Dassault solidifies support plan

 - October 11, 2007, 6:34 AM

Dassault Falcon Jet announced last month that as a central thrust in its strategy to bolster customer support it has spent more than $7 million on the Wilmington, Del. service facility and FBO that it bought from Atlantic Aviation in October 2000. Including the undisclosed purchase price, DFJ expects to invest $30 million in the facility all told. Part of that investment will be a new $9.5 million paint shop capable of processing 70 aircraft a year when it opens in the middle of next year. The Wilmington facility will log some $40 million in sales this year, according to DFJ officials, and that amount represents about a quarter of the company’s total customer-service revenues. The state recently eliminated the retail gross receipts tax on large aircraft sales in Delaware, adding to Wilmington’s appeal as a place to do business.

Jack Young, president of Dassault Falcon Jet Wilmington (DFJW), noted that Dassault Falcon Jet bought the Wilmington facility because it needed another support base beyond Little Rock (DFJ’s first company-owned service facility, bought from FedEx in the 1970s), and because it had to respond to a trend that saw Gulfstream buy K-C Aviation and Bombardier team with Lufthansa for support of European-based airplanes. The recent appointments of John Rahilly as v-p of national sales and marketing for DFJ’s service-center network and Todd McGahey as
v-p and general manager of the DFJW service center are intended to strengthen DFJ’s commitment to customer support (AIN, February, page 20). Rahilly’s relationship with Dassault goes back to his days as president of K-C Aviation, which until its acquisition by Gulfstream was the largest independent Falcon service center. Along with the new hires comes a new reporting structure, again intended to strengthen and standardize DFJ’s product support: both Little Rock and Wilmington will report directly to Wilmington-based Rahilly, whereas previously the Little Rock service operation reported to the management of the completion center based at the same Arkansas facility.

The scale of the Wilmington facility is allowing DFJ to expand its support of Falcons no longer in production, according to senior v-p of customer support Jerry Goguen. For example, the original French factory tooling for fabricating Falcon 20 wing leading edges is now in place at the Wilmington facility. Goguen noted, “We want to be close to the maintenance and operations of our aircraft to see early what we need to change and how we can adapt. You’ll see new investment in systems and a commitment to people. We expect to be responsive not only in terms of time but also in cost.” A new business operating system using Corridor software centralizes functions that were previously widely scattered and less efficient.

The Wilmington facility will not restrict its services to Falcons but will also work on Challengers and Hawkers, Goguen noted, in addition to the Astras and Westwinds that used to call Atlantic Aviation Wilmington home. Last year, non-Falcon business accounted for about one-third of Wilmington’s revenues, but that percentage will probably shrink this year since DFJ is focusing its growth efforts on Falcons. French engineers were at Wilmington between September and December last year to train employees in the Wilmington structural repair center, which in addition to metal components will undertake composite repair projects involving radomes, fuselage fairings, engine nacelles and access panels. The engine shop at Wilmington is an authorized service center for the TFE731 and CFE738, and the facility also offers avionics repair and installation, as well as a full FBO with fuel. All told the facility holds 650 STCs in 22 different airframe types.

When DFJ bought the Wilmington facility in October 2000, there were 212 people employed there, but that figure fell to 160 in 2001. Now it is back up to 220, with 40 more (primarily for the sheet-metal department) to come on board in the coming months.

DFJW president Young hopes to see the facility employing 500 people and doing $100 million in business annually in five years.