Business Aircraft Parts: Availability, Distribution, and Logistics

Business aviation is on the up, which means maintenance activity has increased, but operators, maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) services, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and used parts vendors are having difficulty sourcing components. Supply chains for business aircraft parts are struggling to rebuild and keep up with the pace of recovery post-pandemic.

Over the past few years MRO supply inventories were not replenished. There was a need to reduce costs and no need for extra parts. Operators also used parts from their own aircraft in storage rather than buy parts externally. This had a flow-on effect on parts vendors, as not only were MROs and operators not buying as many parts, but used parts were hard to come by. Now that the industry is entering recovery the procurement cycle is returning. Aircraft that were in storage are needed again to meet the recovering passenger market. Checks and maintenance that were deferred during the pandemic are now necessary as fleets are brought back online. This reversal means more demand for new parts, parts manufacturing approval, repairs, and used serviceable material (USM). But the aviation supply chain is facing issues.

Three Reasons for Aviation Supply Chain Challenges

1. Unseen Passenger Demand

While many operators would have seen the passenger bookings increase, and begun to adjust their fleets accordingly, this would not necessarily have been the case for suppliers. Suppliers saw a more sudden, imminent demand and therefore didn’t have the warning to ensure inventories were restocked. Manufacturers of parts were likewise caught off guard and unable to increase production fast enough. There has also been an unexpected influx in passenger numbers, increasing demand in some areas to beyond pre-covid levels.

2. Labour Shortages Throughout the Supply Chain

Pre-pandemic aviation was already experiencing labour shortages. This has been exacerbated by many companies having to cut labour costs during the height of the pandemic. Now, as demand picks up, there is difficulty attracting back skilled staff, many of whom retired or moved to other industries. The issue is being seen across the whole industry and there are a number of problems it creates: less staff to do more work, a loss of institutional knowledge and broken stakeholder connections. All of which slow the logistical processes and distribution while new staff members get up to speed.

Staff shortages in other industries have also affected the supply chain. Issues shipping components and getting truck drivers has caused delays in available parts getting to MROs, consequently pushing back maintenance work on aircraft. This has caused considerable logistical challenges and changes, such as finding other suppliers and rescheduling orders.

3. Difficulty Accessing Materials and Aircraft Parts

Material availability has also been hampered by the unexpected slump in aircraft teardowns. At the start of the pandemic aircraft retirement was forecast to increase however operators held on to older aircraft largely due to uncertainty and delivery delays of newer aircraft. Supply chain issues also somewhat paradoxically meant operators staggard MRO work resulting in fewer parts being available. An additional issue that is affecting the supply chain is the pricing and availability of raw materials due to the Russian-Ukraine war and geopolitical issues. One particularly significant material shortage is subcomponents, where it is currently difficult to get materials to repair components. Refurbishing materials back to serviceable quality is another bottleneck and ties back to the labour shortages. The cost of sought-after items has inflated due to the shortages and is putting more pressure on MROs and operators.

Parts Supply Chain Recovery

It is important not to lose sight of the main cause of the parts supply issues – an increase in demand. Business operators are busier, which drives up MRO activity. Given time this should help to replenish stock for used parts vendors, which in turn improves the supply.

Granted, it is not quite that simple, but each part of the industry does feed into the success of the rest, and it is predicted that USM shortages will not last long. As the industry picks up, and strives to adopt more sustainable options, skilled workers will hopefully be lured back. This will alleviate some of the distribution and logistical parts supply challenges. The global effort to reuse and recycle is also expected to increase the appeal of USM, driving the supply and demand up. With the world recovering after the covid crisis, the passenger market will start to settle down, perhaps to a new norm. Operators and MROs will then be able to plan with more certainty. With a more predictable market OEM and USM vendors can reduce lead times, making maintenance and repair planning smoother for both MROs and business aviation operators.

A Parts Solution for You – Available Now

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Business aviation is currently facing several challenges when it comes to the availability, distribution, and logistics of aircraft parts. Labour shortages, difficulty accessing materials and aircraft parts, and an increase in demand are just some of the supply problems that have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. There are substantial delays moving aircraft through maintenance due to waiting on parts, which can be problematic for business aviation operators. This is further compounded by more aircraft back in service needing MRO. The supply chain issues could therefore put the industry recovery at risk. Staff, materials shortages, and logistics are the biggest challenges of 2022 for business aviation. However, the good news is business operators are busier (as are MROs), and it is predicted that parts shortages may not last long (though likely into 2023).