-flight entertainment systems, and refreshed cabin decor. This requires a steady supply of aftermarket interior parts and services. Companies that provide these upgrades see increased business as airlines strive to maintain a competitive edge.

Locatory.com’s extensive parts and suppliers base helps airlines maintain their older aircraft more effectively, reducing the pressure on maintenance operations. The easy access to necessary components through such online aviation marketplace ensures that airlines can continue to operate efficiently despite these pressures.

Rising Costs and Material Shortages

The cost of parts and services is climbing, particularly for used materials. Raw materials like aluminum and titanium are in short supply, driving prices up and extending lead times. These rising costs ripple throughout the aviation industry. Airlines face higher expenses for maintaining their fleets and acquiring new aircraft. This can translate into increased ticket prices for passengers or put pressure on airline profitability.

Finding solutions to these challenges will be crucial for the industry’s continued recovery. Moreover, exploring alternative materials or production methods might be necessary to mitigate the impact of raw material shortages.

Through our marketplace, airlines can find competitive pricing and alternative sources for critical materials. Matutytė adds, “Locatory.com’s transparency helps users compare options and make cost-effective decisions, which is crucial in managing rising costs and material shortages.”

Workforce Shortages

The aviation industry is facing a significant labor shortage, especially for skilled mechanics and technicians. This shortage is partly due to pandemic-related layoffs and retirements. While we can’t directly solve the labor shortage, our platform helps streamline the parts procurement process, reducing the workload on existing staff. This efficiency can help make up for the lack of manpower, ensuring that operations continue smoothly.

Toma Matutytė shares her thoughts on these challenges and how the online marketplace platform can make a difference: “The aviation industry is undoubtedly facing some tough challenges right now. At Locatory.com, we provide solutions that help airlines and suppliers navigate these issues more effectively. Our marketplace is designed to offer transparency, efficiency, and a wide range of options, making it easier for the industry to overcome supply chain disruptions.”

She emphasizes, “By connecting a global network of suppliers with airlines in need, we help ensure that critical parts and materials are accessible when and where they are needed most. This not only helps mitigate delays and technical issues but also supports the overall resilience of the aviation supply chain.”

Looking Forward

Despite the current challenges, we are optimistic about the future of the aviation supply chain. With the right strategies and tools, the industry can overcome these hurdles and continue to thrive. At Locatory.com, we are proud to play a crucial role in this journey, providing the resources and support needed to keep the skies friendly and the planes flying.

In conclusion, the aviation supply chain is facing significant challenges, but with the support of platforms like Locatory.com, the industry can navigate these turbulent times. Our commitment to connecting suppliers and airlines, offering competitive pricing, and ensuring access to critical parts and materials makes us a vital partner in overcoming these issues.

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