Completion business gets back on track at Associated

 - May 26, 2010, 9:52 AM
When Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) acquired Associated Air Center in 2007, “We had a huge backlog,” said Associated COO Jack Lawless.

That was a good year, and the next year got even better for the business aviation industry, yielding a bumper crop of new business jet deliveries–1,313 to be exact– and adding to the demand for interior completion work.

But the economic crash caught up, and in late 2008 orders plummeted for aircraft, from large- to small-cabin. But demand remained strong for single-aisle and widebody bizliners.

At that point, single-aisle and widebody interiors specialist Associated Air Center was “looking at a lot of empty tubes,” said Lawless.

The Love Field-based center had a reputation for delivering quality work on time. But it also had “a huge backlog,” and as it took on more work, Lawless recalled, commitments grew beyond Associated’s ability to meet promised workmanship quality and delivery deadlines.

“At that time, we had less than 50 percent of the engineering staff we really needed and our back shops were unable to keep up,” Lawless explained. “By early 2009, we were working three shifts, 24/7 as well as holidays.”

It was at that point parent company StandardAero decided something had to be done to put things right. Among the first changes was to give project managers greater authority “to get the job done.” A series of “gates” was established in the project pipeline, project management score cards were developed and reviewed
bi-weekly, and basic controls in material planning were established to keep track of every part.

Two years ago, said Lawless, Associated had expanded into a new space on Mockingbird Lane. In the past year, some 150 people who had been moved there began migrating back into the main terminal facility where the center occupies 1.1 million sq ft of hangar and shops.

With an investment of $3.6 million from DAE, Associated made improvements to the finish shop, among other assets. “The people who worked at the finish shop were given responsibility for improving the process,” said Lawless. “We just gave them what they asked for, and they’re now doing high-quality work at lower cost, and we haven’t recorded the burn-failure of a piece of finish work in more than a year.”

In stress engineering, Associated is creating tooling to reduce hours and is standardizing the process to avoid repeat analyses. “We used to outsource weight analysis and forecasting, and after several significant misses, we realized that it is so integral to the design process that we moved it in-house. As a result, our last aircraft rolled out within 10 pounds of the forecast.”

To further ensure quality, Associated received ODA (organization designation authorization) from the FAA last November, and Lawless said after a recent environment audit that he expects the center to be ISO 9001 compliant by the middle of next year.

Maintenance & Completions
Associated has also launched a renewed focus on its maintenance business. In April, the center announced the addition of services to support BBJ customers, including auxiliary fuel system modifications that meet the requirements of SFAR 88; main landing gear trunion-pin replacement, also required by the FAA; and modifications to allow a certified change of the BBJ cabin altitude from 8,000 feet to 6,500 feet.

In 2008, maintenance and modifications represented about 9 percent of Associated’s business. Since then, that number has doubled, and according to Lawless the goal is to double that number again.

Associated Air Center most recently delivered two BBJs and its 13th Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ). Currently in the works are two more legacy BBJs and a legacy ACJ, as well as two new green-completion BBJs. In the past
six months the center has been quoting for A340s and Boeing 777 interior work, said Lawless.

“We’ve also just signed a five-year extension of the partnering agreement with Airbus to do Airbus Corporate Jets,” he added.
“Going into 2010, we are booking business and getting back into a controlled cadence. And our long-term commitments go out at least 18 months,” Lawless said.