In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one question stands above the rest in the aircraft transparencies industry: “Where is my aircraft windshield?”
As an authorized distributor of aircraft windshields (a.k.a. windscreens) and transparencies, we often get asked this question. In this article, we unpack the situation, providing a behind-the-scenes look at what issues are impacting production, how transparencies companies are responding, and what steps you can take now to minimize AOG situations later.
What has Happened to the Aircraft Transparencies Industry?
When the pandemic struck, industries struggled with supply chain and workforce shortages. For aircraft window companies, this means disruptions to production at various levels.
Supply Chain Issues
A shortage of available materials has prolonged lead times as companies wait to receive the necessary piece parts. Some piece parts were discontinued due to reduced production or suppliers being bought by other companies.
Substituted piece parts may need to be certified for compliance with aviation regulations, requiring testing at various stages that may take considerable time.
During the pandemic, many trained professionals in the field retired or found other places of employment. Since then, companies have worked to recruit new employees to return to pre-pandemic capacity. Many new employees need to be more experienced and require substantial training, prolonging production times.
High Demand for Transparencies
Due to reduced production rates at various transparencies companies, only a limited supply of windshields is currently on the market. Demand for transparencies, however, remains high, resulting in long-term backorders.
Additionally, one aircraft transparencies manufacturer shut down, increasing further demand on other manufacturers.
To meet the high demand, companies are working quickly to increase production. Unfortunately, the added strain on manufacturing equipment is causing further delays for some companies due to equipment issues and breakdowns.
Quality checks are performed several times throughout the production process to ensure airworthiness. Due to supply chain issues, workforce shortages, lack of worker experience, and equipment stress, fewer products are meeting quality standards compared to the number of transparencies before the pandemic.
The shipping industry is also experiencing labor shortages, thus impacting the delivery of piece parts to the manufacturer and the delivery of finished products.
How are Aircraft Transparencies Companies Addressing these Issues?
Generally, aircraft transparencies companies are working to address these issues in multiple ways, such as the following:
- They are working to hire and retain staff, and provide new employees with extensive training to ensure that products meet quality standards
- They are sourcing new vendors to acquire substitutes for discontinued piece parts
- They are rapidly investing in new equipment to keep up with the increase in demand
What is the Current Lead Time for Aircraft Windshields and Transparencies?
While efforts to get production back up to pre-pandemic levels are underway, lead times from transparencies companies are still months in advance. Current lead times vary between 4 to 18 months, depending on the window type.
What are Your Options for Acquiring Aircraft Transparencies?
Order Safety Stock
There’s no telling when an aircraft’s windshield will require replacement. It is recommended that operators maintain or have safety stock on order. If unexpected windshield damage occurs, a spare windshield will be available (or on the way), thus minimizing possible AOG (aircraft on ground) situations.
Know Your Transparencies Suppliers
There are usually at least two qualified transparencies companies to support an aircraft type to help ensure availability. In other words, if one supplier has long lead times for a windshield, there might be another supplier who can provide a windshield for that aircraft model more quickly. Many of the current aircraft models both PMA and OEM windshields have been approved for use. Operators should review windshield supplier options for their type of aircraft. (Note: transparencies cannot be installed on aircraft for which they have not been approved.)
Aircraft transparency industry leaders include PPG Aerospace, Saint-Gobain Aerospace, GKN Aerospace, and Lee Aerospace.
Aftermarket Repaired Transparencies
Repaired aircraft transparencies may be available in the aftermarket and can provide a temporary solution. Also, if your windshield requires minor repairs for delamination or seal replacement, consider sending your windshield to a reputable aircraft transparency repair shop.
Remember, repaired transparencies are only temporary solutions and should be replaced with a new or newly rebuilt windshield as soon as possible.
Aircraft Transparency Advice
Always contact a factory-authorized transparencies distributor regarding aircraft windshields and windows. Authorized distributors can provide you with the most current lead times and ensure you receive quality products and fair pricing in the market.