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British Airways Maintenance Cardiff Ltd
British Airways Maintenance Cardiff Ltd
The importance to the global economy of the world's largest passenger aircraft, the Boeing 747, is growing remorselessly. Today more than 1,000 of these wide-body transports are in service with some 100 operators worldwide, playing a unique role in developing and strengthening international trade and relations.
This sheer quantity of Boeing 747 aircraft with no end to production in sight has also brought about the development of a global industry in its own right. Heavy maintenance of the 747 is today a significant sector of the aerospace engineering industry and a field in which several long established maintainance concerns are facing formidable competitive pressures as newer companies specialising purely in Boeing 747 activities enter the market.
One such newcomer, British Airways Maintenance Cardiff (BAMC), was established in 1993 since when it has strengthened its competitive position by focusing ceaselessly on the quality of its engineering, reducing its turn-round times and introducing new engineering approaches and capabilities.
Two recent innovations at this Cardiff, UK-based, business demand highest levels of engineering expertise. The first relates to the newly-won capabilities to undertake the intensive programme of work required to modify Boeing 747 pylons, a safety-driven campaign relating to older aircraft. The second is a campaign to equip British Airway's entire Boeing 747 fleet with innovative avionic equipment that gives crews, air traffic controllers, the aircraft operator and the on-board passengers radically improved two-way voice and data communications between the aircraft and the ground, an important link in a chain of developments designed to take air transport safely into the 2000s.
The pylon modification programme is a major undertaking calling for some 8,000 man-hours of work per aircraft. More than 900 747s all built before 1994 will require this modification, which centres on the installation of two additional mountings made from corrosion-resistant steel. Each mounting is redundant, its fail-safe role being to back up the existing pylon structure to provide an additional safeguard against in-flight engine separation if any other attachments fail. Depending on age and version of individual aircraft, operators are required to complete this modification programme by November 1997 at the earliest and by November 2004 at the latest.
"This work not only calls for exceptional levels of skill and competence within the team of people working in a very confined and crowded space but also a highly capable programme to manage the supply and timing of between 3,000 and 4,000 different piece parts required to complete the task," points out BAMC business systems group leader Martin Coysh.
"For example, many of the tolerances are very low and call for special techniques such as freezing some of the fasteners to create interference fits."
BAMC regards its newly-won pylon modification capability as a vital long-term factor in its efforts to win Boeing 747 heavy maintenance business from other airlines and from rival third-party concerns. The ambitious company has already attracted work from ten other operators and is providing the most economic solution to the pylon problem, which is to undertake the intensive programme while a 747 is in the workshop for scheduled heavy maintenance.
Some work for 747 operators has been undertaken at very short notice. An urgent Air New Zealand requirement, for example, called for one aircraft to undergo its approximately six-yearly D-check starting at just a few days' notice and for completion within 36 days. Midway through the programme this target was cut to 33 days at the customer's request. BAMC met the requirement.
Another innovative development by BAMC is its ability to instal the multi-channel aviation satellite communications system (MCS Satcom), a mobile communications system that provides continuous voice and data services to and from the aircraft wherever its location.
Central to this system is the satellite data unit (SDU), which controls all communications with the ground. The SDU provides three communications channels, two of which can be dedicated to cockpit voice use. An additional three channels, dedicated to cabin/passenger use, are provided by a radio frequency unit (RFU).
A high-gain amplifier provides the amplification of the air-to-ground signals that are transmitted by high- or low-gain antennae. The aircraft's inertial reference system (IRS) provides the SDU with aircraft attitude and position information as required to steer the high-gain antenna, because use of this antenna for satellite voice capability is not possible without highly precise IRS positional information.
In practice, this programme brings together BAMC's avionic and airframe technicians who plan their work to fit into the intensive spell during which an individual 747 undergoes heavy maintenance. Their work requires the installation of a suite of high-technology electronic equipment capable of operating with total reliability in the strenuous environment of an intensively-used long-haul aircraft.
Technicians gain access to an over-ceiling section of the 747's stripped-down cabin to mount the main SDU out of sight on a shelf above the No. 4 door. Colleagues work high on the upper fuselage exterior to fit slender, low-profile antennae panels on the aircraft's outer skin.
BAMC's Martin Coysh admits the first MCS Satcom installation proved a particular challenge:
The range of fittings and the routeing of wires, followed by testing and commissioning of the system, was certainly time-consuming. But the added capability this equipment brings is an exciting advance for British Airways, and the fact we have now undertaken several of these modification programmes is a clear industry-wide pointer to our enhanced capabilities.
An additional enhancement to BAMC's portfolio is the major modification it has made to one of its three main maintenance bays to accommodate the 747 SP, Boeing's short-fuselage variant. This involved installing a new rear portion of docking and a revised nose section.
As only a small number of SPs were constructed demand for their heavy maintenance is relatively low but it is potentially profitable business, BAMC confirms. For heavy maintenance shops, such as this one in the UK, a distinct commercial edge is gained by providing universal Boeing 747 capability.
The company confidently expects to win an increasing share of the world's third-party 747 heavy maintenance business by continuing its campaign to increase output man-hours, reduce unit costs and improve aircraft delivery times. In plans to increase its workforce from 850-1,000 in the near term, a further indicator of its commitment to ensure 747 operators worldwide receive the highest standard of service they require far into the next century.