Bill Brown, president of global customer support for Hawker Beechcraft, arrived at the NBAA Convention with a renewed sense of enthusiasm following the sale of the company by defense contractor Raytheon to investors Goldman Sachs and Onex Capital Partners. That type of transaction isn’t always a reason for optimism, but in case of the Wichita manufacturer, the future is looking bright.
Brown’s biggest challenge for the immediate future lies in supporting operators of the Hawker 4000, which despite its protracted development program, has emerged as a contender in the super-midsize category. Brown wants to ensure the airplane has a great sendoff. And the company’s large network of authorized service centers and company-owned facilities is reason to expect that it will.
Brown spoke with NBAA Convention News about Hawker Beechcraft’s support efforts.
What changes can customers expect now that the company’s ownership has changed hands?
One thing you can certainly expect to be the same is the dedication to serve the customer in every arena. We get very high marks from our customers for our ability to handle AOGs [aircraft on ground] and deliver parts to them in a timely manner. That’s one thing that’s not going to change. I think with the name change you can expect the enthusiasm to grow with our employees. It has rekindled a lot of energy.
One of the areas where you probably will see some change is in our company-owned FBOs. We’re going to put a lot of investment into those facilities, into the tooling and training of our employees, and really turn them into factory service centers. I think we’ve had great support in the past, but there’s clearly an opportunity for improvement. I think you’ll see us continue to build some very strong alliances with our suppliers to ensure going forward that the level of product support we have achieved in the past continues.
Customers do appear to be more satisfied with your AOG response. I imagine this is something that hasn’t happened overnight, that it’s been a long process?
It’s a fine balance between achieving very high success rates in filling parts requirements and not over-investing in inventory. I think we’ve got a pretty good balance in our inventory investment and the way we’re managing it. In the past a lot of our inventory was in multiple sites. Today the inventory is managed by Rapid [a 24-hour factory-direct parts supplier]. We took a lot of the inventory that we didn’t have enough exposure to and put it all in one place where we have tremendous visibility. At our Dallas warehouse, for example, we can fill an AOG order and have it on an airplane within four hours of when a customer calls.
How do you balance the goals of having a lean operation while at the same time providing top-notch support?
The key word is “lean.” You can use that word in two different ways. One is “thin.” We use it to mean supply-chain improvements, the overall value stream. What we’re doing much better is, instead of having a whole bunch inventory that’s turning slowly and which then catches our suppliers off guard when the needs arrive, we work very closely with our suppliers to lessen some of those lead times and also do much better forecasting. That has helped us a lot. We’re using lean methodology in our Rapid system to achieve success rates in the high 97 to 98 percentile of fill rates. That’s unprecedented.
What have you done specifically to make sure the Hawker 4000’s entry into service goes smoothly?
We’re doing a lot of things. We’ve had successes from aircraft introductions in the past that we can look back at and ask what went right and what went wrong. I’ve even met with some of my counterparts in the industry and asked what they think they missed during their launches. We’ve compiled all that into a list of opportunities that we’ve assigned people to take action on. It’s as simple as making sure we have all the parts in the right places, but we’re also making sure, at least in the initial introduction, that we’re going to have a team that can respond very quickly if we have an aircraft with a situation that we didn’t foresee. We’ve also provided our tech reps with additional training and we’re positioning them close to, if not with, aircraft on the initial launch so that our customers see us out there learning anything we can about the aircraft and making sure it’s a flawless execution of a new aircraft introduction. We’ll have one tech rep per aircraft on the first seven Hawker 4000 deliveries. We’re making sure that if an issue arises we can deal with it. We’re going to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Is it unusual to have this level of support rolled out in the field for the introduction of a new airplane?
In the past, a lot of the aircraft flew mostly domestically and we were able to handle situations much more easily. A lot of the Hawker 4000s are international. We want to make sure we support them the same way we do domestically, so this is probably what would be considered normal for where the aircraft are going.
Is there a difference between the support a Hawker owner could expect to receive with what a Beechjet owner would receive?
No. It’s the same level of service regardless of the type of aircraft. Our service centers have a playbook they use that doesn’t differentiate between the brands.