HAI Convention News

Eurocopter expanding U.S. support capability

 - February 18, 2008, 11:54 AM

Eurocopter has long dominated the new helicopter sales market, but it has notably lagged behind its competitors in terms of customer service and support rankings within North America. Last year, the company ranked third overall behind Bell and MD Helicopters in a product support survey conducted by Aviation International News, sister publication of HAI Convention News. American Eurocopter is aiming to change that by building a network of service centers and parts depots in the continental U.S.

“The whole concept was hatched about a year ago as we were looking for ways to improve overall service to our customers,” noted Tim Ruddick, American Eurocopter’s director of new business development. “We thought the best way to do that going forward was to provide parts and service closer to where our customers actually are.”

Dallas was viewed as a logical place to stage parts bound for U.S. customers, Ruddick said. The company’s U.S. operations are currently headquartered in the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie. American Eurocopter recently moved its nationwide parts distribution hub into an 80,000-sq-ft warehouse at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) with parallel facilities in Hong Kong and France.

The DFW warehouse is located close to a FedEx air hub and “allows us to increase our shipping cutoff time,” said Anthony Baker, American Eurocopter’s vice president of customer support. “We can ship parts later in the evening. We can move parts throughout the world overnight,” he added.

Improved logistics has helped Eurocopter boost its overnight parts order fill rate to 93 percent from a rate Baker estimates was around 85 percent a decade ago. However, it is only one part of the company’s strategy to improve service and support.

The other is the construction of regional service and support centers. “We felt we could better support our customers if we moved the parts inventory closer to where they are,” said Ruddick. “California was an obvious choice. We have more than 200 aircraft in the state.”

On November 15 American Eurocopter opened a Western region service and support center in Long Beach, Calif. The expandable 13,000-sq-ft facility employs six and has already landed several maintenance contracts including with the California Highway Patrol and area sheriffs departments. The Long Beach facility also has performed AS 350B1 to B2 conversions, a service previously available only in Grand Prairie, and several blade exchanges.

While Baker acknowledged that there are already independent Eurocopter service centers in the area, most notably at Van Nuys Airport, he said American Eurocopter believes that there is ample additional business for a factory regional center and that corporate operators “are looking for a choice and want one-stop shopping for maintenance, parts exchange, modifications and upgrades.”

Baker said the Long Beach facility will have the ability to provide maintenance including the rapid exchange of dynamic and overhauled components. “They will be readily available,” said Baker, who noted an agreement already in place with engine maker Turbomeca to provide modules.

Ruddick said that the company is contemplating rolling out similar centers in Florida, the Northeast and near the Gulf of Mexico within the next two years. There are more than 300 Eurocopters based in the Gulf, mainly in support of the oil and gas industry, including for the Oil and Gas Assistance Program (OGAP), which includes assigning full-time technicians and a fixed parts store to customer locations. He said Eurocopter might also establish a parts warehouse in Hawaii.

Plans already are in the works to establish the Florida center in West Palm Beach in partnership with Rotortech Services. The center will serve the Southeast and the Caribbean. Site selection in the Northeast is ongoing. Ruddick said it will be a wholly owned company facility, as opposed to the Florida partnership with Rotortech. “We will not partner with anyone up there,” he said.

Ruddick said Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling has made improving customer service a top company’s priority. “He’s committed to putting the company money where its mouth is,” he said. “Our customers want one-stop shopping. We have added more tech reps and parts inventory to make an impact and give our customers what they are asking for,” he said.