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Used to be the need for a licenced Sheet Metal Mechanic but things have changed.

Air France Industries KLM E&M bets on composite repair

Thierry Dubois | May 25, 2017

Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) is seeing its new Helios facility, now up and running at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle airport, as key to future market shares. At stake is repairing more composite components on the growing fleets of Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s. A €40 million ($42 million) investment (including equipment), Helios is AFI KLM E&M's spearhead on the new-generation aircraft MRO market.

AFI KLM E&M is leveraging its proficiency on the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A380 to position itself on the 787 and A350 MRO market. The organization has 12 customer airlines for the 787 – a total 150 aircraft. A further €5 million investment is planned this year, for test benches.

AFI KLM E&M began performing 787 maintenance before it entered Air France KLM's fleet. Helios has expertise in nacelle lip damage repair. The lip was optimized for aerodynamic efficiency and reduced noise but not for maintainability, an AFI KLM E&M engineer notes. It is divided in four quarters, one quarter costing $130,000.

For the A350, AFI KLM E&M has 47 aircraft in portfolio for MRO support, with airlines like Air Caraibes, French Blue and Thai Airways – on top of Air France KLM.

On the 777, AFI KLM E&M claims to be the only MRO service provider to be able to repair extensive damage on a GE90 thrust reverser. The repair takes 200-250 man-hours and involves several curing phases and six non-destructive tests. It is therefore expensive but still worth for the $1.5 million subassembly, according to AFI KLM 

Smaller engine damage can be repaired on wing. As curing takes place outside a controlled environment, technicians use a heating mat. The repair can be performed in one week, during a C-check for instance.

On GE90 nacelles for the Boeing 777, some parts were made lighter a few years ago but they tend to let microcracks appear, the engineer explains. To prevent water ingress, the company has developed a specific know-how in microcrack detection and repair.

In predictive maintenance, AFI KLM E&M believes it is starting to have a good mastery in fuel pump failure prevention for the A380. Air France KLM data scientists have joined efforts with AFI KLM E&M's A380 specialists to develop an algorithm. This is expected to be reproduced on the 787 but the experts first have to go through a learning curve, since the latter aircraft has been in the fleet for less than two years.

In French human resources, the contrast is stark with parent company Air France's tendency to cut jobs. Air France Industries' consistent needs are partly filled with former Air France employees. Last year, 300 people were hired, Air France Industries' total perimeter encompassing 8,500.

For 4-5 years, it has faced very aggressive competition from OEMs, which offer rock-bottom prices. “But we have a level of integration they still have to create, and we have an operational sensitivity,” Jacques Dauvergne, in charge of logistics operations, emphasizes. For spare parts delivery, AFI KLM E&M uses the Air France-KLM network and its daily flights, whereas most cargo carriers take a break on Sundays, Dauvergne notes. For an aircraft on the ground in Brazil, AFI KLM E&M could offer a turnaround time of only four days, whereas the airframer was offering 10 days, according to Dauvergne.

AFI KLM E&M protects its technical data to avoid letting an airframer know the durability of a component. But, with its customers, it has data exchange agreements. They are key to predictive maintenance. Thanks to such techniques, a aircraft-on-ground event was avoided in Singapore, Dauvergne recalls.

Helios gathers all the aerostructures facilities that were once located at the neighboring Le Bourget airport. They were brought under a single roof to ensure an optimized aerostructures offering, with more space for composite materials. Future innovations at Helios may be found in robotization for inspection and stripping.

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