Rolls-Royce provides customer technical support around the clock

 - February 15, 2012, 12:10 AM
The Rolls-Royce Operations Center at Bristol is staffed continuously so engineering advice can be discussed and relayed to operators of the company’s military engines throughout the world.

 

In the operations center at the Rolls-Royce factory in Bristol, UK, it is well past midnight, but engineers are still manning some of the dozen consoles, standing by to receive queries, consult databases and dispense their technical expertise to operators of the company’s military engines anywhere in the world.

There might be a call from Malaysia or India relating to the Adour turbofans powering Hawk jet trainers. Japan might have a problem with an RTM322 turboshaft on an EH101 helicopter. Australia may need to consult on the AE2100 turboprops that power the C-130J airlifter.

The center operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, serving 160 customers who own more than 8,000 engines. Last year, it responded to more than 5,000 issues, of which 10 percent were aircraft-on-ground situations or flight safety-related. It is a core part of Rolls-Royce’s aftermarket commitment. The company claims to be a pioneer in partnered support, and now earns more than $1.5 billion each year from defense services. That’s slightly more than its revenues from selling new military engines.

Based on pioneering experience gained with a prime customer, the UK Royal Air Force (RAF), Rolls-Royce has been extending availability-type contracts worldwide. These MissionCare agreements have been concluded with all branches of the U.S. military, most recently for the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor and the C-130J. India and Malaysia have also signed up.

Company managers and RAF officers say that an honest dialog with operators is essential to the creation of such contracts. Eight years ago, the RAF realized that the support arrangements for the RB199 engines powering the Tornado strike fighter were inefficient. Each Tornado base had its own support structure, mostly manned by RAF personnel. The system actually incentivized Rolls-Royce to provide more spares and more repairs.

“We had an ‘open-book’ consultation with Rolls-Royce to identify the cost levers and attack them,” recalled Air Vice Marshall Simon Bollom, director of combat air. “We rationalized to a single ‘pulse line’ for repair and overhaul at one base, and Rolls reduced the surplus stock.”

The first availability contract was signed in December 2005. Since then, the RAF has halved its RB199 support costs. The contract was renewed, and the RAF agreed to move the entire operation to Bristol last year. “It was a risk, but it’s been a huge success,” said Bollom. The Rolls-Royce workforce has responded well to the increased demands that resulted from the Tornado being deployed in combat over Afghanistan and Libya, he confirmed.

In December 2010, a similar contract was agreed for the EJ200 engines on the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons. Over the next 10 years, it will be worth some $1.35 billion to Rolls-Royce. As part of the deal, the company agrees to make one replacement engine available at each Typhoon base, at one hour’s notice.

Some of Rolls-Royce’s thinking on military engine support has been transferred from the company commercial engine division. But airlines can forecast their total expected flying hours with much greater accuracy than the military. Therefore, availability contracts for military engines will likely specify a baseline, with a surge provision. In extremis, the contractor should also be flexible. For instance, when Japan’s EH101 fleet was flying round-the-clock during last year’s tsunami, “we didn’t worry too much about the contract,” said a Rolls-Royce director. Also, when pricing a support deal, the contractor is bound to consider extreme military use–such as thrust slams. AVM Bollom said, for this reason, the RAF has decided to retain some risks in the Typhoon and Tornado contracts.