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Aircraft floor panels: How to reduce downtime through shorter lead times

An airline has an aircraft coming in for a heavy maintenance ‘D’ check, and in accordance with its maintenance schedule, it has reserved hangar space and lined up its maintenance staff. But during the check, the airline discovers that one of the floor panels needs to be replaced. And its MRO service provider informs it that it will take at least 3 months to procure that specific panel.

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, long lead times for procuring floor panels is a common scenario for many airlines. What can they do to reduce the lead times and avoid costly downtime? 

What’s behind the problem of long lead times? 

There are a number of factors contributing to long lead times for floor panel procurement.

The inability to predict floor panel damage

One of the causes lies in the fact that unless an aircraft is undergoing a cabin retrofit, an airline only discovers floor panel damage during the heavier maintenance checks, when cabins are removed. And these are only conducted every three and six years.

Until these checks are performed, it’s impossible for airlines to predict which panels will be damaged and to what extent. The damage, including delamination, scratches, holes and dent caused by dropped objects, will depend on varying operational factors – how the floor panel was installed, how it has been utilised and the incidents of damage that can typically occur in service.

Determining which part numbers should be replaced

The problem is compounded by the fact that if a customised panel is to be replaced, the maintenance crew must then determine which part it is and what to order. This is often not straightforward, as there can be hundreds of different customised part numbers.

Most airlines will define a ‘head of version' aircraft which then determines the floor panel configuration for 10 aircraft in a fleet, for example. When subsequent ‘heads of versions’ set different configurations, suddenly the airline is faced with needing a large number of varying customised panels, even though some versions will have areas in common

Essentially, no aircraft is exactly like another, making it particularly difficult for the airline to anticipate and prepare for future needs.

Procurement of customised floor panels

And then comes the most important part of the problem. Having discovered the damage and identified the precise part needed, if the airline doesn't have that specific panel part in stock, it needs to be ordered.

This is especially problematic, as a customised panel part typically incurs a lead time of up to 90 days.

The issue with long lead times

When hangar space is scarce and maintenance crew have already been allocated, such long lead times impact the airline substantially.

Upset maintenance schedules

Firstly, long lead times upset entire maintenance schedules. A ‘C’ maintenance check, usually expected to take three weeks, is now completely thrown off course. Even a ‘D’ check, expected to take up to six weeks, is significantly delayed. Schedules have to be reconfigured and crew reorganised.

The delay is costly to the airline. Not only is it expensive to extend the use of the hangar space, but the order priority will also need to be upgraded to a fast-track delivery from the manufacturer – at a cost to the airline. And, of course, an out-of-service aircraft means lost revenue.

Large stock investments are required to avoid procurement delays

In an effort to avoid pricey downtime, many airlines end up ensuring they have complete configurations in stock in advance of their maintenance checks. But large, up-front OEM stocks entail significant investments, particularly when not all the procured floor panel part numbers end up being used.

Floor panels selector: What options are available for aircraft floor panels?

An on-demand floor panel solution

Fortunately, there is a floor panel product in the market that eliminates the lead times. The semi-finished floor panel, specifically developed to address the lead-time problem, now provides an on-demand solution.

What are semi-finished floor panels exactly?

The semi-finished floor panels are boards of a standard measurement which are supplied to the airline in a pre-cut condition. Two or three floor panels can be cut from one board, depending on the supplier and application area. A single Airbus semi-finished board, for example, will yield up to three panels

An important advantage of Airbus’ semi-finished panels is that they are a cross-solution for a number of aircraft in the Airbus family. A semi-finished floor panel bought for an A320 can also be used for an A350, A380 and an A330, for example.

Instead of requiring a dedicated finished panel for one ‘head of version’ aircraft, the semi-finished panel is a single repair solution for multiple aircraft. They can even support aircraft now out of production, such as the A380.

The benefits of the semi-finished floor panel

The benefits of the semi-finished product to the airline and its maintenance crew start to become immediately obvious.

  • Operational flexibility: The high coverage and interchangeability across the Airbus platforms of the semi-finished floor panel provides a high degree of flexibility. The panels can be cut to size and will cover up to 100% of the floor space of a single-aisle Airbus aircraft.
  • Reduced downtime: By having one board in stock, up to three panels are immediately available for installation as soon as they are cut. Having stock up front means there are no lead time issues for the airline, maintenance duration can be considerably reduced and downtime minimised.
  • Immediately and globally available: If the airline has one or two panels continuously available, then cutting and milling the panels is a relatively quick process, depending on the composite shop’s hardening processes. As the semi-finished product will be available globally, there is every ability for airlines to meet their maintenance windows.
  • Fewer part numbers: Airbus’ semi-floor panel package consists of just seven panels – four covering the seat, galley and aisles of the passenger areas, and three panels covering the cargo areas.
  • Simplified administration and handling: Fewer parts reduce the time, effort and resources required to determine which part is needed, greatly simplifying the procurement, administration and handling of the parts.
  • Reduction of stock level: The interchangeability of the semi-finished product and the need for fewer part numbers means big stock investments are not necessary and stocking levels can be reduced, saving both costs and storage space. 

The Satair Takeaway

The availability of the semi-finished floor panel as and when required provides a ready solution to the unpredictable nature of assessing when a floor panel needs to be replaced. It also means an airline need not endure prolonged waiting periods for replacement parts or unnecessarily stock complete configurations just to ensure it has covered all its bases. Semi-finished floor panels can ensure quick maintenance turnarounds that are in accordance with both schedules and allocated costs. 

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About this blog

This blog is driven by Satair Marketing & Communication with input from both internal and external contributors.