MRO Profile: Gulfstream Luton

 - October 30, 2006, 12:21 PM


Gulfstream’s service center at London Luton Airport is one of 12 factory support facilities, but it is currently unique in being the only one on soil foreign to the Savannah, Ga.-based OEM. It is also one of the most recent additions to the stable, Gulfstream having acquired a lease on it from Signature in April 2003.

A lot has changed in those 30 months. Gulfstream immediately set about doubling the 28,000 sq ft under roof at the facility and reversing the then small percentage of Gulfstreams that used the engineering services offered at the facility when it was in Signature’s hands. Today, 95 percent of the facility’s work is on the 1,600 Gulfstreams that pass through Luton in the course of a year. Citations, Falcons and Hawkers fill the remaining work slots.

Before Gulfstream established its factory store at Luton, operators of the big twinjets who found themselves in need of service had to rely on technicians’ making a 45-minute drive from the Cambridge base of Marshalls, at that time the authorized service center. Furthermore, privately operated Cambridge Airport had no transient Gulfstream traffic at all. “It was not a good arrangement,” commented Larry Flynn, Gulfstream president of product support, “but it was that way for 30-plus years.”

The new location puts the support in the thick of European Gulfstream traffic (Luton handles more of them than Farnborough, for example, noted Flynn), and for operators throughout Europe and the Middle East the facility serves as an attractive alternative to trekking across oceans and continents to the U.S. for maintenance by factory technicians.

The FAA- and CAA-certified Luton facility is the first service center outside the U.S. to receive the FAA’s aviation maintenance technician Diamond Certificate of Excellence for technician training. It is also approved by the United Arab Emirates General CAA to service aircraft registered in the UAE, and is a Honeywell-authorized service center for the TFE731.

The general manager of Gulfstream Luton is Frank DeFelice, a former maintenance technician who has been employed with Gulfstream for nine years and was posted to Luton in July last year. He is one of the more than 2,500 employees in Gulfstream who report to Flynn. Those 2,500 people employed in product support represent one-third of Gulfstream’s current 7,800-employee payroll worldwide, a statistic of which the company is particularly proud. DeFelice oversees about 70 employees at Gulfstream Luton; 80 percent of them live locally, and with the closure of GM’s Vauxhall car factory in 2001, the airport is now the city’s largest single employer. It has no curfew, but its location on a hill does not encourage expansion, and therein lies one logistical challenge for Gulfstream.

The OEM has no ramp space at its facility, so it has to stick to the schedule diligently. If a Gulfstream arrives at the appointed time for scheduled maintenance and its slot in the hangar is still occupied due to tardy completion of work on another aircraft, Gulfstream has to pay Signature for ramp parking for the incoming aircraft until it can be accepted in the hangar. Quite apart from the overriding goal of customer satisfaction, that acts as another incentive to schedule work realistically and complete it on time. The two buildings can accommodate six GVs simultaneously, said DeFelice.

The Appeal of Luton

Another factor in Gulfstream’s choice of Luton was its existing business relationship with Signature in the U.S. for co-located facilities that had been in place for more than two years before the Luton accord.

The roots of the Luton facility go back about as far as the roots of business aviation in Britain. The McAlpine Group began using an Auster piston single immediately after World War II and was impressed enough by the mobility it provided among construction sites that it upgraded to a Miles Gemini (four-seat piston twin), then a de Havilland Dragon Rapide and, by 1957, a Lockheed 12, which necessitated the hiring of a second pilot and relocation from Fairoaks Airfield to Luton, still a grass field then. McAlpine and Shell Petroleum were for many years the frontrunners in British business aviation operations, and McAlpine’s fleet grew over the years to include the Piaggio P.166 (a quite bulky seven-seat aircraft with two pusher piston engines mounted on its gull wing and costing about 12 percent more than a Cessna 310 at the time; McAlpine also served as the UK Piaggio dealer, and later the Helio dealer) and de Havilland Doves, including Riley conversions.

McAlpine climbed onto the business-jet wagon just as it started to move and hitched its fortunes to the Hawker 125, for which it became a service facility in 1965. Four years later McAlpine Jet Charter was formed around two managed 125s. By 1973 McAlpine Aviation was operating 11 Hawkers, six of which it owned, four managed for charter and one for the owner’s sole use. The Conoco Gulfstream II transited through McAlpine’s Luton facility in 1973, a harbinger of today’s activity.

In 1989 GEC-Marconi acquired the assets of McAlpine Aviation and renamed it Magec Aviation. Nine years later Magec became part of the Lynton Group, which was in turn absorbed by BBA in July 2000 and rebranded as a Signature facility.

Gulfstream does not rule out establishing more overseas factory service facilities. Said a company spokesman: “When and as volume or the number of customers reaches the point where strong examination is warranted, that is what we will do.” In the meantime, overseas operations are tended to by a network of Gulfstream-authorized warranty centers and line service facilities.