A story of how an efficient customer support organisation can turn a very complicated situation for an operator with an airplane with structural problems, into a solution to return it to service.
Sometimes, when airplanes are operated on rough areas, structural problems couldn’t be solved, as it’s impossible to take the plane to the factory or a major workshop to carry out the repair. In many cases, that ended on the plane being scrapped, with a huge loss of money for the operator, when the work couldn’t be performed on the field to repair it . A most reliable customer support means the operator could be helped even on these hard situations, sometimes demanding ingenuity and ability from the different areas of both the operator and the manufacturer to solve the problem.
When an operator of a Dornier 228 found corrosion on the vertical stabilizer during a structural inspection, they found themselves in a very difficult situation. The extent of the corrosion showed that the vertical stabilizer needed to be replaced rather than repaired, but this also meant that the aircraft was grounded where it was until a solution could be found. In case, a vertical stabilizer needs to be fully aligned in its position so that the aircraft can fly correctly. At the same time, the holes for attaching it need to be fully aligned with the connection points on the fuselage. This is why buying an already used vertical stabilizer is not an option – the holes will never line up and any creative attempt to force the issue cannot be certified. The installation needs to be absolutely exact and that is why the jig tool is so important . Essentially, they were facing a difficult decision on the future of that aircraft: The plane was a pre-owned aircraft which the company only had for 2 years, so a repair was their favoured option.
“No solution” is not a solution
The operator then contacted his Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), for the replacement part, which the company did have on stock. The challenge they all faced is that the aircraft could not be flown to the OEM factory to replace the vertical stabilizer, as per usual procedure. At the same time, there were no OEM procedures or documentation for creating the jig tool conditions away from the OEM facilities. The company recognized the operator’s predicament and committed to developing a solution for their customer, to get their aircraft back into operations.
The OEM’s customer support team therefore needed to create a procedure which would allow the customer’s technical team to simulate the jig tool and successfully mount the vertical stabilizer. They also needed to provide documentation so the customer’s Continuing Airworthiness Management Organisation (CAMO) could sign off on the successful fitting. It had to happen very fast, as the aircraft was already grounded. The OEM was using an already existing tool for the rear frame #34 . This was taken as the basis to create a modification of it to adapt the tooling for the specific requirement needed to install the vertical stabilizer of the grounded aircraft. Clearly, they fitted an extension to get a third fixpoint at the upper rudder bearing rib. The second step was to verify this newly created/modified tool at their heavy static jig in the production line, to see if could indeed be useful for the proposed mission.
In addition, there was an advice to perform individual measurement before and after to ensure a proper alignment. All procedures were communicated to the operator via the Service Problem Report System coordinated by the Customer Support Center.
Impressed by the flexibility of the OEM, I contacted them for a statement. Michael Franz, Head of Customer Support Dornier 228 at RUAG Aviation: “We involved all internal parties for a goal-oriented brainstorming to create ideas to meet the customers’ demands.
From the beginning, one of the targets was to create a simplified solution to allow the customer to perform required works by himself . Also, we worked closely in a team with the customer, to find a sustainable solution which can also be used in the future to serve other Dornier 228 operators.
Once our team of engineers provided the procedure and documentation, the customer’s technical team was put to the test. It was their skill and technical precision which allowed the vertical stabilizer to be mounted correctly and in accordance with certification. There was additional technicians from the OEM needed .”
All in all the project took about eight days to realize procedures and tools and about five days to perform the job on site. Once the vertical stabilizer was installed, it was the time of the test flight, which was successful and finally the plane was certified by the authority to return to operations. And the aircraft has been flying successfully since, converted from potential scrap to a profitably airplane in only 13 days.
This work showed how customer support can go beyond the delivery of ordinary solutions and maintenance at the OEM facilities, especially with airplanes that use to operate on isolated areas where maintenance facilities are not located around every corner. Reliability on a product includes also the capacity and will of the OEM to find solutions when needed, even when this means going beyond what’s usually performed by them , with the aim of keeping the fleet operating and accomplishing their mission.