Pilatus Business Aircraft held its first-ever regional operators conference on August 17. Appropriately, the event took place in Manchester, N.H., home of Alpha Flying’s Plane Sense Pilatus PC-12 fractional share company and Atlas Pilatus Center, Alpha’s PC-12 service center.
There were 68 attendees, among them nine Pilatus employees, eight PC-12 owners and 15 pilots. According to Piotr Wolak, Pilatus Business Aircraft vice president
of customer service, the purpose of the regional conferences is to enhance communications with customers. “We always heard that we don’t talk to our customers enough,” he said.
Pilatus has held customer meetings at shows such as the annual NBAA Convention and the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association (POPA), but it’s difficult for Pilatus personnel to spend much time addressing specific customer concerns at meetings where there are other events and attractions vying for attendees’ attention. “We don’t want to steal the thunder from POPA,” said Wolak, adding, “We’re trying to supplement what they do.”
Based on feedback from the first conference, Wolak has decided to continue holding the event, with one regional meeting next year and possibly two in 2008, to offer more accessibility to far-flung PC-12 operators. “The interaction was great,” he said. “We had a good two-way conversation, which is what we were hoping for. It’s unbelievable the things we take for granted that owners don’t know about. When they buy an airplane, nobody really educates them about how we support the airplanes.”
Since the first PC-12 entered service in 1994, Pilatus has delivered 623 of the large single-engine turboprops (through the end of June this year). The company has sold out the full 2006 production run of 80 airplanes and expects to do the same next year. While Pilatus probably could sell more than 80 PC-12s per year, the Stans, Switzerland, factory cannot build more than that. As of July, the active fleet had accumulated more than 1.2 million flying hours, with the highest-time PC-12 logging more than 15,500 hours and 24 PC-12s each with more than 10,000 hours. The highest-time airplane in the Plane Sense fractional fleet has 5,000 hours.
The PC-12 is sold by a network of independent sales and service centers. There are six service centers in the U.S., and one each in Brazil, Canada and Mexico. To bring service capability closer to customers, each service center has its own satellite facilities, which are audited by the service center and must employ two factory-trained technicians and stock required tools. Satellites can perform warranty work, and they interact primarily with their service centers.
Pilatus encourages customers at all levels to communicate, especially when it comes to problems with the airplane. The preferred method of notifying Pilatus about a problem is the Aircraft Defect Report. This report lets Pilatus support personnel know that the operator might need a repair memo from Pilatus authorizing a repair that isn’t mentioned in the maintenance manual and helps Pilatus improve reliability. “We need the defect report if you expect us to get better at making parts that last,” said Wolak. He encouraged attendees to send photographs.
Next year Pilatus will switch all manuals to digital format, available online. Operators will still have to pay for manuals, but they will no longer have to wait for updates; these will be done in real-time.
As of PC-12 S/N 714, owners get a free one-year subscription to Camp Systems International’s digital maintenance-tracking system. Owners of earlier PC-12s can join Camp until the end of this year and receive free enrollment and 18 months of service for the normal $2,400 annual subscription. Pilatus had attempted to field its own computer-based maintenance tracking system, but gave up, according to Wolak. Not only is the Camp service beneficial to owners, but it will also serve the manufacturer, providing valuable reliability data, including when and why parts were removed.
Another new feature of PC-12 customer support is availability of component maintenance manuals (CMMs), so service centers can perform more repair work in the field instead of just replacing components or sending them back to vendors. While some vendors insist on maintaining tight control of CMMs, this was a big issue for PC-12 operators. “Adding CMMs lowers operating costs,” Wolak said. “While many times we’re contractually prevented from releasing CMMs, we’re trying to get away from that. From now on, in all new contracts [with component vendors], we protect the service side.”
CMMs on a variety of products are now available through Pilatus, including landing gear, shock absorbers, shimmy dampers, spring pack assemblies, autopilot computers and IAI crew seats.
During the operational issues discussion, Pilatus came under heavy criticism for its selection of SimCom as training provider. Comments from operators included: “We have a lot of dissatisfaction with your vendor, with what we’re able to get out of SimCom.” Another operator said: “We did King Air 200 training at FlightSafety, in close proximity to our SimCom PC-12 training. The difference was stunning.” One operator said that “I walk away cheated” after training at SimCom “compared to jet training. We’re stuck with the fact that there’s only one simulator.”
Wolak took these comments seriously. “The message is loud and clear,” he said. “You guys are asking us to help. We’re paid to listen to you and take [this message] to the board of directors in Switzerland. I think we as a company understand. We’re going to put a lot of pressure on SimCom.”
After the conference, Wolak told AIN that the training issue is not just about SimCom but the entire PC-12 training program. “SimCom is working with POPA and Pilatus, and we’ll do whatever we can to help. SimCom has been the provider of PC-12 training for many years,” he said, “and for the most part it has been a good relationship. I think we can all work together with POPA and SimCom and enhance the training experience for owners.”