2007 AIN Product Support Survey - Part One: Aircraft

 - August 1, 2007, 7:03 AM

Players in the business aviation arena regularly tell their customers that they are improving product support and service by investing in assets and people. Now it’s the customers’ turn to have their say, and the results speak for themselves as AIN publishes its annual Product Support Survey Report. In this issue, we present the results for the aircraft OEMs; in the September and October issues we will publish results for the avionics and engine manufacturers, respectively.

Gulfstream continued its winning ways in this year’s survey and captured the top spot for overall support of both newer and older business jets–the fifth consecutive year the Savannah-based manufacturer has done so.

This year’s survey contains many of the same manufacturers that were rated last year. Some have been added and a few dropped because they didn’t receive the minimum number of responses necessary for inclusion.

One important change this year was the rating scale.

Whereas last year readers rated manufacturers on a scale from one to nine, this year that scale changed from one to 10 to align with AIN’s yearly FBO survey. A consequence of the change is that almost every manufacturer’s score increased year over year. As such, when an increase or decrease in score is referenced, that number is relative. For example, most of the increases in score were approximately half a point in each category. When a manufacturer improved well beyond that number, it is noted. Thus, although it is not easy to ascertain exactly which manufacturers improved in which categories, the relative increase does tell the story of which OEMs made the most gains or slips.

For the second year in a row, Boeing took the second spot among OEM support for manufacturers of newer (10 or fewer years old) business jets, though the gap between it and first-place Gulfstream widened slightly from last year. The BBJ maker also took top honors for cost of parts, technical manuals and overall aircraft reliability.

Cessna dropped to fourth place this year for newer aircraft support but, thanks to General Dynamics Aviation Services’ (GDAS) minor slip, moved up a place to second in the category for support of older aircraft. GDAS has responsibility for the GII, GIII, Astra SPX, G100 and, for most of the year under review, Westwinds. Although GII and GIII operators remained relatively pleased with GDAS’ service, the old IAI operators had mixed opinions about how well the Gulfstream Aerospace sibling took care of their jets. Though operators rated Cessna’s support for older Citations pretty favorably in almost every category, the edge was in both authorized and factory service centers, and in what operators saw as Cessna’s less expensive parts. GDAS retained the edge in aircraft reliability, AOG response and technical reps.

Hawker Beechcraft (known as Raytheon Aircraft for almost the entire period under review) dislodged Cessna from the third-place slot in the newer business jet category with its support for the Beechjet, Premier and Hawker 400XP. Operators still rate the factory’s service on older aircraft lower; Hawker Beechcraft came in fifth in that category for the Beechjet, and a lowly eighth for the Hawker line. A category-highest 12.23-percent increase over last year’s numbers in the newer aircraft category was due mainly to a big boost from the factory service center, availability of parts and aircraft reliability categories.

But where Hawker Beechcraft really shone this year for operators was with its AOG response. The company’s second place slot behind only Gulfstream, which is practically legendary for its AOG response, is a vast improvement over last year’s fourth place in the category. Though most of Hawker Beechcraft’s ratings in the older business jet category were stagnant, ratings did improve significantly in the factory service center and warranty fulfillment categories.

The numbers indicate that HBC’s support for the Hawker is inferior to its care for the Premier and Beechjet in both newer and older models.

The company retained sixth place for its Hawker support in the newer business jet category and saw solid improvement in the authorized service center, parts availability and warranty fulfillment categories.

In the older business jet category, Hawker operators saw fit to decrease the company’s rating in technical manuals, technical reps and overall aircraft reliability despite the expansion of the rating scale. The company was also eighth last year in the older jet category, though this year it was surpassed by out-of-production Sabreliner.

Dassault Falcon fell behind Hawker Beechcraft for fifth place in the newer business jet category and held strong at fourth in the older business jet category. Operators rated Dassault stronger this year in parts availability and cost of parts in the newer aircraft category, while the company’s retention of fourth place in the older jet category can be attributed to a substantial increase in aircraft reliability. The comments reflected dissatisfaction among operators of older Falcons for the factory service center, and that is confirmed in a decrease in the category for this year’s survey.

Embraer continued its improving trend this year, moving up one place to seventh, overtaking Bombardier in the process. Operators rated authorized service centers, parts availability and warranty fulfillment much higher than last year. They also saw a drastic improvement with Embraer’s AOG response. The manufacturer jumped two spots in the category this year to sixth place.

In last place again this year for newer business jets is Bombardier. The Canadian manufacturer holds the last three spots with its Challenger, Global Express and Learjet lines. For older business jets, the company had mixed ratings–sixth for the Challengers and last for the Learjets. The biggest jump for the newer Challengers was technical manuals and overall aircraft reliability. For the Globals, operators saw fit to rate the company virtually the same (disregarding the scale expansion) in all categories except authorized service centers, which saw a modest increase. Operators of newer Learjets are still reporting service problems in a number of categories. Learjet saw the smallest overall increase from last year and operators lowered the rating in two categories–factory service center and technical manuals. The only category that saw any significant improvement was warranty fulfillment.

Bombardier continues to struggle to support the older Learjets and Challengers. Although the Challenger did gain one place to sixth this year among older business jets, the increase was due mainly to the fall of the Learjets, which had the distinction of being the only model to have an overall decrease from last year, despite the expansion of the ratings scale. Challenger operators gave Bombardier better marks for warranty fulfillment and authorized service centers. Learjet operators weren’t as happy, however. Compared with last year, operators rated Bombardier lower in seven of the nine categories this year.

A surprise for the older business jet category, Sabreliner increased more than 11 percent and jumped from ninth last year to seventh this year. That’s the most of any fixed-wing manufacturer. Operators gave improved marks for the factory and authorized centers. Cost of parts was also better this year.

Pilatus Takes the Turboprops

For the first time ever, Socata is included in the survey, debuting in second place. Operators rated the TBM manufacturer highest in seven of the nine categories. Cost of parts was a low point, however. The OEM’s score in the category was the lowest single score in the entire survey.

Pilatus retained the top spot for newer turboprops this year by a slim margin. On a high note, Pilatus operators gave the company a large increase for the factory service center category. Parts availability hurt the company’s overall rating, which decreased more than a third of a point from last year’s number.

Hawker Beechcraft generally earned good marks from King Air operators for support of the aircraft, but the company remained behind Pilatus and newcomer Socata in the newer turboprop category. Though the OEM gained on Pilatus overall, it scored last in all but two categories. Cost of parts obviously remains a concern, as the score decreased from last year’s number.

Twin Commander Aircraft remained in second place among older turboprops. Although operators were happy with the manufacturer’s authorized service centers and cost of parts, there was a reduction in three of the nine categories.

Bringing up the rear again this year is Cessna with the Conquest and Piper with the Cheyenne. Piper gained ground this year and operators rated the manufacturer higher in every category (mainly thanks to the scale expansion). Conquest operators, on the other hand, felt Cessna did a worse job this year with the factory service center and warranty fulfillment. Mitsubishi operators did not provide enough responses this year for the company to be included in the survey–a surprise since they rated the Japanese company tops in turboprops last year.

Rotorcraft Ratings Down

With the exceptions of Bell and Eurocopter, rotorcraft manufacturers should take note: operators are not happy. Despite a scale that tops out higher this year, three of the five manufacturers received lower scores from operators this year than they did last year.

Bell retained the top spot for the second year in a row with solid overall marks. The manufacturer was tops in seven of the nine categories.

Survey newcomer MD Helicopters grabbed the second spot from Sikorsky, mainly due to top ratings in the categories of authorized service centers and cost of parts. Sikorsky was the first of the rotorcraft manufacturers to see decreased overall marks. In all, operators rated the manufacturer worse this year in six of the nine categories. Eurocopter retained fourth spot this year, thanks in part to a sizeable improvement in the authorized service center category.

Agusta and Aerospatiale placed fifth and sixth, respectively. Among the two, operators awarded lower ratings for 14 categories (six for Agusta and eight for Aerospatiale). MBB operators did not provide enough responses for the products of the company (now part of Eurocopter) to be included in this year’s survey.

'2007 AIN Product Support Survey - Part One: Aircraft' PDF