Other voices: Is Rolls-Royce repeating the errors of Allison?

 - May 21, 2008, 6:10 AM

The recent article in AIN covering the Rolls-Royce and PMA business surrounding the Model 250 engines was nice to read (“Rolls, Extex, Aviall sort out new business basis,” June, page 82), but it’s a shame that the writer did not solicit input from the former Rolls-Royce AMC network. You remember AMCs? We were the guys who, some 20 years ago, did all the work to support the 250 engines in the field. We were then called distributors because we handled all the parts requirements–warehousing, forecasting and shipping them wherever needed. The original nine distributors supported the world at various geographic locations. And with their service-driven philosophies, I believe the success of the Model 250 engine is the result of the 25 years of dedicated effort by those people and companies.

In the article, Richard Huckle, Rolls-Royce’s vice president of customer operations, helicopter business, commented that the company (then Allison) had only nine distributors, and that it needed a distribution expert (Aviall). Actually, the company already had these “experts.” The original nine distributors, however, were pushed aside by an interim management group that bought Allison from General Motors. The  “new” management’s philosophy seemed to be to take the profitable aspects of this business away from the distributors. (Incidentally, at that time Aviall was one of those distributors.) This was accomplished by selling authorization status to 27 companies and considerably reducing the discount to the distributors. Along with this, in an act of incredible stupidity, the part-distribution operation was taken on by Allison from a base in Louisville, Ky.

It took only a few months to realize that those original distributors knew their business and had done a better job. Parts forecasting became hopeless, and the distributors were faced with widespread part shortages. Voila, the PMA opportunity was born, and though I dislike the PMA process (seems like authorized copying to me), the PMA suppliers have done a great job in producing more and often better parts to supply operators. Seemingly oblivious to the marketplace, Rolls-Royce, now the owner of Allison Engine, chose to ignore history. As the saying goes, it was condemned to repeat history.

On a chilly day in November 1999, the distributors (myself included) were invited to St. Louis, where we learned that Rolls-Royce was going to use Aviall as its part-distribution partner. We were serenaded with a litany of wonders–we’d never need to forecast, parts would be available off the shelf at our local Aviall branch, no more onerous tasks to claim our discounts, no more unmanageable order systems and, by the way, we would receive a considerably reduced discount (again) because we could reap the benefits of not having to employ so many people to administer our program. Fast forward to last month–no turbine wheels, no rotor tie-bolts, no spline adapters. And if you want parts you’d better have a forecast order board in place for at least the next three years. Oh, and all the parts come from Dallas and we pay for shipping.

The AIN article title conveys that everything is in order. Well, yes it is–Rolls doesn’t make parts, the PMA guys do, Aviall doesn’t supply parts but PMA guys deliver them to your door (and bring doughnuts for the techs, too).

Eurocopter and Turbomeca must be rubbing their hands with glee.