Keeping aircraft in the air is a full time job, and few companies have more of a role in building and supporting ‘eyes in the sky’ than BAE Systems. As the world’s third largest defence contractor, the firm is responsible for the manufacturing and repair of both iconic and important aircraft such as the Typhoon, Tornado and Hawk.
BAE Systems’ site at Brough, on the outskirts of Hull, manufactures crucial fuselage components, fuel tanks and other sub-assembly parts for both aircraft currently under construction elsewhere in Britain, and aircraft in hangars currently awaiting repair. Because of the nature of the aviation industry, parts can be needed at a moment’s notice - a jet fighter can’t be kept on the ground for hours on end because it has a defective part that needs replacing.
That means having to transport components across the country as rapidly as possible - and Bibby Distribution’s flexible approach to logistics allows it to act as a rapid response unit, helping BAE to stay flying high.
Bibby Distribution has maintained a constant presence at Brough since the contract began in 2002, with Operations Supervisor Rachel Wilson ensuring everything runs smoothly.
She says: “Logistics for BAE is entirely reactive and it’s a very high pressure environment. The usual situation is we will receive a call when there is a sudden need for a vital component or part, and then we co-ordinate a rapid response to ensure we get what is needed to an aircraft in the minimum amount of time possible.”
Flying in the face of convention
To be able to do this requires a substantial departure from the conventional logistics model. Bibby Distribution operates with a completely flexible approach that keeps costs down for BAE and boosts operational efficiency. It keeps both a standard truck and trailer, plus a light commercial vehicle, on site at all times. Together, these give Bibby Distribution a range of options dependent on goods size, as the load can be anything from entire wings or fuel tanks, to mechanical items small enough to be carried in something the size of a shoebox.
Rachel says: “This isn’t a standard 26 pallets on a load operation. Every load needs to be carefully evaluated to determine the most effective way of getting it across the country.”
Rachel herself will work with the warehousing team at Brough when calls for equipment come in, and then allocate loads to vehicles and drivers. Because parts need to be delivered in a matter of hours, there are situations where all drivers and vehicles may already be making rapid runs across the country, in which case Bibby Distribution will utilise assets within its wider fleet, or co-ordinate couriers. At times when demand is anticipated to be substantial, BAE Systems will also request that Bibby Distribution keep drivers on site waiting for when a part is ready - rather like a firefighter waiting for the emergency call to come in.
Jane Turner, Works Services Engineer, BAE Systems underlines just how important that is. She says: “It is absolutely essential that we get goods from site to airside as soon as possible. Bibby Distribution understands just how important this is to our business - their work has been fantastic and very efficient, we really couldn’t ask for more.”
To ensure smooth operation, Bibby Distribution has monthly meetings with senior engineering staff to identify likely demands and make sure everyone is operating at maximum efficiency. And because Bibby Distribution brings a unique skill set to the Brough site, it also carries out a variety of works unrelated to logistics but vital in keeping everything on site running, such as the transporting of waste for disposal.
At times in the past, the Brough site has also served as an active runway for incoming aircraft - and as Bibby Distribution has drivers on site, these drivers have also played a role by driving the sweepers to keep the runway clear.
Rachel says: “You cannot approach a contract like this with a view that you’re just going to move goods from one place to another. Our job is to support BAE Systems in their operations, and thanks to our flexible approach, we’ve been able to do that for more than a decade.”
Breaking the mould
Although Brough is now primarily focused on component manufacturing, it has previously provided full aircraft construction, which has seen Bibby Distribution take on some of the most unusual loads in the industry.
Bibby Distribution has previously been tasked with the duty of moving a BAE Systems Hawk, an aeroplane model most famously used by the RAF Red Arrows display team. Once fully stripped down, it is possible to transport the aircraft in a 13.6m curtainsider, with Bibby Distribution responsible for safely transporting the popular plane.