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Understanding Aviation Logistics: Key Concepts and Importance

It is said that logistics moves the world. Omar N. Bradley, one of World War II's most influential general officers, came to notoriety because of his logistical genius. He was responsible for pushing supplies deep into Western Europe, and it was largely because of this that the European theater ended relatively quickly after the invasions of Normandy. This is one of the more dramatic examples of the importance of logistics, but it bears repeating: logistics drives everything. The main reason why America’s military forces are unmatched is our ability to project aviation logistics through a backbone of cargo aircraft, both military owned and contracted. 

Let’s take a look at the aviation logistics definition and what it means for you and your organization. 

What Are The Different Types of Logistics?

Before we dive into aviation logistics, what exactly is logistics to begin with? Isn’t it just the front end of the supply chain that happens before you get your parts? Maybe. 

Investopedia says, “Logistics refers to the overall process of managing how resources are acquired, stored, and transported to their final destination.” So to this end, logistics is not just the front end of the process. Logistics is the process.

While it is now a widely used term, the military initially coined logistics. In fact, they talk extensively about the military logistics process on the Maneuver Self-Study Program main page. As we said, the U.S. military created logistics. So, here’s what the Army has to say on the matter:

“Military Logistics is the processes, resources, and systems involved in generating, transporting, sustaining, and redeploying or reallocating material and personnel. A nation's ability to perform these functions relates directly to its military power. Their successful execution will provide a country strategic flexibility and potentially grant a decisive position of advantage.”

Although this quote by General Walter Bedell Smith in World War II sums it up perfectly:  “It is no great matter to change tactical plans in a hurry and send troops off in new directions. But adjusting supply plans to the altered tactical scheme is far more difficult.”

Speaking more generically, there are a handful of broad types of logistics, which are

  • Inbound logistics-these are the incoming supplies that the organization will receive and either used for production or warehouse for later use.  
  • Outbound logistics-finished products or products pulled from warehouses that are ready to move on from your point of origin and on to the end-user. 
  • Reverse logistics-these are products moving from the end-user back to the supply chain. 
  • Third-party logistics-Amazon is the ultimate example of a third-party logistics agency, handling all sorts of tasks from inventory management to shipping.

What Is Aviation Logistics?

We have a pretty good understanding of what logistics is in itself. But what makes aviation logistics different (if anything at all)?  Well, aviation logistics is any and all activities that are required to get resources, parts, supplies, or anything else moved where they need to go, when they need to be there, using aviation as the prime mover. 

Aviation logistics comprises several core components to ensure the aviation logistics process operates smoothly by using these main principles:

  1. Customer service: this is the process of keeping customers in the loop throughout the entire process. You need to invest heavily in this critical process to reassure your customers of the process and advise them in the event of significant disruptions. 
  2. Inventory management: one of the biggest pieces of the supply chain and logistics is maintaining positive accountability of inventory levels. 
  3. Warehousing and distribution: we discussed this earlier, which is particularly important for inbound and outbound logistics. The ability to store and inventory supplies is critical, especially since many aviation parts are sensitive to the environment. 4. Transportation and freight management: you will deal with third-party freight vendors a lot in aviation logistics. The process is complex; parts may start shipping via truck, train, or boat and continue their journey through the air. There are tons of moving pieces. 
  4. Ground support operations: this is easy to overlook, but nothing moves anywhere without it. Cargo movement, fueling, luggage management, and especially permit requests are all included in this process. 
  5. MRO logistics: these are some of the most complex maintenance facilities in the world, and the coordination for spare parts, tools, and equipment needed for aircraft maintenance and repairs is intensive. 
  6. Reverse logistics: This aspect deals with managing returns, repairs, and disposal of damaged or defective parts, equipment, or products. It includes processes for handling warranty claims, repairs, and recycling or disposal of materials. 
  7. Security and staging: let’s not forget this most important of logistical concerns. We aren’t just referring to security guards, either. This means advanced screening of airports and facilities, securing hangars, etc. 

Are Aviation Logistics and Aviation Supply Chain Management the Same?

Aviation logistics and aviation supply chain management are generally synonymous terms, although not entirely. Aviation logistics refers to the entire process, which is outlined above. Obviously, the depth and complexity of aviation logistics cannot be detailed in an article, but those are some of the key considerations. Aviation supply chain management is a component of aviation logistics and is focused on coordinating suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and customers to ensure the smooth flow of goods, parts, and equipment throughout the aviation supply chain. This process manages warehouses and distribution centers where goods and equipment are stored, sorted, and prepared for transportation. It also involves the optimization of storage space and the efficient handling of cargo. Supply chain management is a process and procedure-oriented environment. It is marked by benchmarks along the way to ensure progress, problem areas, and opportunities are met. 

Components of Aviation Logistics

There are three core components of aviation logistics, which are 

  • Supply chain management (talked about above)
  • Airport logistics,
  • And MRO logistics. 

Airport Logistics 

The logistics of the airport industry are an important part of the aviation logistics process. Not every carrier can fly designated routes between any given airport, so there is a lot of fierce competition between them. The airport is where aviation logistics takes off. It is also part of the process that can stovepipe the entire operation. If any part of fuel distribution fails, everything falls apart. If baggage handling and cargo management go offline, everything gets derailed. 

The ground component of aviation logistics is born and dies at the airport.

MRO Logistics

The MRO is a massive undertaking in infrastructure. Millions of parts, hardware, and components are requested and issued annually. Vast stores of bench stock items are kept on hand. Keeping the flow of inbound logistics into MROs is vital for the overall effectiveness of any MRO. Without reliable supply chain management, MROs are dead in the water. 

A Brief History of Modern Logistics in Aviation

The history of aviation logistics really goes all the way back to 1903, with the first successful manned flight by the Wright Brothers.

Logistics came into its own in the 1940s, which was World War II. During this time, packaging became standardized, so we can pinpoint this to being when logistics as we know it was standardized and became a mainstream term. Logistics is a dead-end road without standardization. But aviation logistics is a cog in the overall logistics component, not a unique logistical standard in itself. 

However, with nearly 60 million metric tons per year moved through the air, it is a huge part of the logistical process. Even though that number pales in comparison to other conveyances, it provides solutions that no other form of transportation can do. 

What Greenwood Aerospace Provides for Logistics in Aviation

Greenwood Aerospace is your trusted partner in the aviation logistics space. We’ve provided a brief history of modern logistics in aviation and answered, “What is aviation logistics?”. Greenwood is your partner that puts these things into motion. We are old hands at aviation logistics with decades of experience in the field, where it matters. Also, we are experts in aircraft inventory management, another discipline that often goes hand-in-hand with aviation logistics. 

If you’re ready to stop spinning your wheels, get in touch with our team today or start an online quote!