How to Avoid Long-Term Engine Maintenance Costs

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By Mike Saathoff - Director of Sales Operations & Engine and Accessory Sales for Elliott Aviation

What are the short-term costs to engine maintenance that could save big costs longer-term - and how can you keep on top of them? Elliott Aviation's Mike Saathoff offers his insights…

It's one of the most important parts of your aircraft. It's also one of the most expensive components to maintain. The life of your aircraft engines and the condition of your records can play a big part in your aircraft ownership costs.

Given that this can ultimately impact your aircraft value, should you be fiscally conservative, or should you make sure your aircraft engines are in tip-top shape? Following is some advice to help answer that question…

Understand Your Engine Maintenance Requirements Fully

Aircraft engines were made with specific capabilities in mind. They were engineered to be able to perform precise requirements in terms of fuel consumption, thrust, or horsepower. Since the engine performance requirements are specific, their maintenance requirements are unique - so each engine make, and model comes with the manufacturer's requirements for proper maintenance.

For example, inspection and overhaul requirements will be contained in each engine model's maintenance manual. These can be very different (i.e., a Pratt & Whitney JT15D-5 popular on the Beechjet requires hot section inspections (covering the combustion portion of the engine) at 1,800 hours and a complete overhaul at 3,600 hours, whereas the TFE-731-5BR, popular on the Hawker 800XP, which requires hot sections/MPIs at 2,100 hours and a complete engine overhaul/CZI at 4,200 hours. Moreover, requirements can vary based on Service Bulletin status.

It's vital for business aircraft ownership budgeting to fully understand these costs and know exactly when items are due. These costs should also factor into your decision when buying jets or turboprops.

Additional requirements will be laid out in an aircraft manual that may not be defined as engine components by the engine manufacturer. Nevertheless, they are attached to the engine. Items such as starter generators, engine mounts, thrust reversers, and more will have their requirements determined by the airframe maintenance manual.

Neglecting the maintenance or overhaul requirements of these particular items can lead to failures and unexpected expenses. The intent of each engine manufacturer was for the engine to be maintained in accordance with the requirements they put in place.

These requirements were not intended as optional. We are often asked if the cost will be the same at overhaul if the engine is operated past overhaul or a hot section. In almost all cases, the answer is no. These inspections are put in place to catch damage before it can cause additional issues or a catastrophic failure.

In some situations, many of the parts are allowed to be repaired if they are still within manufacturer limits or tolerances. In most situations, however, when the engine is pushed past the overhaul or inspection period, many of those parts could be worn past their limits. They would not only be dangerous but unacceptable for continued operation. At that point, an owner would have to scrap and replace the part with a new, overhauled, or repaired unit.

In all cases when the core unit is not repairable, the new part will be more expensive, thus providing an example of how money can be saved by paying a cost in the near term for engine maintenance that would otherwise cost the customer significantly more in the long-term.

Furthermore, if the part or component fails in operation and causes a catastrophic failure of the engine, additional internal damage could result, and the engine rendered Beyond Economical Repair (BER). At that point, engine replacement would be an extreme cost to the owner or operator.

Who Maintains Your Engines?

When choosing a facility to maintain your engines, there are two basic options to consider. Will you use:

• A repair station, or
• An individual engine provider.

An FAA Certified Repair Station will have numerous factory-trained technicians with many years of practical application experience. An inspection department should research to ensure the engine is current with all the required Service Bulletins or Airworthiness Directives, work multiple shifts to help ensure a shorter downtime, and have the buying power to ensure price breaks on parts, tooling, technical data, and training required.

A reputable shop can handle any warranty issues and have insurance to handle any issue needing support.

Choosing an individual Airframe and Powerplant mechanic could prove less expensive, however. You may have a personal relationship with that individual, and they can likely complete the work at your facility. Keep in mind that at resale, the reputation of aircraft maintenance history in logbook reviews are evaluated and factored into the pedigree of the airplane.

Undertake Preventative Engine Washes and Cleanings

It's worth remembering that completing a compressor wash or another internal wash can remove many corrosion-causing substances. The recommendations for frequency of the wash can vary based on engine models (many engines are every two hundred to four hundred hours).

Moreover, if your aircraft is based - or often flies - in areas that are known to be corrosive environments like Florida and the Caribbean islands, it can be beneficial for your engines to be cleaned more often. The same goes for heavily polluted environments containing smog and other airborne particles that can decrease the life of certain components of your engines.

Although these might be an additional short-term cost, when compared to replacing a corroded component, it can prove to be a huge long-term cost-saving while keeping your engine performance at the highest level.

Keeping Up with Engine Program Requirements

Many engines are on programs like Rolls-Royce CorporateCare, MSP, Vmax, or JSSI. These programs make it easy for aircraft operators to budget and allocate for unexpected, high-dollar items. In some cases, they can even save aircraft owners money.

As with any extended warranty program, there are specific requirements in regard to how you maintain your engines to receive full coverage. It is critical for you to fully understand these and comply.

When purchasing an aircraft that is enrolled on an engine program, be sure to do a thorough review of all aircraft logbooks to ensure all items comply with that engine program's requirements. Many engine programs are also customized to fit a specific operator's requirements, so make sure the program contract fits your mission.

Pay Now Save Later?

Fully understanding what it takes to keep an engine properly maintained can save you a lot of money at engine overhaul. Make sure you not only understand major events like hot sections and overhauls but all of the short-run items. While they may seem minor at the time, every little bit adds up and, if neglected, can cost you much more than expected at overhaul.

Because every engine make and model has different requirements, engine maintenance can be difficult to understand. If you have questions, make sure to reach out to a reputable service center that is experienced in the type of aircraft you operate. They can help give you advice and tips on how to maintain your aircraft engines to avoid extra costs at overhaul.

About the Author:

Mike Saathoff has over 20 years of experience in corporate aircraft maintenance. He has held several service technician and quality control positions with Elliott Aviation and currently serves as the Director of Sales Operations & Engine and Accessory Sales. He has an Airframe and Powerplant and Inspection Authorization license with the FAA. You can reach him at msaathoff (at)