The Fly Away Kit or FAK is probably the most specialised container on the market. Designed to store and transport the tools and parts used to maintain aircraft, this half-width, lower-deck container (LD3) is easy to handle, compatible with a broad range of aircraft and completely customisable. No wonder it’s so popular with inventory managers and maintenance crews alike.
However, you won’t find it on all flights.
Keeping a fully stocked FAK on every aircraft can be fairly expensive. After all, it carries a duplicate of rarely utilised inventory, reduces space for passengers or freight, and increases fuel costs. Therefore, it’s most often used by operators who can justify the cost of permanently carrying an FAK because they cannot risk an Aircraft on Ground (AOG) due to part unavailability (e.g., when flying to remote or underserved locations).
Having said that, FAKs are also used by aircraft manufacturers and ground support equipment (GSE) companies to quickly deploy specific tooling in an emergency. Boeing, for example, has an entire department dedicated to AOGs. It has racks full of pre-stocked containers—all fulfilling various functions—that can be dispatched as soon as an operator needs maintenance support.
The Fly Away Kit is such a useful container, so let’s take a closer look at it, in particular its ability to be entirely customised.
Preventing cancelled flights with a healthy, cost-effective inventory system
Ask any airline inventory manager what the most important part of their job is, and they’ll tell you that it’s preventing the delay and cancellation of flights. Whether their airline operates just a handful of charter flights every week or hundreds of scheduled flights every day, the aim is always the same: to ensure maintenance personnel get speedy access to the parts and tools that they need, whenever they need them.
It’s not easy though. A modern aircraft can contain a million or more unique parts, so maintaining an efficient inventory system means finding that sweet spot between sufficient stock levels and optimum fill rates. Stocking rarely used, non-critical parts can be an unnecessary expense, straining the annual inventory purchase budget. On the other hand, experiencing poor fill rates on critical or ‘no-go’ items can lead to AOGs, causing the very cancellations you’re trying to prevent.
Customising the Fly Away Kit inside and out
The FAK carries all those parts and tools that are crucial to getting an aircraft back in the sky. These items can sometimes be difficult for maintenance crew to quickly lay their hands on, especially in remote or difficult-to-serve outstations. The FAK can, quite literally, turn a plane’s potentially extended downtime into a quick repair job.
Since each aircraft has specific maintenance requirements and one or more unique parts, the FAK has become one of the most versatile, portable and customisable containers out there. Each one can be adapted to a specific purpose, whether that’s holding the kit needed to change aircraft wheels or act as a mobile toolbox and workbench.
At VRR, both the interior and exterior of our LD3 and LD3-45W containers can be customised to convert them into FAKs. To the outside we can add doors, hatches, wheels and even ramps for rolling out spare wheels. To the inside we can add adjustable compartments, shelves, dividers and drawers. We can even give drawers foam inlays and lids to protect delicate and expensive tools.
Fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together
Every customisation is determined by the exact needs of the customer, so collaboration at the design stage is vital. We need to know where (and why) they want their parts and tools placed. Even when we’re armed with this knowledge, it can be tricky to find the most logical and ergonomic place for each item. There are times when it would be easier to play Tetris.
The three certified AKH containers that we customized for a leading provider of aircraft maintenance and repair services are examples of the challenges we occasionally face. All three had to carry a variety of spare parts for the A321 and have retractable wheels so they could be wheeled easily through a maintenance facility (rather than forklifted).
However, each container needed completely different interiors and exteriors for the diverse functions they fulfil. So, on one we removed the outboard doors and replaced them with fully equipped outboard drawers and two doors on the front. On another we added outboard shelves, top and bottom drawers and a bottom lid with a ‘no step’ marking.
Container 3 caused us to scratch our heads for a while. Selected to carry the wheel change kit, this one had an 80% crushable load limit, which meant it couldn’t accommodate the axle jack, a rather essential part of the kit. Storing the axle jack in one of the other containers, which had easily accessible storage at the rear, soon solved the problem.
Designed to carry weight and avoid injuries
Fly Away Kits are not only versatile but also sturdy. They need to be. Many tools and spare parts used on aircraft are heavy and cumbersome, and handling them is no easy task. For example, horseshoe axle jacks can weigh several hundred pounds, while the main tyre of a Boeing 757 weighs about 150 lbs. Definitely not lightweight.
Of course, lifting hefty items in and out of containers is a strenuous job. Air France was so concerned about the injuries to personnel loading aircraft wheels and other heavy tools on and off its containers that it asked us to design an ergonomic and easy-to-handle FAK that wouldn’t risk the health of its maintenance crew.
We achieved this by creating a main compartment to hold two wheels in an upright position, plus an outboard side with three adjustable shelves to hold the tools and spare parts. We also gave it an integrated ramp and a cover so that the wheels can be rolled on and off with ease. Apparently, the maintenance crew are delighted with the results.
The perfect customisable solution
An FAK may not be suitable for every aircraft. However, for operators who have irregular schedules, fly to under-supported destinations, and/or cannot risk an AOG, its value is clear. Especially once you know that each one can be customised to a maintenance crew’s exact needs—no matter how unique they are. And that is surely music to the ears of every inventory manager.