Taking a look around AFI KLM E&M
Sarah-Jayne Russell reports on her trip to Paris to see some of Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance’s (AFI KLM E&M) facilities at Orly and Charles de Gaulle.
The sky was still pitch black as I left when I left my house last Thursday (February 19) and made my way to London City Airport, the first of four airports I would see that day. Still, I was upbeat. It was to be the day that I got my first insight into the day-to-day operations of a major MRO.
I had been invited to see some of AFI KLM E&M’s facilities at Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports, and as I was only able to take one day out of the office the marketing team ensured my itinerary was a packed one.
After arriving into Orly (airport number two), I was whisked off to Constellation – AFI KLM E&M’s very large engine MRO facility. The plant was opened in 2010 and overhauls GE90, GP7200 and the CFM56 family of engines, and is as impressive as its name implies.
Designed using lean principles and inspired by GE Aviation’s engine manufacturing plants, the spic-and-span facility boasts “pulse lines” for the disassembly and reassembly of engines, with harnesses lifting the engine and moving it down the line as it goes through the overhaul process. It was, say AFI KLM E&M, the first MRO facility of its type to be designed this way.
There’s also company controlled tooling cabinets, colour coordination linked to the different engine types, computers at each maintenance station and office facilities next door to the shopfloor to ensure easy communication between engineers and managers.
Next on my whistle-stop tour was the 40,000m2 component MRO facility Eole. The building, which was opened in 2004, replaced nine separate facilities which previously maintained components at AFI KLM E&M’s Orly site.
The huge building processes 65,000 components each year and is split up into zones dedicated to different component types: emergency slides; landing gear; hydraulics and pneumatics; and avionics, for example.
Aside from the rooms containing the various test benches needed for each component type, the space within the building is flexible with sections divided by movable walls and bright orange dividers – orange is the dominating colour of Eole and was chosen by the architect (blue was thought too cold and red too aggressive).
The flexibility of space enables the AFI KLM E&M to expand a section – avionics for example – as demand dictates without the need for major construction work.
Each of the component sections includes office space where the managers of that section sit and its own parts store. The facility also has a main store where common components are kept; engineers order the parts via their computers which are then delivered via compressed air chute system within 10 minutes – very cool!
Another cool thing is the copper pot, the section of the site which tests avionics equipment relating to navcomms which is a giant faraday cage – copper sheets ensure no external signals can interfere with the test being undertaken.
It was here I was told the tale of one engineer (many moons ago, of course) who decided to take an emergency locating beacon home for his boat. On the way home he was pulled over by the police while helicopters circled overhead – the device had been triggered in his boot and the authorities had been trying to locate the downed aircraft!
After a trip along the Paris ring road – where I saw some extraordinary driving – and my meeting with AFI KLM E&M’s president Franck Terner, my tour continued with a visit to the MRO’s A380 hangar at Charles de Gaulle (airport number three).
I was lucky enough to see – and board – the first A380 which entered Air France’s fleet back in 2009, which was undergoing one of its regular 45-day maintenance inspections, ahead of its first six-year check later this year.
The hangar fits around the behemoth like a well-tailored glove; with specially designed equipment to enable mechanics to access every part of the aircraft and an engine shop at one side.
Walking around the aircraft and talking to AFI KLM E&M’s staff gave me a real insight into the challenges of maintaining an aircraft of this size and one with next generation avionics. Every A380 engineer, for example, has an understanding of the aircraft’s software.
Last on my agenda for the day was a trip to the new test cell for very big engines opened in 2012. Zephyr, as it is named, is the only test cell in the world – apart from GE Aviation’s facility in Wales – that can perform operational tests on the GP7200 and GE90 family engines.
Alongside adopting the lean-influenced process in place at Constellation, the cell was designed with one eye on the future. The cell is capable of performing tests on engines that can produce 150,000lb of thrust – currently even the largest engines can only produce 115,000lb – and the roof has been built to withstand the weight of a generator to provide the electricity that might be needed to test next generation more-electric engines.
The buzzword that I heard throughout my visit to AFI KLM E&M was “adaptiveness” – the group’s world for agility and, it seems to me, having a positive attitude. In my interview with Terner he said: “Our starting point with our customers is that anything is possible, although certain conditions may be necessary to make the outcome possible.”
Reflecting on all that I’d seen as I awaiting my flight back to Gatwick Airport (number four), it was clear to me that the approach taken in designing Zephyr and Eole, in particular, were living embodiments of “adaptiveness”.
Both buildings show a company that is confident in its place in the market, is willing to invest for the future and leave space to change. Adaptiveness seems to me like a new word for evolution and that’s what survival is all about.
Terner predicts that the MRO market in 10 years’ time will look quite different to the one we see today, with networks of maintenance providers linked together to leverage their position against giant OEMs and airlines. These networks Terner predicts are likely to be led by big MRO companies and he is confident that AFI KLM E&M will be among them.