While the current boom in private and business aircraft operations has been great for our industry, it’s straining an already thinning stock of replacement parts for thousands of older aircraft.
As one of the industry’s most experienced MRO services providers, Stevens Aerospace and Defense Systems (Stevens) deals with this growing problem every day. And the company is calling on its 70-plus-year history to do something about it.
“If you operate an out-of-production airplane, it is hard to find new parts from the aircraft manufacturer today,” says Mark Simpson, Quality Control Manager of Stevens’ Greenville, South Carolina location. “And if you do locate parts, they can take a long time to get and be expensive. So, a few years ago, we got into the FAA-PMA [Parts Manufacturer Approval] business to provide our customers with better parts, in less time, and at lower cost than what is currently available elsewhere.
“With our decades of experience working on so many aircraft types, we’ve seen the same parts and components needing replacement time and time again,” he adds. “We also run into situations where we need a specific part to complete an installation. It’s easier to be able to make it in-house than to try to get it from someone else.”
Stevens can make custom pieces super-fast
Having PMA production capabilities is especially beneficial when the required part is a one-off custom piece. Instead of waiting weeks, Stevens can use its extensive in-house CNC-machining, 3D-printing, wiring harness facility, and metal/composite capabilities to fabricate parts in a fraction of the time and at much lower cost than it would otherwise take to get the customer’s aircraft flying again.
“Today, saving time is as important as saving money to most of our customers,” Simpson says. “Owners really need their airplanes available when they want to travel. Downtime is costing them a lot more than it did in the past.”
As for what kinds of one-off or production parts the Stevens PMA artisans are making, Greenville’s General Manager, David Crowder, says that because the FAA’s PMA-approval process can be lengthy, they’re approaching that on a “best-opportunity” basis.
“For example, we’re currently manufacturing a series of blank-off plates for avionics pedestals,” he says. “These are one-off type parts, and the outside provider was taking three weeks to deliver them. Using our in-house equipment, we can have one machined and installed in less than one day. And with our FAA-PMA, we can now sell those parts to other shops that need them.”
Promises made, promises kept
Stevens’ PMA production capabilities will continue to expand as its customers’ needs grow.
“With every customer aircraft we see in our shops, it becomes clearer that they, and our industry, need a better way to produce these parts now,” Crowder says. “We’ve made a big commitment to be that ‘better source’ provider by increasing our list of available PMAs.”
One product type that is rapidly growing is the array of custom wiring harnesses the company produces in its 8,000-square-foot, AS9110-accredited facility at its Greenville location.
“Wiring harnesses are very specialized parts, and we have a team of skilled professionals dedicated to creating custom units for our in-house use and outside MRO customers,” Crowder explains. “In most cases, we can build a harness to a customer’s exact specifications faster and less expensively than they can themselves.”
Says Crowder, “Whether it’s a simple cover plate or a complex wiring harness, some may wonder why Stevens is devoting all this time, effort, and expense to making parts we could buy from someone else. That’s not our way. Earning FAA-PMAs is one more way we can deliver on our company slogan: ‘On Time. On Budget. On Target.’”
Adds Simpson, “That’s what customers have come to expect from Stevens. And we deliver that every day.”