2005 AIN Product Support Report

Aviation International News » August 2005
October 4, 2006, 9:12 AM

For the third consecutive year in AIN’s Product Support Survey, readers gave Gulfstream top marks for both its newer business jets (less than 10 years old) and older business jets (10 years or older), when ratings for the Westwind series are excluded. When these models–which were built by Israel Aircraft Industries but for which Gulfstream now provides service and support–are included in Gulfstream’s combined average, Cessna Aircraft moves into the top spot for new and old business jets combined.

Raytheon Aircraft holds third place when ratings for its wide fleet of newer and older jets are combined into one overall rating. But interesting things happen when you parse the ratings by aircraft models and age. The company’s newer Beechjets and Premier Is actually tied Gulfstream’s new jets for first place in this category with an overall average of 7.06. (Cessna’s new jet overall average is 6.97, putting it third.)

New Hawkers had a rating of 6.5 (fourth place), while older Hawkers received a slightly lower rating of 6.38, but this was high enough to put the model in third place overall for older jets. But when the ratings for older Beechjets (which just missed the minimum number of required responses to make the chart) are blended with the newer Beechjets, they bring the combined average for old and new Beechjets to 6.61. (The Boeing Business Jet and Airbus ACJ also did not receive the requisite number of responses to be included on the survey chart.)

Except for the Westwinds, which were the lowest rated older jets, Bombardier aircraft received the lowest ratings for both older and newer jets. The Canadian OEM’s new Challengers garnered the highest ratings (6.38) within the company’s product line, just a tad above the ratings for newer Learjets (6.32) and the Global Express (6.27).

Despite being the lowest-rated new jet model, the Global Express showed the greatest improvement over last year in terms of percent change (11.88) of all jets, which certainly seems to be a positive sign for Global owners. The Challengers’ ratings also improved, 4.76 percent for the newer ones and 7.26 percent for the older ones. Conversely, the overall ratings for both newer and older Learjets fell, 1.6 percent and 7.11 percent, respectively.

Unusual Aspects

The overall average for older Gulfstreams (Westwinds excluded) is one of the survey’s unusual results, because at 7.23 it’s higher than the overall rating for Gulfstream’s new jets (7.06). It’s also the highest overall jet rating, for both newer and older models. Furthermore, for every other aircraft model group with ratings for both newer and older aircraft, the overall averages for the older aircraft are lower.

In previous AIN product support surveys that requested ratings for newer and older aircraft, respondents have consistently judged the service and support they receive for their older aircraft lower than the service and support they receive for their newer aircraft. OEMs give two reasons for this. First, newer aircraft are usually still under warranty and older aircraft have more problems as parts wear out and things corrode. Fair enough, but owners and operators say the OEMs are simply not supporting the older aircraft to the same level they support their newer aircraft. The flip-flop in the new and old Gulfstream ratings seems to belie this premise, when the IAI-built Westwinds are excluded.

Another interesting result is the overall rating for the out-of-production Mitsubishi MU-2, which at 8.76 tops the survey for both jets and turboprops, old and new. (The Pilatus PC-12, another turboprop, was the only other aircraft model to receive an overall rating above 8.0.) Owners obviously value the efforts of Turbine Aircraft Services, which supports the MU-2 in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The MU-2 also received the only 9.0s (for “excellent”) in category ratings, for its factory service center, warranty fulfillment and tech rep response. It also received an amazing 8.55 for cost of parts, which for most other models was rated near or below average (5.0 to 4.0), meaning, of course, that owners and operators consider the cost of parts too high.

The Piper Cheyenne received the lowest overall rating for turboprops, 4.21, (between “poor” and “average”) and lowest category rating, 2.71 for factory service center. These numbers also represented the lowest overall average and category ratings for all aircraft.

Anecdotal Evidence

In addition to providing a numerical value for service and support, survey respondents were asked to comment on their support experience. AIN believes the comments provide anecdotal indication about why respondents voted the way they did, though the comments did not necessarily correlate with the numerical score.

Companies that scored higher were not without their critics, and companies that scored lower had their fans. It’s important to remember, then, that squawks voiced here, which are often based on a single or small number of incidents, might not represent a company’s overall performance in product support and service.

JETS

Bombardier

A southern-based air charter operator said that parts are “extremely hard to get and take days to get if not available on the shelf.” This operator also complained about being “unable to get into U.S. service centers, even when AOG.” On the other hand, the operator said the Bombardier service center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, “took us immediately. Lucky for us we were close by.”

The pilot of another southern-based charter operator said its Learjet is serviced by Florida Jet in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “They are much better than the factory.”

According to a pilot/mechanic of a Midwestern company with three Challengers, “We rarely miss trips due to a malfunction.” However, that said, “It seems to me there is always something that needs to be fixed.”

“I think Bombardier has answered the wake-up call,” said Erling Brabek, flight department manager for Hurd Enterprises in Santa Teresa, Minn. “In the past two years the Tucson BAS Center has changed from ‘We are the factory and you are here to serve us’ to ‘How can we help?’” Brabek added that he hopes the trend is upward and permanent.

A mechanic for a northeastern company that operates a Challenger 604 said that the response and follow-up from Bombardier’s parts department is still “poor or, at best, fair. People receiving orders seem out of touch.” A mechanic for a Challenger 604 operator based in the South said, “Bombardier continues a lack of customer support in all areas except for tech rep support.”

The lead technician for a northwest operation also addressed the subject of tech support. “Tech rep support for the Learjet 45 in the Pacific Northwest is weak,” but “tech rep support for the Learjet 45 out of Wichita is great.” This person also commented that “warranty administration from Learjet is bad.”

The chief pilot for a southern company complimented the reliability of its Learjet 60 but added that support, warranty and tech reps “leave a lot to be desired.” A pilot/mechanic for an operator in Texas (which also operates Falcons) remarked, “Bombardier/Learjet is still the industry leader in poor product support and service.”

Ralph Qualls, a mechanic for a western-based firm, also described Bombardier’s product support as “poor.” He added, “We have been told for years at M&O meetings about changes being made to improve service. I haven’t seen any improvement to date. Dealing with service center personnel at the floor level I see their frustration at upper management.”

Qualls suggests that “upper management needs to listen to the lower-level supervisors to improve its service.” He believes that the OEM’s top executives in Montreal are “out of touch with the operators.”

Larry Studer, maintenance manager of Sears based in West Chicago, and another Learjet 60 operator, had this to say: “The return-to-service procedures (following maintenance) in the maintenance manual are long and drawn out, more like certification testing, in some cases. Learjet is slow to respond to ideas for improvement from operators regarding return-to-service testing, problems with the aircraft and improvements to publications.”

“Bombardier is trying very hard but with little to no resources,” asserted a corporate flight department based in California. “For example, [there are] no parts on the shelf.” Another commenter reported, “Parts availability from Bombardier has been good,” but he also added, “Administrative handling of warranty work has been terrible at times. Parts have been sent with no invoice. This error requires much time and paperwork to correct.”

Michael Barber, chief of maintenance of Solar II in Buffalo, N.Y., described product support from Bombardier as “usually good.” But when it comes to parts prices, Barber said, “We can usually beat both Bombardier and Gulfstream by going to third-party vendors. Usually we get a better price and the same warranty.”

Philosophizing about days gone by, Learjet 25B pilot Bill Resner said, “The Learjet factory of today is not the company that built the Learjet that I fly. You’re better off taking your maintenance to a shop that knows old Learjets.”

The aviation director for a southern-based operation said, “Learjet does not have adequate authorized service facilities to meet product needs.”

Will Clark, a pilot who flies a Global Express for Washington Corp. in Palm Springs, Calif., said, “I feel that Bombardier improved last year, and so far I’m happy with this year.”

A Challenger 601-3A operator reported he has had a problem with one engine dripping fuel from the ecology drain following shutdown. “Besides being an inconvenience, several people have had their clothing ruined by jet fuel,” said Jack Kelly, chief pilot for Airush in San Antonio. He said that GE and JSSI “have been no help in resolving this problem.”

GE and JSSI worked to resolve the problem late last year, according to a GE spokesperson. “Several fixes were attempted, but none of these resolved this unusual problem.” At Airush’s discretion, in early February, the troubleshooting of this problem was postponed until the aircraft was scheduled for maintenance at Bombardier’s Dallas facility last month. “Working with the Airush chief of maintenance, GE and JSSI have resumed their investigation and believe that a solution is in place,” said the spokesperson. A confirmation of this outcome was expected at press time.

Here’s Bombardier’s take on the situation: “There’s nothing more awkward, and possibly more damaging, than a misunderstanding left unresolved,” said a spokesman for the OEM. “This appears to be mostly a communication issue. Over the entire span of this episode, Bombardier’s local FSR [field service rep] had numerous telephone conversations with the customer and had visited the customer on-site twice, yet this particular issue was never brought to his attention.

“In this case, improved communication between the General Electric and Bombardier Aerospace FSRs would likely have assisted in properly resolving the situation. Bombardier always encourages our customers and our key vendors/suppliers to keep us informed about powerplant and avionics issues. Keep us in the loop.”

Cessna

Citation service centers, the main subject of most of the comments about the OEM, came in for both praise and criticism.

For example, the maintenance controller for a fractional operator complimented Citation service centers as “friendly and willing to take aircraft,” but added that “few keep to their committed out times.” He said the service center in Toledo, Ohio, is “one of the best.” Chief pilot Michael Helow lauded the service center in Sacramento, Calif., as “very responsive and thorough,” adding that it does “an excellent job.”

The San Antonio service center was lauded by Greg Pire, chief pilot for Poco Seco 1 of Edinburg, Texas. “They get us in even on short notice. The service has been great. The attitude of the people who work there is also great. They try really hard to take care of your needs and get you out on time. All this considering they are a busy facility.”

Since taking delivery last December of a Citation Excel, Spartan Organization in Fort Washington, Pa., has been satisfied with support, according to chief pilot Stephen Stilling. He said Citation service centers have been “very satisfactory” in resolving squawks.

The Citation service center in Milwaukee has provided “excellent parts support,” said the chief of maintenance for a Midwest company. “Citation technical support is very responsive and very helpful.”

The chief pilot of a Midwest company believes the Citation service centers “do a pretty good job, but the prices keep going up (like everything else…).” Roger Lipcamon, flight department manager of Knapheide Manufacturing in Pittsfield, Ill., was pleased that Cessna “has a good mix of factory and authorized service centers.”

Pricing was also a point of contention with the CEO of an aviation company based in the south. “Cessna has done an outstanding job with the 560XL. Service centers are pricey but very good. I have flown other [non-Citation] aircraft, and Cessna does a better job service-wise than some of the other OEMs.”

But the aviation department manager for a southern-based company described the Citation service centers in Orlando, Fla., and Long Beach, Calif., as “poor at best.” Rod Smith, aviation director for Scion of Pikeville, Ky., echoed the sentiment. “Factory service centers are overbooked and overworked. Too many rookie A&Ps on the floor. Too many mistakes, not to mention their prices are high.”

“We no longer use factory service centers due to consistently poor service and attitude toward customers,” said the chief pilot for a southern flight department.

Cessna has demonstrated “lousy” service, said the maintenance director of a Florida company. “Cessna seems disconnected internally; one department doesn’t or won’t communicate with others, specifically the ProParts accounting and Cessna parts distribution liaisons [with suppliers].”

This person went on to say that Cessna is “ineffective” when dealing with parts usage, warranty and policy. “Raytheon tech support is two steps ahead of Cessna’s” and “Cescom [Cessna’s Citation maintenance tracking program] needs a comprehensive overhaul to get all departments on the same page.”

“We would not be able to fly the hours we do [about 970 hours annually in a Citation Ultra] without good service and support,” said the chief pilot for a southern operator. Barry Gordon, chief pilot for a Texas company, recommended operators purchase Cessna’s ProParts, which he said “works great.”

Overall, Citation factory and authorized service centers received satisfactory marks, with operators of newer Citations rating service center experience slightly better than operators of older Citations.

Dassault

Dassault, which slipped in the overall marks this year compared with last year, also received below-average (less than 5.0) scores for parts cost, particularly from owners of older Falcons. Nearly all the written responses included negative comments regarding that category.

“Falcon Jet does a very good job in almost all areas,” according to the chief of maintenance for a Texas firm, but “parts pricing is still very high and their restock fees are unreasonable.”

The program manager of a Connecticut-based satellite operation for a major U.S. air charter company called the acquisition of spares and tooling “very, very expensive.” This person referred to Falcon’s technical support as the “no-help desk” and said that local tech reps were “next to useless.”

A representative of another operator claimed he had “never seen” the tech rep. According to this Midwestern charter operator’s client aviation manager, Falcon 20 parts prices are higher than the equivalent components for the Cessna 650 or 750.

More than “50 percent of the Dassault parts we needed had to come from France, with all the attendant shipping and customs delays,” this aviation manager said. “This hasn’t been an issue for scheduled maintenance because Midcoast is aware of the problem and takes it into account when working on aircraft, but I have concerns for AOG support…when or if.”

Brett Michaels, maintenance manager for a northeast company that operates a 20-year-old Falcon 50, expressed his concern about older avionics support and spares. “They are getting harder to find. A lot of the avionics boxes work fine in the aircraft for long periods, but when they fail they are either outdated or the mod status is far behind and expensive to bring up to date.”

“Dassault is Dassault,” said a captain for a large department store that operates a Falcon 50EX. “There seems little change in support over 15 years.” Falcon Jet is “always right. The customer never is.” Another operator who declined to have his name published described Falcon’s Little Rock, Ark. facility as “poor, all the way around.”

But Rick Campo, a captain with a major soft drink company, had this to say about Falcon support: “A good second to Gulfstream.”

Gulfstream

Comments were split about evenly between compliments and criticism for the manufacturer that received the highest overall average score (from GII through G550 operators).

Jimmy Jacks, chief pilot for G550 operator Wotan America of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said that parts availability is the “name of the game. OEMs must spend the money to keep spares in the field. Waiting for the factory to turn a box around is not acceptable. Costs of parts must be reasonable.”

Conversely, the captain for a California company that flies a GIV commented that parts “are readily available.” But “service at the factory seems to be provided first to operators with larger fleets. Smaller operators seem to be placed on the back burner.”

A long-time GIV operator, however, had nothing but praise. “The GIV, Honeywell, Rolls-Royce combination was very good from the start,” said Steve Hilgers, director of maintenance for Skybird Aviation in Van Nuys, Calif. “After 15-plus years there is just very little criticism that can be found.”

A pilot for a Gulfstream operator in Ohio also praised the combination of the airframe, avionics and engine. “Support is very good,” was the brief comment from a flight engineer for a New Jersey company that operates a GV.

Another operator of a Gulfstream out of warranty had the opposite view. “Gulfstream has been slipping in its support, quality, responsiveness of tech reps and AOG support,” according to an official from an operator based in New Hampshire.

The chief of maintenance for HG Wells Aviation of Portland, Ore., is “not happy” with Gulfstream over change bulletins (CBs). Said Frederick Field-Eton, “Not happy with Gulfstream issuing CBs and then not having parts available or reasonable turnaround time to have affected components repaired.” He also said he “senses an attitude at Gulfstream that because the GIV is no longer a current-production aircraft, it is being relegated to second-class status.”

“Gulfstream has adopted the gold standard,” alleged the fleet maintenance supervisor for a large charter/management operation. “You will pay the maximum amount [Gulfstream] can extract from you. They ship the invoice without input from the customer.” As “evidence,” this supervisor referred to a C check performed at General Dynamics Aviation Services in Appleton, Wis.

But the director of flight operations for a GIV-SP operator based in the Midwest has just the opposite experience in Appleton. According to Thomas Cherwin, “Gulfstream Appleton has the best people in this industry. The service department is second to none.” He went on to single out tech rep Mark Soloman as “our go-to person.”

David Bjellos, aviation manager for another GIV-SP operator–Agro Industrial Management of West Palm Beach, Fla.–is also “very pleased with service and support” from Gulfstream. The OEM’s dedicated use of G100 N247PS (standing for 24-hour, 7-days a week product support) as an airborne product response aircraft received a compliment from a pilot for a large foods corporation. “Gulfstream does hold true on its AOG response using the G100.” In two cases involving the company’s Astra and G200 “that [airborne response] let us keep our flying schedule.”

Gulfstream, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce make a “great support team,” said John Calchera, a captain for a GIV operator.

A director of maintenance for a company that has been operating a Westwind since May 2003 said Gulfstream is “outstanding in technical support and AOG response” and both operations and maintenance “have been nothing but a pleasure.”

The chief of maintenance for a southern-based company believes Gulfstream tech rep support has been “declining” for years and referred to a “rumor” that the company was going to phase out field reps.

AIN asked Gulfstream to respond. “Our field service reps are an integral part of Gulfstream’s award-winning, worldwide product support network,” said a company spokesman. “Rather than phasing out our field reps, Gulfstream is actively looking to increase the number of field service reps.”

Raytheon

Raytheon Aircraft is in the unique position of being a current manufacturer of both twin-engine business jets and twin-engine business turboprops, as well as being responsible for support of an enormous fleet of out-of-production turbine airplanes. As such, Raytheon Aircraft is broken down into six separate aircraft model groupings–more than any other manufacturer. Therefore, comments for both Raytheon jets and King Airs are consolidated here.

“Buy a Premier I…get Gulfstream V support,” was this positive remark from a captain for a company in Florida. This from the director of maintenance for an operator in the Midwest: “Raytheon parts have made a great turnaround. Now it’s time [for Raytheon] to work on tech services and Raytheon Aircraft Service facilities.”

A pilot for CBT in Goshen, Ind., conveyed his experience during a specific event. According to Jack Wilson, Jr., “Raytheon tech support helped us troubleshoot an ignition/starter problem on our Beechjet and quickly solved the problem.” Wilson also had complimentary words for the regional tech rep, “who has kept in contact with us and provided excellent service.”

The chief pilot and general manager of a Midwest-based corporation simply said his operation gets “good support and services from Raytheon.” In the words of another chief mechanic of a company that operates a Hawker 800XP, “Get excellent support from Raytheon.”

None of the remaining commenters wished to have their company identified, although most authorized the use of their names. For instance, James Little, director of operations for a southern-based company, said, “Most companies seem to be getting better at customer service.” But he also believes the price of parts is “out of line.” He gave the example of a pressure switch for his King Air 200 that “a year ago was $300. Now it’s $1,800.”

“Raytheon’s Rapid [Raytheon Aircraft Parts and Inventory Distribution] seems to be slipping when it comes to parts availability,” said the director of maintenance for an operator based in the south.

A captain for an operator headquartered in Arizona said he experienced an eight-month wait for a Hawker AOG part. “Cost is astronomical,” the captain said.

But, according to director of maintenance Scott Apple, finding parts is “easier for his Hawker 400-731 than it is for a Challenger.”

Then there are those operators who rely on non-OEMs for service and support, such as Harry Hitchings, a maintenance controller for a fractional operator. He said that Emery Air in Rockport, Ill., is the “best center for Raytheon aircraft and outperforms most Raytheon Aircraft Service centers.” That said, Hitchings added that his comments were “my own observations, which don’t reflect my company’s stand.”

TURBOPROPS

PC-12 and MU-2 operators must really, really like the support they get from Pilatus and Mitsubishi-designated Turbine Aircraft Services, respectively. Not only do these companies consistently top the list of turboprop aircraft support, they are the only companies in the survey that received a rating of 8.0 or more this year.

In fact, the overall average score for the PC-12 this year jumped more than 12 percent from last year’s score, and the overall rating for the MU-2 shot up almost 30 percent.

There were also no changes in the positions of the other manufacturers that are responsible for supporting turboprops and received a sufficient number of survey responses to be included in this report. Raytheon was in the number-two position behind the PC-12 for new King Airs and behind the MU-2 for older King Airs.

A 6.6-percent increase in score failed to move Cessna out of third place for support of its Conquest, and Piper (older Cheyenne twins and Meridian singles), stayed firmly at the bottom of the list as the only turboprop manufacturer to receive a lower score this year (by more than 7 percent) than it did last year.

Mitsubishi and Pilatus

It’s interesting to note that of the two business turboprop models with the highest  rated customer support, one–the Pilatus PC-12–represents the newest certified design and the other–the Mitsubishi MU-2–represents one of the oldest, with the final version of the series going out of production more than 20 years ago.

Each model received only one comment (complimentary in both cases).

“Retention of personnel at all levels by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Turbine Aircraft Services and the MU-2 service centers distinguishes Mitsubishi’s support from anyone else’s,” said Mid-Coast Air Charter president Earle Martin. “I have dealt with the same knowledgeable and experienced people for 16 years.”

Commenting on a PC-12 put into service last year, Jeffrey Babin, a pilot for Century Aircraft in Huntsville, Ala., said, “Excellent service and support from Epps Aviation at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta. Pilatus has a great product and supports it well.”

ENGINES

When the support scores are combined for all engine models, the top-rated manufacturer was Williams. When broken down by engine model, Rolls-Royce stands out as the top performer for its customer support of Spey-powered business jets.

Williams

Knapheide Manufacturing’s Roger Lipcamon said this about Williams International: “Excellent support system. Williams support, both technical and manuals, has been outstanding.” In addition, he acknowledged that the engine maker met “promised time for overhauls and hot section.” The company “just needs to expand authorized service centers or open another facility in the southwest or west.”

Williams has “excellent warranty service,” according to the aviation department manager of an Alabama company. “We just completed a hot section inspection and performance of manufacturer exceeded expectations.”

Pratt & Whitney Canada

As for “Pratt & Whitney Canada, “national support and training is very good,” said a maintenance supervisor of a major international charter operator with an office in California, but the “local tech rep leaves a lot to be desired.”

The chief pilot for a Texas-based operator described how pleased he was when his company was “credited a sizeable amount” after a P&WC service center had torn down an engine from its Citation 560X and did not find a “smoking gun.” This customer said, “Everybody in Virginia and Toronto was cooperative and helpful. A somewhat long but pleasant experience.”

At the other end of the spectrum, David Moore, the chief pilot for a company based in the southeast, related “an unpleasant experience.” He said that a P&WC sales rep estimated $130,000 to overhaul a PT6-11. After teardown, Moore said, P&WC’s West Virginia facility came up with a price of $230,000. “After several weeks we settled in between, but it was a very unpleasant experience.”

Honeywell

The chief pilot for a large media concern said he prefers Garrett Aviation Services in Springfield, Ill., for work on his TFE731s. The factory service center’s management and billing department in Little Rock, Ark., he said, is “very hard to deal with.”

The pilot of a TFE731-powered aircraft for a restaurant chain said that in his experience there was a “lack of details during ongoing work” at Honeywell service facilities. However, the technicians and the work they performed “were excellent.”

A chief of maintenance for a multiple jet operator based in Texas said that customer support for the TFE731 “still lags,” particularly “where parts are concerned.” He did not elaborate on whether he was referring to parts availability, cost or warranty.

But “parts shortages at an MPI [major periodic inspection]” was noted as a problem by a client aviation manager for a large international charter company. “Nobody in Phoenix replies to voice or e-mails.” Another operator said that the Honeywell engine Web site is “very unfriendly.”

Finally, on a positive note, the director of maintenance for a company headquartered in the southeast said “Honeywell and Rolls-Royce get high marks for superior tech rep support.”

AVIONICS

Garmin was the top scorer among the avionics suppliers. None of the 15 major suppliers that was rated in our survey received a below-average score in any of the seven service and support areas. The highest score was a 7.84 for Garmin’s warranty fulfillment, and the lowest score was a 5.04 for Magnastar’s cost of parts.

Somewhat disturbing is that 11 out of the 15 providers had lower overall average ratings this year than last year–ranging from less than half of a percent for Garmin to more than 5 percent for Honeywell’s Global Wulfsberg division. On the plus side, the more than 15-percent improvement in score for Safe Flight moved that company from 11th position last year to second place this year.

Although Meggitt/S-Tec’s score improved by more than 10 percent, the company moved up just three places from last year’s bottom position. The aviation director of an aviation services firm in Tennessee said, “S-Tec is by far the worst systems manufacturer in the industry to deal with on any level.”

Garmin

Agro Industrial Management’s Bjellos said he “noticed several ADs” for Garmin but is “very pleased [with the product] overall.” The senior pilot for a roofing company remarked that the CD simulator is a “great learning tool.”

“Garmin continues to lead in innovative products,” said Clarence Bell, a first officer for Flexjet. “The company provides excellent support and its tech reps are always helpful.” Garmin’s tech rep support, as well as warranty service, is “very fair and responsive,” said the chief pilot for an operator based in Texas.

“User friendly” is how John Huffman, chief pilot for International Industries in Athens, W.Va., described Garmin. He added that the company “knows how to treat customers.”

The captain of a King Air operator said Garmin “makes single-pilot ops much easier.”

Charles Hackett, chief pilot and flight department manager for Modern Exploration in Denton, Texas, voiced many of the same comments.

But Garmin “is not bulletproof, as I would have expected,” said Richie Lengel, director of operations for Package Express Airlines. However, he did not elaborate, as did John Ransom, chief pilot for a company in the southwest. “Poor response from Garmin,” concerning incorrect Serial Numbers, confusion over upgrade slots and an alleged lack of communication between a service center and Garmin.

A pilot/mechanic for an aviation services company in the Midwest said he had “difficulty getting GPS updates for old GPSs and parts for these units.”

Rockwell Collins

Not surprisingly, Rockwell Collins and Honeywell garnered the most written comments, some of which were not complimentary. For instance, a chief pilot of an Oklahoma company was critical of what he sees was a lack of “proper training aids and support in 2000” when the Pro Line 21 was introduced. He has the same criticism for the FMS 3000 introduced in the Citation CJ3 this year. “Rockwell Collins then blames FlightSafety or Cessna.”

The chief pilot for a Texas firm asked, “What about quality and reliability? We have had two failed Rockwell Collins ADCs in one year.” Another chief pilot for a Texas company criticized Rockwell Collins’s Airshow. He said it “is nothing but problems.”

“Collins needs to update its nav-data updates,” said a captain for a company in Arizona. “We spend 1 hour 30 minutes every three weeks on the update.” Collins EFIS is “very expensive for spares, repairs and replacement,” said the chief pilot for a university.

“Equipment works well,” according to an aviation manager of a firm in Texas, “which is fortunate, because tech support on STC installations has not been impressive.”

Honeywell

Honeywell Avionics too received its mix of comments. The chief pilot for a Gulfstream G300 operator said Honeywell’s telephone response was “totally inadequate.”

Raymond Kuck, a line pilot for Summit Jet in West Hempstead, N.Y., said the Honeywell FMS and display units are the avionics “weak links” in his GIV-SP. Terry Meyer, a pilot for a large retailer based in the northwest, claimed that Honeywell needs to “improve its troubleshooting procedures.”

“Terrible” is how the chief pilot for another retailer described the operator’s manual and training software for the N2-2000 FMS.

A line captain for a Texas operator of a Citation X believes that Honeywell has had a “software glitch” that is endemic to all aircraft. “We have had the aircraft for five years and in all but one year the vertical nav has been unusable.” This pilot said that Honeywell has “continued to promise a fix, but only Gulfstream aircraft have been updated so the system is usable.”

An aviation department manager for a Learjet 31A operator based in New Mexico vented his frustration over a TCAS in for repair four times and it “still doesn’t work.” This manager also said a radar altimeter sent to Honeywell for repair was returned with a note that said, “Unit being operated outside certified limits.” According to this operator, it was certified and installed as original equipment.

AIN received three separate comments that complimented Honeywell for excellent support and service.

Others

A smattering of comments was also submitted for other avionics manufacturers. For example, a senior pilot for a roofing company said that Avidyne (which retained its fourth place overall ratings average), “Couldn’t be better to work with.”

AirCell (dropped from 3rd place to 7th place): “Phones when working work well, with loud and clear reception. However, reception between New York and Washington, D.C. is non-existent.” Analog coverage goes downhill fast,” according to a chief pilot for a Wyoming operation.

Magnastar (dropped to last place): “Out of range 50 percent of the time,” said an aviation department manager. Said Adam Derosa, a technician for an Illinois operator, “Support is very poor. Rental units are scarce and expensive, repairs are expensive and take too long.” Magnastar received two more comments critical of product support.

Universal Avionics (dropped from 2nd place to 3rd place): “Very expensive spares, repairs and replacements,” said one operator. Another claimed Universal “would install older parts and not comment on the availability of newer, updated parts. Then would give no credit for replacement.” Following failures during warranty, said a chief pilot, “We would receive a rebuilt unit” that didn’t work well.

John Huffman, the chief pilot for International Industries in West Virginia, said his company purchased two new UNS-1L units from Universal. According to Huffman, one of the units was broken. When he asked about a replacement, “We were told that there were no spares and that we were looking at a minimum of two weeks for a replacement.”

A Work in Progress

It seems that over the last couple of years, virtually all the major airframe and engine manufacturers and some avionics manufacturers have been trying more than ever to improve their customer service and support, at least according to the press releases and announcements we have been receiving.

According to the press announcements covered in AIN, these efforts range from tweaking a specific after-sales support program to a complete revamping of a customer service department to a total overhaul of the company itself. Perhaps the scores and comments of this survey are a barometer of how effective these efforts are.

To repeat what we have said before about our survey, the method of presenting comments and scoring is not intended to malign or endorse any specific manufacturer or product. Instead, it is our hope that manufacturers and users will gain some insight into how some customers–albeit the most vocal–feel about after-sales support. It is hoped the OEMs will use this information in their continuing efforts to improve customer support and service programs.

Check out the complete '2005 AIN Product Support Report' (PDF)

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