Boeing's GoldCare program offers Midas touch for 787s

Farnborough Air Show » 2006
November 16, 2006, 5:18 AM

Three years ago, Boeing product support experts started thinking about new ways to take care of the 787 fleet. Many small airlines and startups were placing orders for the new airplane, and Boeing figured some airlines might want to focus more on getting customers to destinations and less on the logistics of operating and maintaining complex jet airliners. The U.S. airframer’s new GoldCare support program for the 787 widebody offers a way for airlines, especially startups, to manage operating costs and pay by the hour for maintenance, material and other services.

GoldCare was designed to help airlines operate more efficiently, during all phases of ownership–from acquisition to flying passengers to transfer to new owners or another lessee. “Elements of GoldCare touch on each of these three areas in new ways that help reduce cost,” said Robert Avery, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president for 787 services and support.

Airlines that sign up for the full GoldCare service pay a per-flight-hour fee every month to Boeing, which covers spares, line and heavy maintenance and dispatch reliability and availability guarantees. “We manage the program,” Avery said. “We integrate the elements and we guarantee the results.”

In the acquisition phase, GoldCare participants won’t have to buy large inventories of spares. Boeing and its suppliers will manage these through the OEM’s integrated materials management program. “We transfer some of the risks to Boeing and our partners,” said Avery, “and allow the operator to focus more on their core business.”

Airlines typically craft maintenance programs customized to their unique operation. While this may help the airline in the short term, when it’s time to transfer the airplane to another owner or lessee with a different maintenance program, someone has to spend a lot of money to move the airplane to the new operator’s maintenance program.

GoldCare operators will use a globally accepted maintenance program that remains similar from operator to operator. This should reduce the time and expense of bringing an airplane back to lease-return condition or bridging the maintenance program from one operator to another, Avery explained.

The service’s ability to save operators money is the result not only of supplier relationships and more efficient maintenance programs but is also dependent on use of Boeing’s “e-enabled” digital technologies, including Airplane Health Management (AHM), the Maintenance Performance Toolbox and Maintenance Engineering Management (MEM). None of them are new, but with GoldCare they are merged into one program.

AHM is Boeing’s real-time in-flight monitoring system, which reports problems so ground teams can prepare to fix the trouble as soon as the airplane lands. “We can use the flight time on the 787 to get ready to correct any fault that’s being reported,” Avery told Aviation International News.

The Toolbox allows operators to view any information related to engineering and maintenance of their aircraft on the MyBoeingFleet.com Web site. Quick training modules are also available, so mechanics can run through a module just before completing an unfamiliar or infrequent maintenance task.

To help operators realize more airplane uptime, MEM works with Boeing’s As-Flying Configuration system to help planners develop more efficient maintenance programs. Radio frequency identification tags on 787 structures, rotables and serialized components help Boeing and operators get instant feedback on each airplane’s configuration history.

Using MEM, which is software-based, with the current configuration information, the GoldCare team is modifying the 787’s standardized maintenance program to break C checks into six-hour blocks that can be done overnight instead of grounding the airplane for days or weeks. “MEM allows us to dynamically plan and replan the maintenance activity and keep the airplane in the air earning revenue,” Avery said.

Boeing is opening a new GoldCare operations center in Seattle that will operate 365/24/7. Operating costs for GoldCare airlines should be lower, not just because of the above programs but also thanks to the operations center’s ability to monitor performance of a large fleet flown by many airlines.

Direct operating costs of the 787 are targeted to be 30 percent lower than those for a similar-size airplane because of the composite construction, more reliable components and longer intervals between heavy checks.

Boeing will offer airlines levels of participation in GoldCare, and it is currently signing up component suppliers and MRO partners. “By the end of this year,” Avery said, “we hope to have our initial partnership network in place.”

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