The RAF will receive the first of 14 new heavy-lift helicopters in 2026.
Turnkey MRO Solutions Critical for Keeping Heavy-Lift Aircraft Operational (sponsored)
This article is brought to you by Columbia Helicopters
Photo (top): Skip Robinson
Columbia Helicopters is known all over the world for its powerful tandem helicopters providing the heavy lifting few other aircraft can – from firefighting and construction to infrastructure and oil and gas support. Yet the company delivers so much more.
The heavy-lift helicopter authority, Columbia is the world’s largest operator of Columbia 234 Chinook (civil variant of the CH-47 Chinook), Columbia Vertol 107-II (civil variant of the CH-46 Sea Knight), and Boeing CH-47D Chinook helicopters. Columbia’s fleet in fact rivals that of many small countries.
Operating so many large aircraft is only part of this unique operator’s work. A fleet of this size requires some heavy lifting of its own in maintenance. Columbia is up to the challenge, maintaining an average operational readiness rate upwards of 90 percent while also providing effective maintenance and MRO support to customers around the world.
Our more than six decades with these aircraft have allowed us to efficiently systemize and optimize our MRO capabilities to serve customers around the world— Santiago Crespo, Vice President of Growth and Strategy at Columbia
For more than 60 years, Columbia’s specialized focus on the design, manufacturing support, and maintenance of these aircraft has led to modernized and efficient maintenance practices that translate into serious time and cost savings for military and commercial customers.
“Our more than six decades with these aircraft have allowed us to efficiently systemize and optimize our MRO capabilities to serve customers around the world,” says Santiago Crespo, Vice President of Growth and Strategy at Columbia. “While the majority of our customers have been in government over the years, we are now seeing a great deal of interest from international customers that want to both modernize and maintain operation of their aircraft.”
Columbia’s maintenance capabilities cover the entire aircraft, from airframe and engine to components and support equipment. The company’s senior technicians, many with 20 or more years of experience, provide superior service both in the field and at Columbia’s facility.
Columbia owns the type certificates for the 107 and 234 helicopters, and the production certificate for their components. This provides the company with unmatched capabilities to not only maintain the aircraft, but to engineer, manufacture, repair, and overhaul parts in addition to developing updated modifications to the aircraft to meet customer needs. Columbia works directly with customers to solve specific challenges, in some cases designing, manufacturing, testing, and installing the ideal solution that can increase aircraft availability and profitability.
“Many people, even long-time customers, continue to be pleasantly surprised at all we can do,” says Chris Hankland, Director of Aviation Solutions/Business Administration. “Heavy field inspections, modifications on site, our engineering capabilities – all of these services have been refined to help customers increase flight hours and reduce down time. We don’t just sell these services; we rely on them ourselves to keep Columbia’s aircraft flying at peek availability.”
Columbia’s MRO capabilities shadow traditional OEMs. Thanks to an extensive team of specialized technicians and expansive in-house capabilities, Columbia’s turn times are much faster, in some cases up to 20%. This is a direct result of the company’s hands-on approach to superior customer service and directly addressing each customer’s need.
“We are the only maintenance source outside the U.S. Army depots for many components on these aircraft,” says Paul Leach, Director of Aviation Solutions. “We’ve made significant supply chain investments to support our maintenance activities. Additionally, we are constantly building processes to improve the operation of these legacy aircraft with a focus on keeping them flying at all times. We continue to look for ways to extend the life of components and increase operational readiness to keep our customers flying. We quite frankly are the experts in troubleshooting these aircraft.”
Complete Engine Support
Columbia’s total life-cycle support on these aircraft includes full support for the Honeywell T55 and GE T58 and CT 58 series engines, as well as vast MRO services for engine accessories and APUs. The company is the factory-authorized service center for the Honeywell T55-714 series engine and has assumed responsibility as the GE Total Logistics Support Center for the T58 and CT 58, acting as the second generation OEM. The company has serviced more than 2,000 engines since 2000. With its FAA production approval, Columbia’s capabilities extend to the manufacture of parts under license for the GE CT58/T58 powerplants.
To ensure the fullest support for engine service, Columbia’s facility maintains a Honeywell correlated test cell capable of operating up to 6,000 shaft horsepower. An additional test cell provides baseline data for all GE T58 engines.
As the Total Logistics Support Center for the GE T58 and CT58 engines, Columbia supports customers and a network of authorized Customer Service Centers with full access to parts, technical publications, engineering support services, and test cell approvals. As a part of this work, Columbia maintains and replenishes an extensive parts inventory to meet the requirements of customers and the service centers while acting as the sole source for GE CT58 engine technical publications.
“The industry is running out of these engines with the attrition of older components,” says Leach. “We supply parts with considerably favorable turn times and prices thanks to our in-house knowledge and capabilities.”
To learn more about Columbia Helicopters’ extensive MRO capabilities, visit them here.
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