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Commercial airlines, air transport, and charter operators depend on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their maintenance partners for maximizing aircraft uptime and continued safe operations.
These are high-stake partnerships for all parties to deliver flawless service while meeting expectations on customer experience, profitability, and environment, society, and (corporate) governance (ESG). Furthermore, aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services are always complex, often customized based on each aircraft’s unique needs, and frequently subject to work-in-process changes resulting from unforeseen issues. The buying and selling of aftermarket services is a highly manual process, even for routine services. While operators have adopted ecommerce for parts for a long time, they are increasingly interested in buying MRO services through ecommerce. OEMs and MRO service providers are also keen on exploring ecommerce for making their sales service process efficient. In this paper, we explore the challenges in the trade of aerospace aftermarket services and present an approach to standardize such services into products through the Neural ManufacturingTM lens and drive benefits for the buyers and sellers of such services.
Challenges of aerospace aftermarket services
Aircrafts are certified for operation with an elaborate set of regulations governing their ongoing maintenance to be fit for purpose.
Aircraft maintenance includes scheduled maintenance and unscheduled maintenance. In addition, airworthiness directives from regulators and service bulletins by OEMs, as well as addition or modification of features, may require additional services to be performed on an aircraft. At present, the buying and selling of aerospace aftermarket services is a highly manual process between salespersons, maintenance engineers, and other stakeholders including MROs, OEMs, operators, and asset owners. These processes are very slow and time-consuming and impact the availability of aircrafts for their mission. To address these challenges, stakeholders across the aerospace value chain want to adopt ecommerce for buying and selling aftermarket services, in addition to parts.
To illustrate the challenges and approaches in aerospace ecommerce, let’s consider aircraft WiFi upgrade as an example. Since Wi-Fi connectivity is a high-demand passenger service and a significant source of add-on revenue, aircraft operators need to keep fleets up to date with the latest technology. Every few years, a new frequency band or satellite constellation comes online with faster speed and bandwidth, and this requires operators to upgrade many hardware components on the aircraft, along with electrical and data wiring infrastructure. Such a project may also have dependencies on aircrafts’ built-in electrical architecture, which can vary significantly between aircraft models, and even between individual airplanes due to prior modifications.
These modification projects need hardware components and materials and engineering services to adapt and apply those components to the aircraft in question. Such processes require skilled labor to design, install, configure, test, and certify these components. At present, such aftermarket services are bought and sold manually, and ecommerce can speed up the processes.
Sources of friction in aerospace aftermarket services
Any service product is a collection of specific parts and specialized labor activities to meet the needs of a particular outcome.
A baseline service design may be intended for re-use across many jobs. However, in the Wi-Fi upgrade project example, a baseline definition will not be an accurate fit for each aircraft. For instance, aircraft model A may share the same external antenna as model B. But these two aircrafts may have different current and voltage constraints, thereby needing slightly different power supply components. Aircrafts of any make and model may be able to use the same internal hotspots, but the number of components and their installed orientation may depend on seating density and layout.
When a fleet manager identifies a need for modification or services upgrade, the customer journey begins with the service company, an MRO provider, or an OEM offering MRO services. The complexity of these projects, and need for customization, become a source of friction in this customer journey. The MRO provider also experiences similar friction while marketing its services, since it is difficult to accurately define them without knowing the constraints of an individual aircraft (see Figure 2).
The traditional method of selling MRO services is to use a salesperson-led process with steps such as prospect, discover, quote, iterate, negotiate, and contract. This traditional sales process may take several iterations to arrive at the final service definition, even for routine and standard services. Because of the information hand-off and time delay associated with each iteration, it behaves as a waterfall process.
As illustrated in Figure 3, the waterfall process is perpetuated by treating each customer journey as a complete custom job. Even when starting from a generic baseline service definition, the traditional sales process takes over immediately and relies on extensive manual intervention. This manual intervention is repeated for each customer cycle, leading to loss of efficiency.
Aerospace MRO services are complex and subject to customizations and in-process changes.
This results in customer journeys that are long, inefficient, and subject to repeated work. OEMs and MROs can reimagine the design and delivery of these services by adopting neural ecommerce, with each customer interaction providing new insights to be captured and used for refining the business further. OEMs and MRO providers can share service catalogs directly with their customers, allowing them to observe market interest. They can aggregate detailed information of aircrafts under service, which offers them a more detailed view of their customer needs. A continual flow of product refinements will return additional value back to the customers, ensuring long-term relationships between airplane operators and their trusted MRO service providers. The adoption of neural ecommerce has great potential to drive efficiency of sales and fulfillment processes for aircraft MRO services, minimize time on ground of the aircraft for customers, and fuel revenue growth for OEM and MRO service providers.