Chris Hosking, Head of Safety, Quality and Environment, Marshall Aerospace, discusses the mission-critical role of quality in the aerospace sector.
Based in Cambridge, UK, Marshall Aerospace is part of the wider Marshall Group and one of the UK’s largest privately owned, independent companies. The aerospace business has locations in the UK, North America and Middle East, and specialises in providing ‘predictable availability’ for C-130 aircraft across the globe, enabling customers to know when their aircraft will be back in operation. These include a wide range of services such as maintenance, repair and overhaul, technical services and support, design changes and modifications, and specialist training for C-130 operators – specialist services it has delivered for more than 50 years.
Chris Hosking has been Head of Safety, Quality and Environment, Marshall Aerospace, since August 2019, having worked as Quality Director and in operations quality manager roles in the aerospace and automotive sectors since joining BAE System’s Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter aircraft programme in 2006. Here, he explains the critical role quality plays in the military maintenance environment.
Does the nature of the quality role change as you move into aerospace maintenance from production?
The maintenance environment is fundamentally different from aircraft production because in maintenance you’re not starting from a known quantity. Every aircraft that we see has some slight variations or differences. The C130, in particular, has been around for more than 60 years, so there are so many variables involved when looking at individual aircraft that have been in service; it’s probably the most modified aircraft in existence. From a quality point of view, that can be challenging.
Because of the nature of our industry, quality is seen as part of our safety management system alongside airworthiness, flight safety and personal health and safety.
Because of the nature of our industry, quality is seen as part of our safety management system alongside airworthiness, flight safety and personal health and safety. Through this, we place a huge reliance on personal competence and approval of our technicians and engineers to carry out their work within our standards, which include Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) UK Part 21J, 21G, and Military Aviation Authority regulatory publications (MRP) part 145 [the UK’s requirements for military contractors].
From an assurance point of view, we really focus on providing independent oversight as well as support and advice to our operational teams. Most of our regulations are quite directive around the independent nature of the quality role so we report directly to the managing director, which means quality and safety have a real voice at the top of the business.
How do your processes ensure the impact of quality at Marshall Aerospace is measurable for your team and senior management?
Our technicians are all authorised and approved, so hold their own responsibility for quality control. Therefore, they have a very keen focus on quality at all times.
We have a really well-used and robust reporting system that allows any issues to be raised and looked at by the quality assurance team and the hangar continual improvement teams.
Internally, we have some basic, but very key, high-level metrics such as customer complaints, audit findings and airworthiness escapes – a measure that shows if anything has left the control of our systems in an unsafe condition. But probably our most important measure comes from the customer feedback forms that we receive after each aircraft, project or service is delivered.
This feedback is split into four categories for delivery, quality, value and communication. The results are discussed by our senior leadership team weekly and they really give us a feel for how the customer is feeling about how we have performed. Poor feedback automatically creates a customer complaint that drives formal root cause/corrective action processes within our system.
How do you assure customers of that high-level approach to quality, particularly with the business operating globally under a variety of regulatory environments?
Our customers’ confidence in us is based on the 22 regulatory certifications and 13 customer approvals that we hold. All these differing requirements have to be interpreted into our own business management system through our process documents, expositions, manuals and plans. And we have to ensure that any changes or modifications to standards or regulations are integrated fully into these processes. Ensuring the highest levels of quality performance throughout the business is our priority.
Because of the breadth of the service we can deliver – from repairs, modifications, upgrades, as well as standard maintenance programmes – the standardisation and improvement of our processes is vital to allow us to better support all our stakeholders, and allows us to operate at a more global level.
We have recently implemented a new enterprise resource planning system, so our operational efforts are currently aimed at understanding the advantages and improvements that this will bring us. On the back of this, we are introducing a new process flow visualisation, which will allow easier, quicker and simpler access to our management system.
What are the main challenges, then, facing Marshall Aerospace and the aerospace sector generally?
As mentioned earlier, our mission is to provide predictable availability for mature military aircraft, and this can lead to problems considering the age and variable condition of the aircraft, the availability of spares and the impact of REACH [registration, evaluation and authorisation and restriction of chemicals] regulations on existing materials use, and so on.
For the future development of the business, the retention of skills within a maturing workforce is another area of concern; apprenticeships are key to knowledge transfer so we have to address this – not only in Marshall Aerospace, but across the engineering sector and wider industry in the UK. We aim to recruit around 30 apprentices a year.
In February, we announced a joint apprenticeship collaboration programme with BAE Systems’ Air Sector to expand STEM relationships between the two companies, which will see apprentices from both firms work together on specific projects and challenges. We have also recently rebranded our Marshall Skills Academy, which will focus mainly on delivering technical and compliance training within the civil and defence aviation sector, and technical engineering apprenticeships.
On a broader note, regulation changes and Brexit fallout are also issues for the sector to deal with – for example, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)/European Union Aviation Safety Agency acceptance of approvals, and European Military Aviation Requirements over MRP 145 are also challenging as we strive to keep up to date with the level of change.
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