The weakest link in the chain

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In June a friend of CJI had a slight car issue. Someone stole the dashboard and steering wheel. There was no damage, but the car was stranded on the London street, outside his home. The parts were taken by a car thief stealing to order because there is a global shortage for his six-year old vehicle.

It is a familiar problem for aircraft owners. One operator tried sourcing a replacement windshield in June this year and was told that he could have one shipped to him by October. October 2023. “How can you call an owner and tell him that?” he asks.

He is not the only one. “In mid-2020, there was a shortage of tyres. Windshields have been a massive problem this year, on the engine side some turbine blades and seals are a big problem,” says Timothy Ferrell, senior vice president, Technical Services, JSSI. “One OEM will get one problem fixed and then another one pops up.”

“It’s a game of whack-a-mole,” agrees Ben Hockenberg, president, Parts and Leasing, JSSI. Hockenberg says that as well as trying to source the components that owners may need early, they are also warning customers that they may need to be patient.

Like other industries, the business aviation supply chain is struggling. A significant number of smaller suppliers to business aviation OEMs failed because of Covid. While business aviation rebounded fast, many small manufacturers were more reliant on commercial aircraft manufacturing and ran out of cash. Manufacturers and their largest suppliers have worked hard to find new suppliers or moved production in-house, but it takes time. Problems were then made worse with sanctions against Russia making it harder to get raw materials like titanium and other metals. “We are spending a lot of time trying to get un-obtanium,” says the CEO of one engine company.

“OEMs are good at identifying an aircraft that is truly AOG and helping,” says Ferrell. “Generally, everyone is trying to come together, but it is hard for everyone.”

JSSI’s Hockenberg and Ferrell say that they are seeing maintenance shops building in extra time when quoting for jobs. But despite this, some aircraft are taking weeks longer to get flying when they need a part. “Advanced planning definitely helps and can make a big difference, but sometimes you can be unlucky and find you need a part that is very hard to get,” says Hockenberg.

Some large charter operators are taking parts from aircraft that are in shops when they are needed for aircraft that are flying. Engine monitoring is also helping manufacturers detect problems earlier.

Bombardier is another manufacturer adapting to the realities of changing supply chains. “We are working closely with third-party suppliers that specialise in aircraft teardowns to provide us with removed inventory,” says Jean-Christophe Gallagher, executive vice president, Services and Support and Customer Strategy, Bombardier. The OEM has increased inventories of both critical components and raw materials.

Gallagher remains optimistic that the supply chain challenges can be resolved with the help of Bombardier’s procurement department: “We have more than 30 people in the field working directly with our primary and sub-tier suppliers to ensure the supply chain finds the talent and parts they need.”

Manufacturers deserve credit for working hard to fix the problem and investing to fix supply chains. But it is an extremely complicated problem. Things are improving, but many believe there will still be some shortages until at least the middle of 2023. The good news is that owners understand that this is not just a business aviation problem.

The operator managed to secure a windshield last month by paying three times the OEM list price. “This current supply chain issue is not improving at all, nor do I see it any time soon,” he says.

And four months later, our friend is still waiting for a new steering wheel.

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