NORTH CAROLINA –
A new asset in the Transportation Branch at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) is helping reduce turnaround times by simplifying aircraft movement between depot sites.
FRCE has added a double-drop trailer—also known as a lowboy—to the facility’s transportation fleet, allowing the depot to move H-1 variant helicopters and other large assets, like cranes, between locations without having to enlist the services of partner organizations or external contractors. This capability could help shave up to 10 working days off turnaround times for the UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper helicopters that FRCE services at its Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, Jacksonville, North Carolina, detachment, said Brian Van Apeldoorn, the detachment’s overhaul and repair supervisor.
“This is going to help mitigate one of the major headwinds we have when it comes to getting these aircraft back to the squadrons who are depending on us,” he said. “It’s not just the trailer itself, but all of the logistical elements that go along with it—the scheduling, the permitting, the follow trucks—that we’ll be able to streamline by addressing in-house, which will allow us to boost productivity and reduce cycle times. I think we’re going to see that having these services available organically is going to make a real difference, especially as our schedule increases.”
Van Apeldoorn said FRCE previously relied upon local Department of Defense transportation agencies to move aircraft from the New River detachment to FRCE’s clean and paint facilities at Cherry Point, North Carolina, and return the aircraft afterward. These external partners are accountable to several clients beyond FRCE, which sometimes led to limited availability.
On top of that, Van Apeldoorn said, aircraft maintenance operations are notoriously complex, which can make it difficult to estimate phase completion dates; that only added to the intricacies of scheduling with third parties responsible for supporting other organizations, as well.
“There were times we’d have to schedule a move up to 30 days out, and then run into changes in our maintenance schedule because of supply constraints, or needed repairs that weren’t identified initially,” he said. “If we weren’t able to make the initial move date and had to reschedule, we ran the risk of having a workforce left waiting on an aircraft to either go to or come back from clean or paint at Cherry Point. Missing that mark can incur a significant labor cost for just a day or two of delay.”
Having the ability to easily change the scheduled move date with as little as 24 to 72 hours’ notice is a game-changer, agreed Stephen Sittinger, the work leader on FRCE’s H-1 production line at New River.
“Being able to reduce the number of potential delays is going to have a positive effect on the team, and we’re going to see that reflected in reduced turnaround times for the warfighters,” he said. “These aircraft keep coming in, and the Marines need them back. So, the faster we can get them out the door, as we continue doing it the right way in terms of quality and safety, the better it is for everyone.”
Gabriel Garcia, who manages the Transportation Branch at FRCE, said the concept of the depot developing an organic capability for moving large assets came about after cascading logistical issues led to a delay on movement of several aircraft over a short period of time.
“There were three almost back-to-back incidents where we couldn’t have movements supported because of either the equipment, the operator or the permit,” Garcia said. “We ended up having to contract out those moves for a significant cost.
“It became clear that the cost of these contracted moves and the cost of delays were enough to justify FRCE developing its own moving capability,” he said. “FRCE had the operators, but we needed the equipment—which we could acquire. The permitting was probably the trickiest piece, because it was something that hadn’t been done during my tenure. I knew there would be a learning curve, but I also knew we had done it before and could do it again.”
Garcia said depot leadership thoroughly analyzed the data before approving the initiative—just in time for global supply shortages to make it almost impossible to acquire the trailer. Now, the Transportation Branch has the trailer in hand, along with a tandem-axle truck to pull the trailer and load. The team recently used the new equipment to pick up its first load, an AH-1Z from the New River detachment that was headed to Cherry Point for cleaning.
Garcia said he’s excited to help make a difference in flightline readiness as his team moves aircraft to and from FRCE’s detachments at MCAS New River and the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston. While transportation services are often a behind-the-scenes facet of maintenance operations, he knows the team is helping the depot in its goal of supporting military aviation readiness.
“That’s what we’re all about here: safety, quality, throughput and cost in support of the warfighter,” he said. “People can lose sight of transportation as a key piece of that because it sometimes fades into the background noise—but if transportation stops running smoothly, it quickly becomes clear how integral it is to operations.
“Having this new equipment internally, we can conduct a whole month’s worth of moves for the same cost of what one contracted move could have cost,” Garcia said. ““It offers us so much more flexibility in our operations, and it’s going to allow us to support increases in worker efficiency and prevent delays. We are now the masters of our own destiny.”
From Fleet Readiness Center East.