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VECTOR AEROSPACE – TLCS PROGRAMME SETS NEW MRO STANDARD By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

 

vector15 May 15. With 2,700 employees supporting 3,000 customers across the world from 21 locations Vector Aerospace is today the standard setter for rotary and fixed-wing avionics, engine maintenance and repair and overhaul (MRO) operation. With well invested facilities in Canada, UK, USA, France, Australia, South Africa and Kenya Vector Aerospace provides services to a wide and diverse range of military and commercial customers and is noted for its high level specialisation in gas turbine and helicopter airframe MRO support and component supply.

A global company that had been acquired by Airbus in 2011 the North American heritage of Vector dates back to the 1940’s as a company called CHC. Through acquisition and expansion of various international MRO activities including that of Helipro and APU in the US plus, in 1998, the sizable activities of UK based Hunting Airmotive and in 2008, those of Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA) which had been the primary rotary wing and components business activities of the MOD, Vector Aerospace has subsequently emerged as one of the largest specialist rotary and fixed wing MRO businesses in the world.

While Vector has significant worldwide interests serving and supporting military and civil customers in a large range of countries it is the UK activities that I will centre my attentions on here and primarily that in regard of the hugely impressive and successful ‘Through Life Customer Support’ (TLCS) programme, a partnership between Vector Aerospace, Boeing and the MOD that provides and delivers all required MRO and upgrade support for the UK’s large fleet of Chinook military helicopters.

Justifiably priding itself on what is now a long history providing superior customer service and using a diverse range of expert technical capability Vector Aerospace is today an expanding and, in my view, extremely well-managed operation that is intent on delivering the highest standards of quality and customer care.

Despite defence cuts by various western governments suffice to say that the military rotary sector has escaped the more serious cuts that have impacted badly on military fixed wing aircraft fleets. In the civil rotary sector the rule of thumb is that expansion seen over recent years will continue apace. Despite some obvious disappointments related to cuts and fleet retirement Vector Aerospace has been quick to react to change and to adapt the business to changing industry requirements. Nothing in this industry ever stands still for long and with the UK economy one of the fastest growing in Europe my own view is that Vector Aerospace should be able to look forward to excellent growth in the years ahead.

The company’s principal site at Fleetlands-Gosport provides an extensive range of helicopter MRO support for military helicopters including Boeing Chinook helicopters operated by the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) in the UK, Airbus SuperPuma helicopters including the 12 aircraft that are operated by Vector Financial Services plus a variety British and French owned Lynx military helicopters. Here also can be found Vector’s extensive repair and overhaul service for fixed-wing turbine engines including Rolls-Royce T56/510D, Honeywell ALF502 and LF507 plus the Pratt & Whitney Canada built 300 Series.

My recent visit to the Fleetlands site provided an excellent insight into the extensive and complicated range of in-depth engineering and support work undertaken on the MOD’s heavily utilised fleet of Boeing Chinook large helicopter fleet together with various work undertaken for the military of other nations including France and Portugal.

Working in partnership with Boeing and the MOD on the ‘Through Life Customers Support’ (TLCS) programme the Vector Aerospace Fleetlands facility provides full depth maintenance, repair, upgrade and also deployment support for the extensive MOD fleet of Boeing Chinook helicopters that are based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire.

Operated by JHC these extremely powerful machines are the backbone of the UK military helicopter fleet. The MOD Chinook fleet has been in constant operation with the UK military since the first entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1980. They served in a number of conflicts in which UK armed forces have been involved including in Iraq and a total of thirteen years supporting operations in Afghanistan until earlier this year.

Not surprisingly there have over the period of time in service in theatre been a number of incidents and accident and through the Chinook Through Life Customer Support (TLCS) programme, a fascinating partnership between Vector Aerospace and Boeing, that the military turn to for repair, overhaul and modification work on the fleet of JHC Chinooks and in some cases that require major rebuild. During my visit to the Fleetlands site I was able to see in detail the extent and array of work carried out to damaged helicopters and while I was extremely impressed with the engineering capability what struck me most was the professional manner in which Boeing and Vector Aerospace have worked together to provide the best and most cost effective means of support for the MOD.

With an extensive and impressive array of engineering approvals the Fleetlands facility provides a full range of MRO activities ranging from inspection, airframe rectification, modification following damage, major structural and composite repairs, panel and component strip, engine repairs and flight testing.

At the Almondbank site near Perth in Scotland the company specialises in providing a one-stop-shop capability for repair and overhaul, modification and testing of an extensive range of critical components for a wide variety of rotary and fixed wing aircraft. At the Pyestock site nr Fleet, Hampshire, a location close by to what for over fifty years had once been the home of the National Gas Turbine Establishment, Vector Aerospace facilities undertake repair and overhaul services for fixed wing turbine aero engines and accessories for both civil and military operators. This includes a test cell complex located on the Cody Technology Park, Farnborough.

It is at this stage worth recalling the history of the ‘Chinook Through-Life Customer Support (TLCS) programme. This began in 2006 when Boeing chose to partner with Vector in an attempt to capitalize on local UK resources whilst infusing Boeing Programme Management, Engineering and Lean expertise into the UK MOD Chinook MRO requirement. This was all aimed at dramatically improving the fleet’s readiness and availability whilst at the same time reducing cost to the taxpayer.

The Chinook TLCS programme has been extremely successful in achieving all of the objectives set. It is a long term programme that extends out for many years in which the partners fulfil all requirement of deep and heavy maintenance, repair and overhaul. In addition to the significant and very impressive array of engineering based skills, if the requirement is based on accident or other serious damage repairs or rebuild work the operation contains full design engineering capability and authority.

The basis of the MRO support is designed around providing technical support, repairs and servicing, supply chain management including spares forecasting, procurement and management of all required component spares. The operation is also able to undertake all types of modification requirements.

Since 2007 when Boeing, in partnership with the MOD and Vector Aerospace, assumed full supply-chain responsibility for the UK’s fleet of 46 Chinook Mk 2/2A and Mk3 helicopters the TLCS partnership has worked on the basis of ‘continuous improvement’. It continues to do this very effectively today and the partnership has been responsible for creating substantial availability improvement in the JHC operated Chinook helicopter fleet together with undertaking significant fleet-wide capability upgrades, repairs and parts supply.

As already implied, the UK Chinook fleet having been extensively used in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past couple of decades and to that end it is hardly surprising that some of the aircraft have suffered very serious damage, caused either by direct attack or maybe serious landing damage that in the past might have deemed the aircraft to have been beyond economic repair. If so and if within a war zone most likely the aircraft would have been destroyed on site. But, as I have been able to personally observe on a specific Chinook helicopter that had been seriously damaged, the TLCS programme has, through a new set of options created, been able to deliver a seriously damaged aircraft back to front line flying condition.

In this particular case the aircraft has I believe been damaged through a heavy landing during a training mission. The damage was serious but it has now been brought back to full capability status at Fleetlands following extensive re-engineering work. This required manufacturing and replacement of major structural components including the supply of new aircraft skin material. Following substantial flight testing the aircraft is now back in service.

In having the ability and skilled engineering expertise and capability to undertake valuable work such as this the Vector/Boeing partnership has not only saved the UK taxpayer considerable amounts of money but it has developed and honed new skills that will be available for the future. #

The record of achievement that has emerged out of the TLCS programme is formidable. Importantly by working together as one and recognising the huge importance of Chinook capability and the need to improve fleet availability suffice to say that great strides forward have now been made and that there are few complaints about Chinook availability today.

The TLCS programme is currently conducted at four UK locations – Vector Fleetlands, RAF Odiham, Hampshire at which location the bulk of the UK based Chinook helicopters under the control of JHC are based. Work is also undertaken at the Vector Almondbank site and also at RNAS Yeovilton. Until the last Chinook was returned back to the UK in March this year the TLCS programme provided full support for the aircraft deployed in Afghanistan as it will continue to do on other international deployments in the future.

The UK MOD is currently in the process of acquiring an additional 14 Chinook Mk 6 helicopters that will add to the existing fleet of 46 aircraft. The new Chinooks feature a suite of updated systems including a digital Automatic Flight Control System and are I believe all due to be in service by 2017. The existing fleet have and continue to undergo extensive modifications at the Vector Aerospace Fleetlands site including fitting of digital cockpits.

hwheeldon@wheeldonstrategic.com

Tel: 07710 779785

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