Mechanics wages and engine parts prices are rising, but real MRO cost per flight hour is decreasing.
Yearly aircraft maintenance spending fluctuates according to a number of factors—fleet age and size, intensity of modifications and airline profitability—that affect discretionary maintenance and upgrades. Historically, the most meaningful measures of MRO cost—real spending per flight hour or seat-mile—have been gradually trending downward.
This is true even though current-dollar maintenance costs, unadjusted for general inflation, may rise and despite the fact that inputs to maintenance, such as labor and parts, may escalate in cost. For example, U.S. mechanics’ wages increased 7-12% from 1999 to 2016 after adjustment for general inflation, and real engine-part prices were up 17% during the same period. But real MRO cost per flight-hour dropped 9% and real seat-mile expenses declined 17% as average seating capacity of aircraft grew.
These decreases are only 0.5-1% annually and easily masked by short-run factors, but over time they are crucial to more efficient flying.
The declines are enabled by two basic causes. OEMs continue to build better jets and engines, which need less maintenance and downtime. And OEMs, airlines and MROs grow smarter about how to perform maintenance.
The first cause should continue for newest twin-aisle aircraft: the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. With more composite structures, these jets were designed to be maintenance-stingy.
But these new midsize widebodies will represent only 12% of new aircraft deliveries over the next 20 years, according to Boeing’s Current Market Outlook. By far the greatest portion of new aircraft— nearly three-fourths of deliveries—will be single-aisle jets. And for at least the near-midterm or more, this means new versions of the 737 and A320.
The 737MAX and A320neo were designed chiefly to help airlines reduce fuel burn with better engines, when fuel costs were skyrocketing and pressure to reduce emissions was on the horizon. But airframe and engine OEMs also have been paying attention to reliability and maintenance.
Both Boeing and Airbus have been working on two paths. First, they are exploiting experience with their veteran narrowbodies to develop better maintenance plans for existing and new types. And second, the new types have been designed to ease further maintenance burdens.
Source: MRO Network