On-Wing Support: Thank-you Notes and a Well-Oiled Machine
May 8, 2023
Late last year, an Asian airline’s wide-body jet was grounded after one of its engines ingested debris as it was landing. The aircraft was stranded at a small airport more than 13,000 kilometers from home.
The carrier was desperate to get the jet flying again because an “aircraft on ground,” or AOG, means it can’t carry passengers to its next destinations, with cascading impacts on operations and reputation.
Getting jets like this safely back into the air as quickly as possible is one of the most important services offered by GE Aerospace’s On Wing Support (OWS) division and the reason the airline called OWS, which has fast-response field teams, as well as tooling and quick-turn maintenance facilities in seven locations across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
Highly skilled, specialized teams immediately sprang into action, first conferring with the airline, then quickly determining what technical skills were required, and what tooling and spare parts were needed. They ascertained availability of power, lighting and lifting equipment, and even sorted out what passports could easily travel to the location.
Within 24 hours, a team was on the ground with the aircraft, cleaning and repairing the engine, and ensuring it was ready to fly. From the time OWS received the call to final completion of the job, less than 72 hours had passed.
“The coolest part of this job is seeing the On Wing Support system work and teams sprint into action to resolve a situation like that,” said General Manager Alex Henderson, who leads the OWS business from the facility in Dubai.
“Every week we get letters of thanks because this is highly valued by customers that have aircraft stranded in a location and otherwise can’t see a way to get it back in the air,” he said.
Foreign object ingestion, however, is just one reason field service teams are called out to repair or service engines. Unplanned maintenance requirements and other unexpected disruptions to performance also can generate a call.
“The amount of effort required to be able to successfully resolve an urgent field job is really impressive,” Henderson said. “Watching it in action, you can see this is a really well-oiled support machine.”
When a team can’t make the repair on-wing, OWS offers a quick engine change while the engine is repaired.
Field service, explained Henderson, is one of three aspects of the OWS business. Another is providing quick-turn planned and unplanned engine maintenance and repair work across its facilities. Some OWS engineers and technicians also work embedded at large customers’ maintenance facilities.
These maintenance jobs take longer or require more specialized tools and expertise than can be handled by field engineers traveling to a grounded aircraft. However, the quick-turn facilities perform work that is shorter and less intensive than the work performed by GE Aerospace’s overhaul facilities, which do work that requires longer turn times.
OWS has been busy in the post-pandemic commercial aviation industry recovery, in part because of the huge global uptake of GE Aerospace’s new LEAP engine for narrow-body aircraft. “Growing from a base that was artificially low on account of the pandemic, this is the steepest upturn I’ve ever seen of a production and delivery ramp up,” said Henderson. “All those new engines require the servicing and maintenance that OWS provides.”
The third service is comprised of advanced technology engineers and scientists who work with airlines to innovate solutions to unique operational challenges. For the Middle East and parts of India, that includes addressing the hot, harsh, and dusty operating environment.
“In such weather, engines have to work harder and are more stressed to deliver any given energy output, Henderson said. “The Advanced Technology teams work with our technicians and customers on the ground to develop solutions that counter the hot and dusty environment and help engines retain their performance longer than they otherwise would be able to with these operating parameters.”
This team’s engine expertise recently was tapped when Emirates Airlines asked GE Aerospace to provided pre- and post-flight engine analysis of a GE90 engine powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The flight, which used 100% SAF in one of the two engines, was the first in the Middle East.
Henderson has been with GE Aerospace for nearly 18 years but is only seven months into his role leading the global OWS business. He’s enthralled by the skilled, fast-responding and capable teams, the customer-facing work, and the varied challenges. “I love this job. There’s always something new, and seeing teams solve challenges, it’s a really unique part of our business. We are helping solve urgent airline issues, from quickly getting stranded jets back in the air to helping prepare for the industry’s net-zero future.”
Read more here about how GE Aerospace supports airlines across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey region.