Delivering "the perfect airplane"

 - May 16, 2008, 7:02 AM

“I hate calling problems on airplanes ‘squawks,’” Jim Schuster, chairman and CEO of Raytheon Aircraft Co., said last month. “Squawk–it just sounds bad. But even more I hate how we’ve been taking it for granted that the customer is going to find squawks when he takes delivery of his airplane. To me that’s just an indication of poor quality.”

So one of Schuster’s goals for RAC is to deliver only defect-free airplanes to its customers, what he calls “the perfect airplane.” Toward reaching this goal, RAC’s delivery center sought input from customers to find out their definition of the perfect airplane. “Our customers were very helpful, especially Executive Jet, one of our most demanding customers,” said Sarah Humbolt, Raytheon Six Sigma Expert. “But Executive Jet’s input has made our customer-acceptance checklists that much better.”

Schuster said the company has changed from schedule driven to quality driven. “I’d rather we deliver a perfect airplane late than one with a lot of problems on time. In the past we were pushing to deliver airplanes just to get them out the door and on the delivery list. Not anymore.” He claimed one-third of the airplanes delivered so far this year has had zero defects and overall there have been 76-percent fewer squawks.

Delays in the development, certification and delivery of the Premier I were both a cause and effect of the problems at Raytheon. Bob Horowitz, in the newly created position of COO, has overall responsibility for shepherding the model’s introduction into customer service, or “handholding the new customers,” as he put it. “We want to kill the teething problems as early as possible,” he said. One major objective is making the cabin less noisy. Aircraft 24 was delivered last month and Horowitz expects to deliver 50 Premiers this year, up from 18 last year. The current backlog stands at more than 250 airplanes.

Significant for many older employees was the forming of the fuselage for Premier number 54, which also took place last month. The company built only 53 Beech Starships. This innovative, risky and ultimately ill-fated project consumed more than $1 billion, said Schuster. He considers the Starship as the starting point of RAC’s current fiscal problems.

The Hawker Horizon is on track for certification late next year and first deliveries in 2004, but Schuster warned that it is “a big and very complex development program. There are no showstoppers, but the program could slip further to the right.” The second flying Horizon prototype was expected to lift off before the end of last month.

Development of the Hawker 450, announced at the 2000 NBAA Convention, is on hold. As explained earlier this year, the company is taking a cold, hard look at the proposed model. “We’ve told our partners and suppliers that we will make a determination in the third quarter of this year,” Schuster said. “Frankly, right now we just don’t know where we’ll go with the 450.”e