Link maker

The weakest link in the chain

In June, a friend of CJI had a minor car problem. Somebody stole the dashboard and the steering wheel. There was no damage, but the car was left stuck in London Street outside his home. The parts were stolen by a car thief on commission because there is a worldwide shortage for his six-year-old vehicle.

It’s a familiar problem for aircraft owners. An operator tried to get a replacement windshield in June this year and was told he could get one by October. October 2023. “How can you call a landlord and tell them that?” he asks.

He is not the only one. “In mid-2020, there was a tire shortage. Windshields have been a huge issue this year, on the engine side, some turbine blades and seals are a big issue,” says Timothy Ferrell, senior vice president, Technical Services, JSSI. “An OEM will solve one problem, then another will appear.”

“It’s a mole game,” acknowledges Ben Hockenberg, president, Parts and Leasing, JSSI. Hockenberg says that in addition to trying to quickly source components owners may need, 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 small business aviation OEM suppliers have failed due to Covid. While business aviation rebounded rapidly, many smaller manufacturers relied more on commercial aircraft manufacturing and ran out of cash. Manufacturers and their major suppliers have worked hard to find new suppliers or move production in-house, but it takes time. The problems were then compounded by sanctions against Russia, which made it more difficult to obtain raw materials like titanium and other metals. “We spend a lot of time trying to get non-obtanium,” says the CEO of an engine company.

“OEMs are good at identifying an aircraft that is truly AOG and helping out,” Ferrell says. “In general, everyone tries to come together, but it’s difficult for everyone.”

JSSI’s Hockenberg and Ferrell say they see maintenance shops taking longer to build when quoting jobs. But despite this, some planes take weeks longer to fly when they need a part. “Advanced planning certainly helps and can make a big difference, but sometimes you can be unlucky and find you need a part that’s very hard to get,” says Hockenberg.

Some large charter operators take aircraft parts from stores when needed for aircraft in flight. Engine monitoring also helps manufacturers detect problems earlier.

Bombardier is another manufacturer adapting to the realities of changing supply chains. “We work closely with third-party vendors specializing in aircraft stripping to supply us with retired inventory,” ssaid Jean-Christophe Gallagher, Executive Vice President, Services and Support and Customer Strategy, Bombardier. The OEM has increased its inventory of critical components and raw materials.

Gallagher remains optimistic that supply chain challenges can be solved with the help of Bombardier’s procurement department: “We have over 30 people on the ground who work directly with our primary and sub-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 looking up, but many believe there will still be shortages until at least the middle of 2023. The good news is that owners understand this isn’t just an aviation issue business.

The operator managed to get a windshield last month by paying three times the OEM list price. “This current supply chain problem is not improving at all, and I don’t see it any time soon,” he says.

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