AeroParts’ in-house capability to fabricate detail parts as part of its repair process, coupled with its expert ozone converter reconditioning, continually make it one of the most sought after companies by airline operators around the world. Pat Whiteman reports.
When you embark on an airplane trip and the door is finally closed have you ever thought about the “cabin air?” One of the most important series of parts in a complex modern jet aircraft is “ducting.” Without ducting, an aircraft could not fly. Ducting delivers fuel from fuel tanks to the engines. Ducting delivers pressurized and heated air to the cabin to keep passengers comfortable and at a reasonable temperature. (Remember it can drop to minus 40 degrees outside the airplane at altitude!) Ducting heats the leading edges of the wings to prevent ice buildup. In short, ducting may not be glamorous, but it is vital to the operation of each and every airplane. AeroParts Manufacturing & Repair, Inc. has been manufacturing and repairing ducting since 1960.
“We take our customers’ reliability very, very seriously,” says Fred Miranda, marketing manager for AeroParts Manufacturing & Repair, Inc. “That’s always been our approach – to make sure we provide them with the most reliable parts possible. It’s all about keeping the airlines on time.”
For instance, AeroParts Manufacturing & Repair, Inc. recently helped one of its operators with a fleet of older aircraft. . “They were developing nuisance failures in an air sensing system. It is a series of little pipes that allow pressure sensors to know what is going on in the airplane’s flight control system,” explains Repair Station Manager Marvin Patterson. “The original braze fittings were breaking and the only choice the operator had was to buy all new ones. So the engineer worked with us to come up with a solution to remove the braze and orbitally weld the fittings to the existing lines.”
Examples like these are endless at AeroParts Manufacturing & Repair, Inc. “Airplanes are not so different from other machines in that as they age they require more maintenance in new/different areas. It doesn’t mean that the first time something breaks you discard it and get a new one. You look for a solution to make it last longer and stay reliable,” says Patterson. “That is what we have become known for – we get involved with an operator on an existing jet that has developed some issues as it ages and find a way to work with their engineers to find a way to keep their costs down and their planes reliable.”
The company had its start in the Los Angeles area in 1960 as California Aero Dynamics. A privately owned, family corporation, the small business moved operations to Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb of Albuquerque) in 1993 and renamed the company AeroParts Manufacturing & Repair, Inc. With the new name also came a brand new 128,000-square-foot facility. AeroParts’ manufacturing focus was sheet-metal assemblies and drop-hammer stampings. Then in 1970 the company added a repair station designed to fix aviation parts, primarily metal and fiberglass ducting, making it an official FAA/EASA repair facility. Today, the company is one of the largest drop-hammer shops in the U.S.
One of AeroParts’ most recent capital investments has been a five-access water jet machine. “It cuts anything you put in it,” says Patterson. “This sizeable piece of technology has become invaluable for the multitude of unique manufacturing and repair projects we see every day.” In addition, a sister company, AeroParts Exchange, also in New Mexico, maintains a stock of more than 1,600 overhauled ducts and ozone converters available for exchange or outright sale.
AeroParts’ manufacturing and repair business continues to grow with a strong customer base in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. On the repair side AeroParts’ customers are the major airlines including: Northwest, Continental, FedEx, Delta, United, Japan Airlines, US Airways, Finn Air, ThompsonFly, China Air and more. On the manufacturing side, companies such as Eaton Corporation, Boeing and Arrowhead Products trust AeroParts services.
OZONE CONVERTER RECONDITIONING
In the late 1980s, AeroParts Manufacturing & Repair, Inc. got involved in the ozone converter reconditioning business when American Airlines was looking for an alternative to its OEM’s “no repair, buy new” policy. At the time, the ozone converter was a relatively new component in a large aircraft. There are regions in the world, primarily polar regions, where ozone concentrations are high. Airliners making long flights using polar routes fly through ozone and the ozone can get in the cabin through the air conditioning.
“Ozone in a cabin is not good,” says Miranda. “It can make people ill causing chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, nasal congestion and eye irritation. It is important that ozone converters be of the highest efficiency when installed or overhauled.”
AeroParts, Scientific Consulting and American Airlines worked together to develop a reconditioning process for the converters. “The OEM objected and attempted to have the process rejected by the FAA,” says Miranda. “However, through our persistent efforts, and those of American Airlines, the FAA approved our process. Only then, did the OEM develop a re-core/cleaning option. It took us a long time to gain approval, but in the end it was a significant achievement for us, and today the ozone converter reconditioning is a significant part of our business.”
AeroParts was actually the first to offer an alternative to the OEM’s re-core procedure. It reconditions the catalyst layers without opening the converter case. The process restores the converters to 96 to 99 percent efficiency. “No one else reconditions like we do. Our customers are essentially getting a ‘like new’ converter at an overhaul price,” says Miranda. “Other companies just clean. We actually restore efficiency by adding catalyst, a proprietary process.” AeroParts repairs damage to the converter housing and catalyst cores and can repair all types of converters. A converter overhauled by AeroParts will last the lifetime of the aircraft. It is also an economical alternative. Where a new converter can cost between $9,000 and $76,000, and a re-core would cost about $5,000, AeroParts reconditioning process is just $1,525.
“This process increases efficiency by adding catalyst, which restores ozone decomposition capability,” says Miranda. “We actually repair and overhaul converters that our competitors have been known to scrap. In fact, we have taken converters from United, American and Continental that were scrapped by other companies, reconditioned them and put them back to working order.”
RELIABILITY & SURVIVAL
While AeroParts Manufacturing & Repair, Inc. is continually faced with the seemingly daily shifts in the airline industry, it is focused on the long-term. “We are in this business for the long haul,” says Patterson. “We made it through the 9/11 crisis, which was really significant for the aviation industry and we got through that without any layoffs.” Now AeroParts sees the airlines shrinking due to monetary conditions, which have caused positive and negative shifts in its business. “Northwest recently went through a major reduction in people a few years ago and they stopped repairing ducting which is one of our major repair areas. Yet our work has increased from them. At the same time, they parked a lot of their planes which were producing a lot of repair work.”
Patterson says airfreight seems to be shrinking the globe for AeroParts and increasing business. “It is feasible now, with the reduced tariffs and the customs programs, to have international customers who find it attractive to send parts halfway around the world for fixing because we specialize in a particular service. We really are a go-to company for operators with problems in our areas of expertise, which are metal ducting, fiberglass, ozone converters and situations where a company with manufacturing and repair capability can solve problems.