She told GE Reports, “We hold the RAAF TLS F404/414 engine-support contract in the highest regard, to the extent that we have shared this with the top officials in the Department of Defence as military best practice when it comes to long-term service agreements.”
The contract, which was put in place in 2008 to ensure optimum availability and time on wing for GE F404-400 engines on Australia’s Classic Hornet fleet, has progressively been extended to include Super Hornet and Growler F414 engines, and in the process has achieved unprecedented reliability and savings for the ADF.
TLS is carried out in partnership with Australian engineering firm TAE Aerospace, at RAAF bases in Williamtown, NSW, and Amberley in Queensland, and has gradually repatriated 90% of services previously performed on these engines in the US to Australian facilities. Engineers at TAE, working with GE Aviation experts, and applying innovative data analysis, have extended the safe operating lifetime of engine parts and developed service regimens which deliver maximum responsiveness.
“You could call it a ‘hole in-the-wall’ contract,” said Adam Watterson in 2015 when he was Australian sales director for GE Aviation Military Systems Operation, in the process of explaining the agreement. “When the RAAF needs a new Hornet engine to install on a jet, they put their hand through a hole in the wall, and they pull out an engine.”
The complex logistics behind the ‘wall’ is part of what Cristina Seda-Hoelle wants to personally observe on her week-long visit to Australia. With a track record of 16 years managing different aspects of aviation services at GE, she says, “My background is in running engine overhaul and repair— it’s my passion. I’ve heard so much about this really strong collaboration with the Australian Air Force that I want to see it first hand.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the team, listening to the customers, and celebrating 10 years of this very powerful contract that we have with the RAAF.”
Read on for the highlights of GE Reports pre-touchdown interview with Seda-Hoelle at GE Aviation headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio …
GE Reports: How is Military Systems Operation different from Aviation Services in the commercial realm?
Cristina Seda-Hoelle: In Military Systems Operation our number-one priority is readiness for the war fighter — the front-line defence force personnel. Although we serve the US Government, a big part of our business is international, and we customise our solutions to what the war fighter needs of us in each instance, making it specific for every customer. The entire team really rallies around a common mission to keep the defence forces flying and to protect them in their operations.
GER: Why do you think GE excels in meeting military expectations in engine services?
CS-H: We try to be as close to the customer as possible. We have folks in the field who get direct feedback from the customer, and we employ a lot of veterans who have been part of the military organisation and who really feel what the customers feel, and I think that makes us more successful. We also pull a lot of best practices from our long experience in services on the commercial side over to the military side. The solution we have for the Hornets and Super Hornets in Australia is the most commercial-like contract we have in the military.
GER: What excites you about the innovations you see in military aviation?
CS-H: We’re seeing more and more innovation around data and analytics. The RAAF has given us access to data that allows us to keep engines on wing longer, and be more proactive and efficient with their fleet. So I think you’ll see more and more development of the digital side, whether it’s in engine analytics, or in how we run workshops — digital tools to keep shops running faster and engines flowing faster as well.
We’re also seeing more customers interested in using additive manufacturing to speed up turn times. In our legacy engines, for example, where there are low-volume parts that maybe a supplier wouldn’t want to make, the customer is asking whether we could make them with additive instead. The next phase is doing repairs with additive and how are we going to help the folks in the field more quickly meet their needs using additive which takes less tooling and is also cost efficient. We’re working closely with our colleagues in GE Additive to explore these options.
One other thing that we’re looking to do more of is emulate the commercial business in integrating used materials with new materials in repair work. On the military side we just haven’t done that as much. GE and TAE have brought commercial thinking to the military environment, for example by testing and implementing the retooling of used parts, such as in the secondary flaps of the engine afterburner. Availability of these valuable parts is constrained worldwide, and the TLS program has come up with a unique repair that brings them back into the supply chain.
GER: Is there growing potential for Australia to carry out global military services work that is currently done in the States?
CS-H: Yes. Some very innovative and successful repairs have been established with the TLS contract, and we are looking for ways to leverage those repairs to some of our other contracts or service agreements where they would be applicable. We constantly look for ways to pull some of that repair work into Australia.
GER: What’s most remarkable about GE’s support of the Australian Defence Forces from your global perspective?
CS-H: The Australian Defence Force has entrusted GE with ensuring its engine availability to the fullest extent. It’s transferred a lot of risk. Access to engine data, has allowed us to see what the Defence Forces see in terms of performance. In turn we’ve partnered with local industry — TAE, Air New Zealand, Ruarg — to meet ADF needs and manage its risk. The collaborative team here has consistently applied ingenuity and investment to bringing the work into Australia, which improves engine availability.
The numbers speak for themselves: for example, GE/TAE workshops deliver an average 682 hours time on wing for engines powering the F/A-18 Classic Hornet, which is more than triple some other countries’ averages, and at the same time the RAAF has realised significant value for money through the TLS agreement which continues to have a bright future. It’s a perfect partnership.