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Proposed B-1 program aims to speed maintenance, increase availability

Called the “Red Team,” the group from Air Force Materiel Command, the Air Combat Command and the Air Staff are considering implementing a concept called High Velocity Maintenance, which is designed to reduce the amount of time the B-1 spends in maintenance and on the ground. At issue is how the Air Force handles scheduled depot maintenance and both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance in the field. The overarching goal is to revitalize Air Force wide maintenance practices to increase aircraft availability through improved requirements development, maintenance analysis, planning, and materiel support.

“Our case for change is all the B-1s trapped in maintenance right now,” explained Sam Malone, deputy director of the 427th Aircraft Sustainment Group. “Last year we averaged 28 aircraft available. Thirty-six were in some type of maintenance. It’s unacceptable and that’s why we’re doing HVM.”

The HVM concept was developed in 2007 at Warner-Robins Air Logistics Center, Ga., to speed turnaround time and reduce maintenance inefficiencies for the C-130, a transport aircraft in high demand. The process involves reducing the variability of aircraft maintenance and supporting the mechanic. This is achieved by reorganizing work done during both field and depot maintenance, shortening the intervals between depot maintenance and boosting the number of man-hours worked during maintenance by better organizing tools, workers, task schedules, parts (and other materials), and technical data.

“Really, we’re trying to maintain a quality jet,” Mr. Malone said. “This is concentrating on aircraft availability, keeping in mind our cost pressures. We are missing sorties required by Ops because of aircraft in maintenance.

“Our biggest driver is unscheduled maintenance,” he said. “HVM processes are designed to accumulate all resources before we begin the job to ensure the mechanic doesn’t have to wait. This will make us more efficient and allow us to accomplish more workload.”

If the Red Team approves the concept, a test case for HVM on the B-1 could begin as early as next year. The results of that test case could then be studied and applied throughout the B-1 fleet.

High Velocity Maintenance represents a change in how maintenance is viewed by the Air Force, Mr. Malone said. Studies show that by doing progressive, staggered maintenance, commercial aircraft spend less time on the ground than their military counterparts. Mr. Malone said that the average commercial operator spends 500 to 800 man-hours per day on commercial aircraft during heavy (depot) maintenance while the Air Force averages 145 hours.

“In fact,” he added, “when we visited American Airlines in Tulsa they were getting 900 hours per day. The B-1 Programmed Depot Maintenance line has a fantastic record and has improved their contribution to Aircraft availability. They have accepted the challenge to achieve continued gains in Aircraft Availability using HVM.”

By scheduling smaller amounts of regular maintenance at shorter intervals, Mr. Malone said, the aircraft should spend less time in maintenance. Under the HVM program, the B-1 will visit the depot for heavy maintenance four times in five years with two light HVM cycles scheduled in the field between depot visits.

“We’re going to see the aircraft in some scheduled maintenance every 150 days,” he said. And this increases maintenance predictability and supportability.”

Knowing what repairs are going to be performed and when will also help with scheduling skilled repair crews and spare parts more efficiently when they are needed. Inspections will also be done more often so that future maintenance sessions will know exactly what type of work and parts will be needed ahead of time, further speeding maintenance.

“Parts are always an issue and this is the best way to solve the parts issue I’ve seen,” Mr. Malone said. “This is exactly what happens in the commercial world.”

Mr. Malone said HVM represents a significant change in how the Air Force maintains its aircraft. Rather than waiting for something to break, HVM is designed to provide a fix before that happens through a more comprehensive analysis of each aircraft.

“We’re moving from a traditional Air Force model that’s been out there for 40 or 45 years and moving to a non-traditional, commercial model,” he said. “It’s a significant change using a proven concept.”

But, Mr. Malone says, there is high-level support for HVM and he is confident the Red Team will give full support. HVM for the B-1could be fully implemented as soon as October 2010.

“They see the potential,” he said. “Now we’ve got to go prove it.”

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