Dassault bolstering its Falcon support

 - June 2, 2009, 11:35 AM

Dismissing the current downturn as a temporary setback, Dassault is expanding its Falcon service center network, confident that deliveries planned over the coming months and years warrant the addition of several centers, either owned or authorized, according to Dassault’s customer support senior executives. During an interview at the company’s headquarters in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, they also noted they want to be ready for the next upturn.

With more Falcons flying from more bases, skilled, certified maintenance technicians will be in demand all over the world, particularly in emerging countries such as Russia and Brazil, which have become major customer bases. In total, there are now five factory-owned Dassault Aircraft Services facilities and 28 authorized service centers (ASCs).

The French manufacturer is now segmenting service levels. “It would have been unrealistic to seek to provide full capability, from line maintenance to major overhauls, at every service center,” noted Jacques Chauvet, senior v-p for worldwide customer service. The first rung is a line maintenance service center, which can perform quick (up to one week of turn-around time) repairs such as airframe and engine troubleshooting. It is dedicated to getting the aircraft back in the air as swiftly as possible, but can also perform scheduled inspections up to 2A+ checks.

A major service center adds inspections up to B checks and can also maintain engines and APUs, assuming it has OEM authorization. These tasks typically take two to three weeks to complete.

Finally, heavy service centers can perform inspections up to
C checks, heavy maintenance repairs, modifications, paint, refurbishing and modernization.

Of course, an operator can choose to have its aircraft maintained at any unauthorized service station, as long as it is approved by its country’s civil aviation authority. However, if the aircraft is under warranty it might be covered only if worked on by Dassault-authorized centers. Dassault estimates that 15 to 20 percent of Falcons are maintained outside the network of factory-owned and authorized service centers. Out-of-production models such as the Falcon 10/100 and 20 are still flying in the U.S., and their operators often have full-fledged flight departments to maintain them.

Over the next two or three years, Dassault expects to appoint operators or MROs ASCs in a number of countries. In Western Europe, they include Switzerland and Austria. “We have few based aircraft in Switzerland but a lot of Falcon traffic, so we are setting up a light maintenance base,” Eloi Dufour, director of the ASC network, explained to AIN. An ASC is being created in Moscow, too, although subsidiary Dassault Falcon Service already has two technicians stationed there for line maintenance.

In Mumbai, India, a Falcon operator is to become an ASC. In Djeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabian Airlines–a government Falcon 900 operator–will also be added to the network. ASCs are to open this year in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Turkey as well.

At Reno Tahoe Airport in Nevada, Dassault opened a 12-employee DAS in April. “We are starting with line maintenance but expect the site to grow,” Chauvet said. Plans call for the nearly 40,000-square-foot facility eventually to be staffed by more than 40 Dassault Falcon personnel. The company is said to have invested $1.3 million in tooling and ground support equipment at the location.

In Brazil, Dassault is opening its newest factory-owned center, DFJ do Brazil, this month at São Paulo’s Soracaba airport, a development that terminates the current partnership with Morro Vermelho Táxi Aéreo in São Paulo.

In Asia, Hawker Pacific plans to add two facilities, one in Shanghai, China and one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Each will specialize in servicing different Dassault models. Hawker Pacific already has ASCs in Singapore and Sydney, Australia.

ASCs also serve as bases for go-teams tasked with traveling to an aircraft in distress and repairing it on-site with the needed tools and parts. Soracaba, for example, will be the base for go-teams traveling in South America.

Chauvet insisted that the ongoing economic storm does not jeopardize plans for network expansion. “At most, there could be some slight rescheduling, or some ASCs could be smaller at their inception,” he suggested, adding that Dassault is evaluating the financial solidity of potential local partners more thoroughly than ever.

A number of service centers in China, Russia and the Middle East will add Falcon 7X capability this year. Since January, two in South Africa and Finland have already been approved for 7X work. There were 33 Falcon 7Xs in service as of late April. “In Europe, EASA regulations call for more intense and lengthier training, including on-the-job sessions,” Chauvet noted. Dassault provides such training in Bordeaux and Istres, France.

The French OEM has three-year contracts with its ASCs, and the level of activity is measured yearly. This was one reason Chauvet cited for his having no statistics yet on how much the economic turmoil is affecting the Falcon maintenance business.
Frank Youngkin, Western hemisphere v-p for Falcon customer service, had seen the activity in North America down by 30 percent year on year, as of late April. In addition, customers are giving much shorter notice for their service needs. Service centers therefore have had their service backlog cut by several weeks, he said. Last, but not least, customers are requesting only work that is required to keep the aircraft flying, rather than upgrades.

At ASCs, performance is also measured through customer feedback surveys. Each ASC has a customer service manager responsible for the day-to-day relationship with Dassault. Dufour’s team regularly conducts audits, and Dassault’s directorate general for total quality in turn audits Dufour’s team.

An ASC is required to have two airframe/engine and two avionics maintenance technicians per aircraft type. In addition, Dassault works with ASCs to ensure they maintain the requisite technical skills, facilities and insurance coverage. The manufacturer also ensures ASCs maintain their airworthiness authority approvals. “Although EASA and FAA approvals account for 80 percent of the needs, the service center must hold Bermudan approval to work on a Bermuda-registered aircraft,” said Dufour.

Paralleling the expansion of its factory-owned and authorized service center network, the company is establishing more parts distribution centers. Dassault is boosting parts inventory worldwide from $400 million in 2005 to a planned $650 million by late this year and has added nine distribution centers to the existing two. Another two, in Russia and Turkey, will bring the total to 13 in the near future. “The idea is to get closer to where the aircraft are, thus avoiding customs delays,” Chauvet explained.    

Dassault Sets up e-Forums for Falcon 7X Customers

Dassault Falcon recently hosted its first Falcon e-Forum. Some 32 Falcon 7X customers from the U.S., France, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland and the UK took part in the first Internet-based session. The seminar was developed by the manufacturer to provide an exchange of information and best practices with Falcon operators. “Falcon’s e-Forum program is a cost-effective tool that’s flexible and interactive, and it improves our responsiveness to customer feedback and information-sharing techniques,” said Frank Youngkin, Dassault’s vice president of customer service in the Western hemisphere. “E-Forums provide a medium to communicate in an interactive environment with Falcon operators on timely issues.” The company plans to offer the one-hour Falcon e-Forum regularly, with each session focusing on a specific topic of interest or Falcon model. Participation in a session requires an Internet connection, Microsoft Live Meeting software and a telephone to listen to the audio portion of the presentation. Attendees can listen to the presenter while simultaneously viewing presentation slides and other materials. Additionally, they can submit questions to experts from the Dassault Falcon team.