As seen in Airside International Magazine, June 2011

This balanced state of affairs can only be achieved if the GSE equipment is fully capable, with minimal downtime from mechanical or system failures. It is necessary to ensure that all vehicles comply with safety regulations and manufacturer quality standards. In addition a thorough knowledge of hydraulic and electrical systems on all types of vehicles and regular technical inspections, prevent vehicle breakdowns. In these difficult economic times it is ever more difficult to offer an efficient and timely service with high levels of safety, increasing concern over the environmental impact and all at low operating costs.

Concern over the environment is leading to the introduction of new technology to develop low emission vehicles including electric, hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. IT techniques can also offer “smart” operations reducing costs and often extending equipment life by reducing non-productive activities or journeys.

The growing technical complexity of this sector requires strong maintenance support, bolstered by an efficient service of spares and supplies. A service that a number of companies are keen to exploit and which has led to an effective, global infrastructure. Some companies not only manufacture ground support equipment but offer comprehensive aftermarket services. JBT Aerotech is a good example with a large network of service and spare parts centres.

A leading supplier of GSE parts is T123 that has seven facilities in UK and Ireland supplying parts for a wide range of propriety equipment. In Ireland, the depot is based at Dublin Airport and provides specialist GSE parts to airport ground support equipment operators and service companies from stock.

Airside GSE Ltd, offers refurbished equipment and a comprehensive spares service. Terberg DTS is another another supplier of GSE repair and refurbishment services and can offer tailor made support packages to suit individial customer requirements. GSE Europe, based in Gelsenkirchen, also offers maintenance services and spare parts for GSE covering the complete range of airport equipment. Vestergaard with facilities in Denmark and the United States is a comprehensive source of parts, technical support for a global market.

The choice is broad and the market competitive but the operator needs more than a source of parts, it is equally imperative to receive correct advice and technical backup to ensure that the right procurement choice is made both on grounds of commercial choice and economic advantage.

During the recent GSE Buyers Conference, at London Heathrow Airport, these considerations were addressed by Geert Oliebos of Flightcare Belgium. Emphasis was placed on the need for the operator to compile both a GSE procurement strategy and a GSE maintenance strategy, both of which reflect upon the total cost of ownership. It has to be noted that in the current economic climate “cost” is virtually seen as the most significant consideration.

Oliebos highlighted the need for careful timing in the procurement cycle as well as consideration of refurbish or replace. It was interesting to note that the Speaker favoured a long-term relationship with the supplier based on good service and recognition of each others requirements and capabilities.

Inevitably the question of insource vs outsource was raised. The answer, apparently, is a perfect balance between in and outsource, a highly subjective situation. Experience suggests that critical ground service equipment should be insourced, while outsourcing should be built in partnership with the supplier.

Some of this thinking can be noted when US-based, Elite Line Services Inc (ELS), a division of G&T Conveyor Co, Inc. points out that its maintenance programme is customer specific, tailored to their individual needs. ELS claims to be the only service organisation to incorporate a Process-based Quality Management System. ELS’s management approach is one that is result oriented and focused on meeting and exceeding customer’s expectations. ELS’s commitment is to improving management, efficiency and staff motivation, while reducing waste and costs.

It is arguable that the wide range of scope of equipment poses considerable challenges in monitoring and ensuring correct use and maintenance of equipment. A recent incident at a major international airport, when use of the wrong towbar caused minor damage to an aeroplane, highlights this point. The investigation concluded that the size of labelling was a contributory factor, a maintenance/management concern, emphasising the need for care at the lowest levels.

So much for the theory; what of the wider practice? Sage Parts is an established organisation at 24 locations in North America, as well as in Hong Kong to meet Asian customer needs, two locations in Europe in Amsterdam and Paris CDG covering Europe and other facilities are in the Caribbean and Canada. The Company motto is “anticipating needs, meeting demands and reducing costs”.

How are these achieved? It was a question Airside International recently put to Michael Bloomfield, Sage Parts Executive Vice President. “From the beginning, the Company’s specific purpose was finding a highly organised and highly systematic and a highly procedural process to the holding of inventory and packing and shipment of replacement parts”, replied Bloomfield. “One of the things we have become very good at is to absorb ourselves into our customer’s processes where we can anticipate their inventory needs and proactively stock those items. Consequently when the customers place an order the items are readily available.
“We reduce costs, because we supply such a broad range of the market, we are able to do expert analysis of high use items, particularly when it comes to performance and reliability, allowing an element of redesign of some items and components to offer better wear and life cycles, that is an excellent way of reducing costs. The other is that we have an extremely efficient supply chain where we are able to negotiate costs and pass those savings on by a lower selling price to our customers. So we can provide high cost savings by providing better parts or less expensive parts and we can provide a huge amount of savings by reducing their processing costs”.

Bloomfield was keen to emphasise that “We offer customers a strategy to keep their freight costs to a minimum, their processing costs to a minimum and if necessary, to suggest a product change to perhaps offer a better life cycle. Sometimes we will consult with them on new equipment purchases, such as where product support is easier to obtain than with other brands”.

Of course, speed of response is a paramount factor in the aviation supply chain. This is recognised by Bloomfield who emphasised that “We are able to respond extremely quickly. We have 24 locations around the world, many of which are open 24hrs/day, seven days a week and able to serve customer needs at any time. We have an accelerated process for any “AOG type” scenario where we have an instantaneous spot buying and expediting process. We can fulfil customer needs extremely rapidly, at no additional fees or cost for an expedited transaction”.

In reply to a question about monitoring customers to anticipate future demands. Bloomfield was quick to respond, “Absolutely” he said, “this is perhaps our largest value add on to date. We are constantly monitoring their demands and seeking to assist with preventative maintenance programmes, repair cycles or otherwise to enable us to stock parts in anticipation of needs”.

The Company was a very early entry into electronic commerce, starting some eight to nine years ago and it has featured constant growth. The “eSage” online ordering system, can use any standard web browser to log on and order parts from anywhere in the world, day or night. The site carries detailed photos of parts, a check on real time inventories, the facility to see order status and perform many other functions, such as reviewing past ordering history or producing statements and invoices electronically.

“Every day there is development going on to either adapt to a customer’s needs or to the market needs, doing things like integrating our e-Sage application with customer’s maintenance, procurement and payment programmes, where we can continually try and keep cost to a minimum”, said Bloomfield, “Also on the ordering side, every day we make the programme easier where customers can put in payment lists, maintenance schedules and preventative maintenance kits can be ordered and adapted to individual maintenance needs”.

Sage Parts, in common with a number of other companies, offers the service of a visit to a customer facility, well in advance of the first snowfall, to evaluate and assist in repairing and preparing de-icing and snow clearing equipment. This prevents downtime before it can happen. No doubt airports in Western Europe are more than aware of such facilities, following the experience of the last two winters. To paraphrase an old saying – a check in time saves a lot of embarrassment!