LE BOURGET, France — As a number of companies chase maintenance work for the F-35 fighter jet, one firm is planning to clean up on the F-16.
AAR Corp., a provider of global aftermarket aviation services, won a seven-year contract with the Royal Danish Air Force to perform maintenance, repair and overhaul, or MRO, of Pratt & Whitney F100-220 engine components on the General Dynamics F-16 jet.
That win, which came earlier this year, is the latest contract in a long-term relationship supporting the Danish Air Force and air forces across Europe with MRO services from the company’s repair facility in Amsterdam. That facility supports about $500 million in business, much of it tied to the F-16.
But the win also fits well into a grander ambition of the company, said Brian Sartain, senior vice president of repair and engineering services at AAR.
“Everybody is running after F-35 capability,” he said. “But the Danish Air Force is still going to have a lot of F-16s for [the] foreseeable future, and there are still a lot of F-16s being flown around the world.”
Sartain pointed to “fairly high-publicized” F-16 maintenance requirements coming down the pike for the U.S. Air Force, which reported a 65-70 percent mission-capable rate for F-16s in 2017. AAR has a facility in Duluth, Minnesota, which is located across the airfield from Duluth Air National Guard Base — home to the 148th Fighter Wing and its F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft.
“Our facility is a perfect place to do F-16 maintenance. We have a lot of capacity,” Sartain said. “We’re three tiers down in the F-35 component chain in the way those are being bid. We’re not interested. So, while others are running after the F-35, we’re cleaning up on the F-16s, and we’re happy to do that.”
Beyond its F-16 work, AAR supports airframe maintenance for the P-8A fleet for the U.S. Navy, Australia and Foreign Military Sales customers. AAR and Boeing were each awarded seven-year indefinite delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts from Naval Air Systems Command in February 2018, competing each year on workshare. While Boeing performed the majority of work the first year, AAR was recently awarded the larger slice for 2019.
“Frankly, we’re moving to majority share because our performance has been better,” Sartain said. “Most program competitors will need to sub tier to another company and then stack profit on top of profit. For government, it’s a better value for us to be a prime, and for us it’s a great opportunity to be a prime.”
AAR supports the P-8 work from its Indianapolis facility, where at any given time four P-8s are in the hanger, with two steady lines of maintenance. The location is also used to support maintenance of Southwest Airlines 737 aircraft, which share the same airframe as the P-8. It’s gone from about 20 percent military and 80 percent commercial maintenance to an even split.
“Southwest asks that airplanes are returned in about 21 days. For the P-8, the Navy allows 60 for turnaround,” Sartain said. “The airplane comes in, we have a small crew of 30-40 that hold secret clearances and lock in a room the top-secret equipment, and then I can flex mechanics from Southwest to take advantage of that experience."
Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.