GE moves decisively into business aviation

 - February 22, 2010, 10:52 AM

GE Aviation’s engine business has historically focused on military and airline applications, according to Shawn O’Day, manager of business aviation market- ing for the company. However, there were spin-offs from those areas that were  applicable to business aviation and recently the company has intensified its interest in business aircraft by creating the Business & General Aviation (BGA) division, in February 2008.

“We were on the Learjet 20 series with the CJ610 [turbojet] roughly 40 years ago, and the Challenger CF34-3 [turbofan] goes back 26 years, so we’re not strangers to business aviation. However, it would be fair to say it has not been a major area of interest until about two years ago,” O’Day told AIN.

“In recent years the bizav market has grown at a strong rate. What we saw before the economic slump was a growth in the business aviation market about double that of commercial,” he said.

“The cumulative annual growth rate for the commercial sector has been about four percent, whereas business aviation has been more than nine percent. We’ve been successful in our commercial and military businesses, but GE is always looking for areas of growth. We now see business aviation as an opportunity to organically expand our business,” he said.

Military and Commercial R&D Benefit Bizav Projects

According to O’Day, GE has been investing on average more than $1 billion annually for the past nine years in technology across the breadth of its products and continues to do so despite the economy.

“I like to think of it as having versatile products on a shelf,” O’Day said. “Each has its own technology, which we can apply to other engines. For example, on the F136 Joint Strike Fighter program we’ve spent a significant amount of time developing control technology for the next generation Fadec that gives us better control over the engine. We do it with advanced software and sensing technology that allows us also to monitor numerous parameters, performance data and trends to do automatic diagnostics. The technology we developed for the F136 can be transferred to other products.”

O’Day also cited work on the GEnx for the Boeing 787 and currently on the 747-8, which flew (in freighter form) for the first time last month. “There are significant implications for future development that come out of the research and development work we’ve done on a next-generation, low-emissions combustor we refer to as Taps [twin-annular pre-swirl],” he said. “The problem with fossil fuel combustion is that it emits carbon dioxide. In the quest to make engines greener, this technology maintains lean burn combustion throughout the entire operational profile, which has a dramatic effect on reducing the amount of NOx [nitrous oxide].”

Those, and other research efforts, can be used in the development of new products. One such project, the TechX, is doing just that to design an engine in the 12,000- to 20,000-pound-thrust range for the next generation of large-cabin business jets. O’Day said the key issue is that larger business jets lend themselves better to using many of the new technologies because they fly long-range missions, making fuel consumption, weight, dispatch reliability and prognostic technology critical to cost-effective operation.

“In addition to leveraging those capabilities, we’re adding other technologies such as an all-composite fan case to reduce weight, and active clearance control in the high-pressure turbine to maximize turbine efficiency,” O’Day explained. “We’re looking at how to maximize component accessibility to reduce maintenance costs and increase life limit. For example, we’ve moved the Fadec away from the engine compartment into the inlet to get it away from high temperatures. Doing so serves the double purpose of increasing life expectancy and making it more accessible to the maintenance crew.”

Customer Support Enhancements

Investing billions in research and development directly and indirectly in the business aviation sector is only as good as the support provided to maintain
the products.

Coinciding with GE’s increased commitment to business aviation is the appointment of Laura Schreibeis as customer support director for business and general aviation. Schreibeis has been with the company for more than 20 years in supply chain, product support and most recently customer support.

“For the past few months I’ve been talking to a lot of our customers to understand what we do well and where we need improvement,” she said. “I’ve identified five core elements to be the focus of our customer care initiative: comprehensive annual training, personal touch for our customers, rapid resolution response, predictive diagnostics and On-Point service.”

Schreibeis explained that comprehensive initial and subsequent recurrent training would be geared to making a business jet owners’ transition to the new aircraft as stress free and easy as possible.

“We’ve put together a welcome kit that gives them contact information and general terms and agreement information. We work with them before delivery to get them preregistered so they’re completely set up and ready to go when they take delivery of the aircraft. It’s everything they need to know with respect to their interface with GE.”

In addition to an extensive training center at GE’s headquarters in Cincinnati, the company has training centers in Qatar and France.

“We have completely built up powerplants in our training center here in Cincinnati so we can teach maintenance personnel what they need to know to maintain our engines. It’s comprehensive and includes line maintenance, borescope inspection and disassembly. We put emphasis on problem solving to get the aircraft up
and running as soon as possible. We also offer our customers the option of hands-on or computer-based training for an annual refresher,” she said.

Schreibeis believes that emphasizing the “personal customer touch” is essential to customer satisfaction. “Strong customer relationships are important and we’re turning our focus on it. We have an operations center that’s open 24 hours a day, every day, so there’s worldwide access.

“We also have an operations center in China to satisfy the language requirements of that country and another center in the Czech Republic to cover the Walter and the GE H80.

“We now have 35 field service engineers around the world and they have begun contacting customers to build and solidify relationships. We have also formed a customer advisory council to get feedback on how we can improve the way we support our users,” she said.

Schreibeis said she’s working on improving GE’s integration with airframes to avoid the need for customers to make one call about airframe issues and another about engine issues.

“We want our customers to be able to make one phone call to tie us and the airframer and customer together to solve the issue. Customers see their aircraft as a single entity, and they should be able to deal with it as a single entity,” she said. “The other problem is that aircraft change hands over time. Generally the airframe OEM gets notified but we don’t always find out when it occurs. We’re establishing procedures with the various OEMs to get into the loop.”

A touchy issue among operators is the length of time between notifying the OEM of a problem and the actual response to deal with it. Schreibeis places significant emphasis on providing customers with a rapid resolution response.

“This team’s goal is to speed up the response process and ensure the customer’s needs are met quickly,” she said. “Currently, we’re meeting 95 percent of customer requests in a timely manner, but we’re striving to bring this to an even higher level.

“We’re looking at our warranty process and streamlining it to speed it up. We’re also working with our service network providers to ensure they clearly understand the process so customers receive a high-quality, quick turn-around.”

According to Schreibeis, GE Aviation has technical support available to respond to customer issues as quickly as possible. In addition, it offers a one-time AOG process for customers who have not preregistered.

Rapid response is possible only if parts are available and deployable, so to that end GE has instituted an appropriate distribution system for business aviation parts and engines. Schreibeis said GE has multiple distribution channels, including GE Aviation distribution centers and third-party operators such as Aviall and service network providers.

“Currently our metric for AOG part shipments averages about four-and-a-half hours,” Schreibeis said. “Our overall parts delivery is 95 percent on time.”
The fourth core element Schreibeis identified is predictive diagnostics. “GE Aviation has had a strong engine diagnostics program in place for more than 20 years. It tracks engine trends in real time if the aircraft is equipped with compatible equipment, or through a download. It allows operators to manage their engines and schedule maintenance accordingly.”

With the $4.8 billion acquisition of Smiths Aerospace in 2007, GE added integrated vehicle health management to its shelf of technology.

The system takes diagnostics beyond the engine to the entire aircraft, and GE has a team working on integrating it with other aircraft systems to enable more predictive diagnostics and reduce unscheduled maintenance over the entire airframe. It will allow integration with Acars for data to be delivered in real time.

The final area of emphasis is On-Point for business aviation, GE Aviation’s long-term service product. “GE Aviation has more than 150 On-Point solution agreements in business aviation,” Schreibeis said. “While we have been providing good service and support to our customers, we have room to improve, to become more focused on the unique needs of our business and general aviation customers.”
On-Point offerings for BGA customers provide an even higher level of premium service with exceptional value.

“While we can’t accomplish anything overnight, we are dedicated to steadily expanding and improving what we offer our business aviation customers. We are totally committed to bringing to business aviation the same level of expertise, dedication and customer satisfaction that all of our customers enjoy.”