Buying an airplane is one thing; living with one is quite another

 - October 4, 2006, 8:40 AM

Over the past several years, owners and manufacturers have begun to recognize aircraft product support as an increasingly vital function. Original equipment manufacturers with good service reputations work hard (and invest heavily) to defend their turf, while those who have made missteps are, in many cases, making significant investments of time, personnel, energy and money to “get it right.”

For a number of years AIN took periodic snapshots of the market to gauge aircraft owners’ and operators’ opinions about support. Beginning in 2003, we decided to make our product support survey an annual feature because of the growing importance of the support function–to both operators and OEMs–and the difficulty in determining objective, unbiased and current opinions regarding the various OEMs’ efforts.

The survey report that follows offers an incredibly detailed–and highly objective– look at the state of product support in 2005. For this year’s survey, we went back to the drawing board with our questionnaire. We were particularly discriminating in verifying the type and age of aircraft ranked, as well as the current experience and qualifications of readers taking the time to respond.

Support in and of itself is a multi-faceted subject, which is why we asked readers to evaluate the OEMs on nine different functions for each airplane, engine type or avionics unit: authorized service centers, factory service centers, fairness of parts policy, parts availability, cost of parts, AOG response, warranty fulfillment, technical manuals and tech rep response. Respondents rated each category on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being “inadequate” and 9 being “excellent.”

We mailed paper survey questionnaires to several thousand current, qualified AIN readers in late April. Response closed with some 592 completed questionnaires received through mid-June. A total of 884 aircraft were rated, but to ensure statistical validity, only aircraft, engines or avionics rated by at least 10 respondents are included in the ensuing report. Data were tabulated by Eggers Consulting of Warrenton, Va.

In previous years, we depicted the tabulated survey responses with colored dots, each representing one point on the rating scale. (Green, for instance, was used to depict all averages from 6.5 points to 7.499 points.) This year, however, we are presenting raw numerical scores, in part so that OEMs can more precisely understand their performance. Furthermore, the raw scores better show the relative position of products being rated, a key change since models are often separated by only a tenth of a point or less.

It’s worth noting that our readers are a critical bunch. In most cases, top-ranked firms in individual categories received average scores of around 7, “good” on our scale of 1 to 9. And for the most part, service and support seems to be fairly acceptable overall–rarely did average ratings dip below 5, or “average” on the scale.
It’s also worth noting that in several cases the “best” and “worst” performers in a group or category were very close in raw terms. For instance, the gap between the top and bottom on warranty fulfillment of new airplanes is just a little more than a point; in almost all instances, the gap is no more than two points.

With some aircraft models dating back 30 years or more, aircraft age can be a significant factor in overall ratings. This year, as in the past, we’ve separated aircraft into two categories: “newer” (less than 10 years old) and “older” (10 or more years old). Furthermore, in some instances, a particular manufacturer’s offerings might be separated into multiple groups, generally to reflect acquisitions and mergers over the years. For example, Beechjets and Hawkers, now both Raytheon Aircraft products, are in separate categories, as are Bombardier Globals, Challengers and Learjets.

Finally, our hats are off to the AIN readers who took time and effort to fill out our (admittedly) detailed survey form. We know you are poked and prodded for opinions with increasing frequency, and we realize we asked a lot of you with our new format. Please believe when we say it was well worth your effort. At the end of the day, this exercise isn’t about winners and losers; it’s about helping all operators get the quality support they need to complete their missions successfully. OEMs do tell us they take your opinions seriously, to the benefit of all operators. Thank you.