Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) keep raising the prices for their products on an annual average of 3-5%, jet fuel prices continue to fluctuate and the global passenger traffic growth has yet to recover from the recent crisis. Such a business environment forces airlines and other aviation industry players to seek for more effective optimization solutions. Since the repair and acquisition of aircraft parts, components and other materials account for a lion’s share of airlines’ maintenance costs, the utilization of alternative, non-OEM solutions may provide airlines with up to 10-15% savings per single case. 

The increasing appetite of OEMs

Currently the global maintenance market is valued at $47-49 billion per year with the potential to expand by approx. $20 billion in the upcoming years. Endeavouring to benefit from the ever-growing aircraft aftermarket, original equipment manufacturers have considerably expanded their sphere of interest far beyond the production area itself.  

With the technology becoming more and more sophisticated, OEMs are reluctant to share their know-how with other industry players, particularly maintenance organizations. While providing only limited access to technical and other relevant information with regard to their products, OEMs are urging airlines to sign long term support agreements and MROs to buy highly expensive licenses. In both cases the aftermath of such developing is the same – rising price lists and limited elbow-room for negotiations. 

Market Alternatives

However, not only original manufacturers can produce aircraft parts and components. The development of the alternative parts’ market began in 1950s in the USA. The PMA market (parts manufactured under an FAA-PMA approval as it’s defined in FAR 21.303) consists of alternative manufacturers, which obtain the Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) and are not affiliated with any OEMs. New technologies, processes and materials allow PMA manufacturers to offer often even better alternatives which are identical in design yet substantially cheaper. The price difference between the OEM and PMA parts may be as high as 40%.

According to Avia Solutions Group experts, today the overall PMA market is worth over $1 billion. Until year 2000 the USA was the prime market for the PMA production, since the majority of PMA manufacturers were based in North America. However, driven by the rising fuel prices and the need to optimize their business, carriers and MROs in other regions became more and more open to alternative solutions. As a result, in 2009 the North and South Americas combined accounted for 47% of the global PMA market only, whereas Europe, the Middle East and Africa already accounted for 35%, Asia and Oceania – for 18%.

PMA market shares by regions
Table 1. PMA market shares by regions, 1997 – 2009

Meanwhile, the highly attractive aircraft maintenance market captured the attention of OEMs, too. Upon the decision to enter the MRO market, many OEMs decided to limit the access to the technical data of their new products, and provide repair schemes for the licensed MRO organizations only. In return, some independent MRO market players have introduced alternative repair solutions – DER-repairs.  

DER-repairs are individual repair practices which restore a broken part or component back to the initial design requirements. All alternative repair practices are approved by a Designated Engineering Representative (DER) of the Civil Aviation Authority. 

‘Available for already 40 years now, DER-repairs are particularly efficient in cases of newly introduced products when a relevant aftermarket has not been fully developed yet. For instance, the DER-repairs of new generation engines helps airlines to save approx. 7% of the total maintenance bill,’ – commented the Chairman of the Board at Avia Solutions Group Gediminas Ziemelis.  

DER/PMA Engine savings
Table 2. DER/PMA Engine savings.

The utilization of PMA parts and DER-repairs is a particularly topical issue in the Engine MRO segment, as it corresponds to the largest portion of all MRO-related expenses. Considering the fact that engine inventory (parts, materials, etc.) accounts for up to 65% of all these engine-related costs, it is no wonder that today approx. 55% of the entire PMA market accounts for engine-related parts alone. According to Avia Solutions Group experts, using PMA-parts together with DER-repairs may help airlines to save up to $450,000 per single engine Heavy Maintenance.
 
Engine HM Savings
Table 3. Engine HM Savings

Fierce Opposition

However, for many years the use of PMA parts has been subjected to fierce opposition from the original manufacturers. The discontent of someone trying to contest their control over the supply market is only natural. In order to undermine PMA positions, some of the OEMs claimed that alternative parts have questionable reliability and even warned their clients that they will be deprived of warranty support should they utilize PMA parts on their aircraft.

Such threats though should be of a minor concern. During the warranty period airlines have no need to utilize alternative solutions as the original manufacturers will repair or replace a broken part with a new one without any extra costs for the client. The demand for cheaper PMA parts appears only after the warranty period expires, thus diminishing the OEMs’ power to limit the after-sale services.

While some claim that the utilization of PMA parts may trigger safety and reliability issues, in practice both the US and the European Authorities, along with several dozens of other national Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs), have clearly stated that in terms of airworthiness PMA parts do not differ from OEM parts at all. Moreover, during the past 20 years regulatory bodies have issued several hundreds of Airworthiness Directives (AD) with regard to OEM parts, notifying aircraft owners and operators about any newly revealed safety deficiencies which must be corrected. During the same period, only few ADs were issued with regard to PMA parts. In addition, the PMA scrap rate during the first repair is practically equal to 0, whilst the OEM scrap rate may be as high as 10%.

‘On the other hand, the utilization of alternative solutions may have some shortcomings. In some cases DER-repairs prove to be even more expensive than genuine OEM repairs thus being Beyond Economical Repair (BER).  Unfortunately, should one of engine components be repaired with alternative practices or replaced with a PMA part, the carrier is likely to face certain difficulties with future engine maintenance (e.g. the  part will be subject to DER-repairs only) because he will have limited number of PMA part repair vendors,’ – commented Gediminas Ziemelis.

Moreover, OEM-affiliated repair shops are usually prohibited from using PMA parts and during a shop visit an airline may end up with the demand to remove all PMA materials and replace them with relevant OEM parts thus triggering enormous additional expenses. This means that an airline will have limited chose of engine shops for its engines with PMA parts inside.

But one of the main obstacles for further PMA market development is vigorous opposition from leasing companies, which own over 50% of the entire global aircraft fleet. It is an industry-wide belief, that changing an OEM part to a PMA alternative is likely to lower the value of the entire aircraft. Wishing to avoid any possible asset value reductions, as well as being under a constant financial pressure from aircraft manufacturers, leasing companies are allying OEMs in their opposition to alternative PMA parts.

Moreover, many countries and operators, particularly from the emerging markets, are still being rather sceptical towards PMA production, mostly considering it to be counterfeit with no regard to proven quality and successful experience of such American and European companies as Lufthansa, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, etc. As a result, leasing companies prefer not to play a risky game with PMA parts and DER-repairs, which may deprive them of potential markets and clients.

Summary

PMA parts and DER repairs are effective solutions for airlines and MROs, wishing to enhance their competitiveness and performance in the modern aviation industry. Approved and certified by the FAA, EASA and a range of other CAAs, alternative parts are as reliable and airworthy as original equipment.

Airlines shouldn’t be intimidated by OEMs and Lessors and remain firm while negotiating their right to choose non-OEM products and services. By advocating PMA parts and DER repairs, airlines are contributing to the real diversification of the aviation aftermarket, the ultimate beneficiary of which are airlines themselves. However, should an airline choose to avoid PMA parts, taking the pro-PMA  position during the pre-contract negotiations, it must use it as a leverage to gain more favourable contract conditions with regard to other negotiable issues. For instance, certain airlines may expect 40% discounts on certain components for CFM56 engines in exchange for the obligation not to utilize PMA parts and DER-repairs.

Therefore, in order to further optimize airlines’ performance, enhance market competition and thus preserve the development of the global aviation, industry players, particularly from the emerging markets, should be more open-minded while considering opportunities provided by alternative supply and maintenance solutions. By thoroughly planning long-term fleet support, which would include a clear strategy of using both PMA parts/DER repairs as well as original equipment and practices, airlines will be able to secure substantial cost-reductions while maintaining the same high level safety and airworthiness.

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