Safety is the origin of quality. Without the former the latter cannot exist. This is the basis for the definition of the parameters and mechanisms which Airbus Military establishes for its production processes and the chain of suppliers with which it collaborates, all with the aim of obtaining the quality standards which the company applies to its end products before delivery to the customer. It can therefore be said that these company standards of excellence have a double objective, the achievement of aircraft safety and customer satisfaction.
Gonzalo Jiménez Mozo, Manager of Operations Quality for Airbus Military
The foundations for quality are laid down in the regulations governing the aeronautical industry, as regulated by civil and military authorities. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is the civil authority responsible for safety at a European level. Through the Spanish Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), this body is responsible for auditing the production plants of the company and its chain of suppliers. In the military field, meanwhile, it is the Department of Armaments and Material of the Ministry of Defence which is responsible for certifying safety standards.
As in the case of the civil authorities, this Department carries out a yearly audit to check whether the company still qualifies for its certification. In addition, the Defence Ministry directly supervises our processes, products and chain of suppliers through teams which are present in each of our factories. The national aviation authorities, whether civil or military, scrutinise all the procedures and obligations which must be complied with during the different phases of an aircraft’s life cycle.
The three certifications (EASA 21, EASA 145 and PECAl 2110) which are granted by these bodies and which the production department of Airbus Military currently possesses are an objective indication of the effectiveness of our quality control and management system. However, the requirements of these authorities for certification and recognition of the quality standards applied in the company solely establish minimum levels which must be met.
But that is insufficient for a company such as Airbus Military, which seeks excellence in the end product delivered to the customer. For this reason, the company participated in a programme for the creation of minimum quality standards to regulate the production processes of the aeronautical sector. This was carried out more than ten years ago now, seeking through the application of these mechanisms to achieve customer satisfaction by delivering the product within the period agreed upon, with the required level of quality and within the budget established.
The company does not settle for mere compliance with the minimum standards imposed by civil and military authorities but goes even further, implementing a Quality Management System based on the European EN9100 Standard which is the result of an agreement reached between various industries in the sector under the International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG).
This body was set up in 1998 at the initiative of the world’s main aircraft manufacturers (including CASA). It develops activities to improve the companies which are its members and their suppliers, pooling the knowledge and best practices of these enterprises. The result of this joint endeavour is the EN9100 (2002) Quality System, which is based on the well-known ISO 9000-2000 standard, with extension and adaptation to the characteristics and needs of the aeronautical sector.
Airbus Military was one of the first companies in Europe to obtain this certification in 2002, the same year as EADS-CASA. Every year a quality certification entity audits Airbus Military and every three years a complete recertification is carried out of the company.
Possession of this certification is a guarantee that our quality system meets the high standards of the sector and that our customers can be sure of our compliance with the quality standards imposed. In terms of the field of special processes (such as thermal treatments, surface treatments and composites, among others), the company and its suppliers are also governed by the NADCAP Programme, another initiative by the IAQG.
The system and its application
Airbus Military not only has the necessary quality certifications, it is regularly audited to ensure that its practices meet the requirements of these standards and that it keeps its certification up to date.
However, that is only the start. What is the basis for our quality system and how is it applied in the company’s productive processes? The first link in this chain is the decisive commitment by the Management of the company to ensuring that it has the highest possible level of quality. This is reflected in the strategy to be applied and the yearly objectives to be met; in the resources used (infrastructures and equipment); in human resources specialising in the tasks to be carried out; in the procedures (from the General Quality Manual to Technical Instructions in Workshops); and in the organisation and its deployment in each function or process.
All of the above is not just good intentions or merely ticking the boxes to ensure compliance with the minimum requirements of these standards. The company makes every effort to ensure that its products go beyond these minimum standards to achieve the maximum level of quality as an invariable defining feature of its products.
That is why it dedicates a large part of its human resources to this area. In fact, one in ten internal employees in the production area of Airbus Military is involved in quality-related activities. These teams carry out a series of clearly defined tasks in each of our factories: product approval (for which they carry out top-level verification, tests and inspections, among other activities); liaisons with authorities; delivery of the product to customers (including an acceptance process, delivery documentation, etc); and promotion of continuous improvement through measurement and control of processes, participation in the adjustments to the same, etc.
Within the production section of the company, two departments exist which provide support to all the factories: Quality Systems, which is responsible for internal audits, procedures and improvement projects; and Materials and Processes Control, which is responsible for laboratories, metrology, certification of the special processes mentioned above, non-destructive tests and the NADCAP programme, among other matters.
The actual implementation of an effective quality management system is the result of coordination between the quality resources deployed in each productive area and these two central departments. However, as is logical, quality is not the only result of having an organisation dedicated to controlling quality and verifying that it meets the levels required. By offering our customers quality excellence, the entire organisation is equipped with the material and human resources and procedures and applies the processes required to generate quality products and services.
This is materialised in the form of strategies, improvement projects and yearly objectives set to obtain consolidated results in a process of constant improvement of the quality system and our customers’ perception of the same. The company is committed to a philosophy whereby all the decisions and actions of the organisation are aimed at obtaining quality excellence. To give an example, when installing a platform to support one of the components which is being built, the end quality of the component will also be linked to the best practices for the installation of this platform to avoid any imbalance, no matter how small this may be.
The role of suppliers
While the application of quality control systems to our own products is of utmost importance, the standards expected of our suppliers are equally relevant. Generally speaking, we require our suppliers to have a quality system with EN9100 certification. In situations where the packages subcontracted include special process tasks, we also expect them to have NADCAP certification from the IAQG.
These conditions are necessary, although they are not enough in themselves. Based on these and the supervision we carry out of their products and services, a quality delegation level is also established. This will be higher or lower depending on the rating of the supplier according to a series of objective tests. The delegation may vary in its extent within a spectrum ranging from Delegated Quality, whereby the supplier sends products directly to our external or internal customers, through to the other extreme, where in specific or temporary situations an inspection is carried out of the product at the facilities of the supplier prior to making delivery.
The company has a specific quality organisation for the evaluation and continuous supervision of its suppliers. With the aim of facilitating, supporting and improving the quality of the products of our collaborators, we also carry out training actions and other activities to foster their development.
The road to excellence is marked, among other good practices, by successes in the area of quality. Recent milestones achieved in this respect by Airbus Military include two particularly important achievements. One of these is the transfer last 12 November of the first prototype of the A400M from the final assembly line (FAl) of San Pablo Sur in Seville to the Flight Testing department. last 11 December this aircraft successfully made its first flight.
The other milestone is the completion of the conversion of the second MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) carried out for Qantas at its facilities in Brisbane (Australia), with the support of an on-site team from Airbus Military to carry out this new job at a distance of 17,000 kilometres from Spain. These are the main quality mechanisms applied by the organisation and the manner in which they are incorporated to provide guarantees to the company itself and to its customers regarding the excellence of the end product.
Airbus Military was one of the first companies in Europe and the first in Spain to obtain the EN9100 Quality System certification -a reference in the international aerospace sectorin 2002, the same year as EADS-CASA