When an aircraft breaks down, the pressure is on for airlines.
It happens so frequently it’s almost a cliche. Picture an aircraft full of miserable passengers forced to taxi for an hour and a half while mechanics scramble to replace an expired part. And if they’re lucky—maybe they only wait an hour.
All too often, though, passengers are forced to wait multiple hours or, worse yet, disembark entirely if the mechanics can’t find the necessary tools or parts.
This is a huge pain for passengers, but it’s disastrous for airlines—delays or cancellations of this kind not only cost the airline millions in logistical errors and flight refunds but also hurt customer retention, which is the airline’s primary way of maintaining a profit margin.
You’d think airlines would have these systems streamlined, organized, and fool-proof. But, in reality, it’s a lot more complicated and challenging than that.
The main challenge of aviation inventory
What makes organizing aviation inventory such a complex undertaking?
For starters, most aviation storerooms are enormous. They house thousands of parts (which often resemble each other) in open bins.
To make matters worse, the employees charged with managing and retrieving these expensive and valuable parts are often poorly trained, minimally paid, and overwhelmed. The work is tedious and meticulous. Chronic understaffing causes tedium to turn into stress and burnout, so locating the necessary parts and storing them correctly can become an issue.
The result is cross-contamination: different parts end up in the same bin.
Why is cross-contamination such a problem?
Each bin is labeled with a serial number. This tracks the parts that were stored in it, enabling an airline to keep track of its inventory or track faulty parts if a manufacturer issues a recall. Cross-contamination ruins both of these functions.
The consequence is an organizational nightmare: airlines get faulty counts on how many units of a specific part they have. Yes, this can result in flight delays. More importantly, though, it’s a critical safety concern.
It comes down to tracking. While it’s true that aircrafts could be outfitted with the wrong parts, the much more serious concern is recalls. Imagine if a parts manufacturer recalls a defective part, but there hasn’t been adequate tracking of the implementation. The airline might not be able to recall every one of those parts.
The outcome could be catastrophic, resulting in things like aircraft failure. Even if it’s not a life-threatening emergency, it still could lead to an FAA audit and millions in fines.
The current (flawed) solution to cross-contamination
To avoid massive fines and disasters, airlines often opt to throw out an entire bucket of parts if an employee discovers that a bucket has been cross-contaminated. It’s simply not worth the risk that the wrong part could be used.
Throwing away parts is obviously better than mid-flight aircraft failure, but tossing a whole bucket of parts isn’t just inefficient—it’s costly. Some airline parts can cost in the six figures. A wasted bucket of those might cost an airline as much as an FAA fine would.
Storehouses are supposed to keep track of their parts and equipment, but taking inventory is arduous. It consumes significant internal resources that could be better spent elsewhere. The reality is, in the digital age, this method of tracking is best performed by computers, not humans. Left to our fleshy hands, human error can be disastrous and expensive.
Still, most airline and MRO storehouses count their inventory about once a year—not nearly enough to prevent the inventory error that occurs due to routine cross-contamination.
Cross-contamination is a messy, costly problem that will persist as long as humans are tasked with solving it. So what’s the solution?
Automated dispensing solutions
Automation and digitalization is the only way to solve the airline inventory crisis.
Tools like devised automated dispensing solutions (essentially a vending machine for aircraft parts) make aviation inventory what it should be: Accurate, Available, Accountable, and Affordable.
Let’s take a look at the four A’s.
Unlike annual inventory checks run by poorly trained and incentivized employees, automated systems can run inventory checks daily with unerring mechanical precision.
Automating daily checks makes it impossible to return a part to another bin once they’ve been removed. And, no parts can be taken from bins without the system logging the change. That means preventing mistakes before they happen and keeping the storehouse inventory numbers accurate all the time.
Vertical storage systems ensure all stored parts are immediately available, too.
All a worker has to do is enter the skew number of the desired part into the electronic interface, and the storage system will return the shelf containing the desired part, directing the worker to the exact bin where the part can be found.
No more colossal wait times as a storehouse worker searches hundreds of disorganized bins for a particular part. Plus, accurate inventory counts mean aviators know when their supply is slated to run low. Even with an unreliable supply chain, you won’t unexpectedly run out of a certain tool and be forced to scramble for overnight orders or unavailable parts.
Safety matters. In the event that a supplier issues a recall of a faulty part, aviators can track every single one based on the serial number. Automation allows you to ensure every part was stored in its correct bin before you disseminate them.
In doing so, every single faulty part can be traced from supplier to aircraft. Aviators can rest easy knowing they haven’t missed one and run the risk of damaging their aircraft or hurting its passengers.
Automating your inventory management would be worth it alone for removing the headaches and risk. But the downstream financial consequences of automated inventory management are enormous. For example, organizations that use Tier1 MRO reduce their MRO costs save, on average, 20 percent.
What goes into that 20 percent? A few things to consider:
- Aviators will never have to throw out buckets of pricey parts
- Aircrafts won’t be damaged by outfitting them with the wrong parts
- Airlines mitigate FAA fees because their systems won’t merit an audit
- Airlines won’t suffer customer refunds and rebookings and are more likely to retain customers
Storehouses save on labor, since Tier1 MRO’s system reduces the need for warehouse worker training and hiring, while increasing retention
Upgrade your inventory with Tier1 MRO
MROs are entering a new era. Storehouses are ideal candidates for automation—aviation storehouses even more so, because of the high costs and risks involved and the visual similarity between parts.
Turn disorganization into efficiency today by contacting Tier1 MRO and learning more about what their solutions can do for you.