NBAA Convention News

Gulfstream tops again in annual AIN Product Support Survey

 - September 20, 2007, 7:36 AM

Although business aircraft manufacturers talk at length about the effort they’ll make to satisfy a customer, ask a chief pilot or director of maintenance about the service they are receiving–and the service they feel they should be getting–and the answer is likely to be emphatic and passionate. Ask a large segment of the industry what it thinks, and you have Aviation International News’ annual Product Support Survey–the customers’ true-to-life responses to the service levels they have received from OEMs over the past 12 months.

Others have tried, but Gulfstream cannot seem to be shoved off its pedestal at the top of service pyramid. This year marked the fifth in a row that the Savannah, Ga.-based manufacturer took the top spot for both newer business jets (with “newer” defined as less than 10 years old) and older business jets. On a scale of 1 to 10, newer jet operators gave the OEM an overall score of 8.16, while operators of older Gulfstreams rated the company at 8.19.

Boeing retained second place among newer business jet operators for the second year, an accomplishment that’s not entirely surprising given the worldwide support available to the 737. The OEM won three of nine categories–cost of parts, technical manuals and overall aircraft reliability. Winning is a relative term when it comes to cost of parts, however. Though a score of 6.76 was good enough to take first place in the category, it was by far the weakest area of service among all operators, whether jet, turboprop or rotorcraft.

Cessna suffered a slight drop to fourth place among newer jet operators this year, but older Citations dislodged General Dynamics Aviation Services (GDAS) for second place. The stumble to fourth in the newer category may be particularly painful for the Wichita manufacturer, as it relinquished the spot to cross-town rival Hawker Beechcraft (specifically the Beechjet and Premier I), which earned the biggest improvement over last year’s score in the entire survey. Though a second place in the parts availability category certainly helped raise its score, Cessna’s dismal seventh place in the technical rep category hurt. Operators of older Citations awarded the manufacturer more consistent ratings to notch it up to second, minus the overall aircraft reliability category, where it scored fourth.

Newer Beechjet and Premier operators said they were happy with Hawker Beechcraft’s efforts in the factory service center and warranty fulfillment categories, where the manufacturer placed second. But where Hawker Beechcraft really shined this year was its AOG response. The company’s second place behind only Gulfstream–which is legendary for its AOG response–is a vast improvement over last year’s fourth place in the category. Operators of older Beechjets rated the manufacturer a respectable fifth, with the company’s eighth-place authorized service center ranking proving the most obvious impediment to advancement.

Hawker operators weren’t quite as happy with the OEM’s service. The company did retain sixth place among newer jets, and there was solid improvement in the authorized service center, parts availability and warranty fulfillment categories. Older Hawker operators saw fit to decrease the company’s rating in technical manuals, technical reps and overall aircraft reliability.

Dassault Falcon dropped to fifth place thanks to Hawker Beechcraft’s surge in the newer business jet category, but the manufacturer held strong at fourth in the older business jet category. Operators rated Dassault stronger this year in parts availability and cost of parts in the newer aircraft category, while operators of older Falcons gave the manufacturer high marks in aircraft reliability, helping retain fourth place. The comments reflected dissatisfaction among operators of older Falcons for the factory service center, which is confirmed in a decrease in the category for this year’s survey.

Embraer continued its upward trend again this year, moving up one place to seventh and overtaking Bombardier in the process. The manufacturer shined in the cost of parts category with a third place finish, and AOG response also greatly improved to put it in sixth place. The real story for Embraer, however, lies with the company’s service centers. Clearly more needs to be done to satisfy clients who don’t operate from South America, as the manufacturer scored last in both the authorized and factory service center categories. Embraer is likely banking on its service centers currently under construction to help raise that score and gain favor among operators.

In last place again this year for newer business jets is Bombardier. Thanks to Embraer’s charge, the Canadian manufacturer holds the last three spots with its Challenger, Global Express and Learjet lines, in that order. For older business jets, the company had mixed ratings–sixth for the Challengers and a dismal last place for the Learjets. The biggest jump for the newer Challengers was technical manuals and overall aircraft reliability. Operators of newer Learjets are still reporting service problems in a number of categories. Learjet saw the smallest overall increase from last year and it actually fell in two categories–factory service center and technical manuals. The only category that saw any real improvement was warranty fulfillment.

Bombardier continues to struggle to support the older Learjets and Challengers. Though the Challenger did gain one place, to sixth this year among older business jets, the increase was mainly due to the fall of the Learjets, which had the distinction of being the only fixed-wing manufacturer to have an overall decrease from last year, despite the change in the rating scale from one-to-nine to one-to-10.
Challenger operators gave Bombardier better marks for warranty fulfillment and authorized service centers. Learjet operators weren’t as happy, however. Operators rated Bombardier worse than last year in seven of the nine categories for Learjet support.

A surprise for the older business jet category, Sabreliner, increased more than 11 percent and jumped from ninth last year to seventh. Operators gave improved marks for the factory and authorized centers. Cost of parts was also better this year.
For the first time ever, Socata is included in the survey, debuting in a very close second place. Operators rated the TBM manufacturer highest in seven of the nine categories. If it weren’t for the major blow delivered by the cost of parts category, the manufacturer would have likely landed in first place. Socata’s score in the category was the lowest single score in the entire survey.

Pilatus retained the top spot for newer turboprops, though King Air operators did close the gap on the Swiss manufacturer. On a positive note, Pilatus operators gave the company a large increase for the factory service center category. Parts availability hurt the Pilatus’ overall rating, as it decreased more than a third of a point over last year’s number.

Hawker Beechcraft generally earned good marks from King Air operators, though the OEM remained behind Pilatus in newer turboprops. Operators rated the factory service center as the best overall improved from last year. Cost of parts obviously remains a concern though, as the score decreased from last year’s number.

Twin Commander remained in second place among older turboprops. Though
operators were happy with the manufacturer’s authorized service centers, and cost of parts, there was a reduction in three of the nine categories.

Bringing up the rear again this year is Cessna, with the Conquest, and Piper, with the Cheyenne. Piper gained ground this year and operators rated the manufacturer higher in every category (mainly thanks to the scale increase).

Conquest operators, on the other hand, felt Cessna did a worse job this year with the factory service center and warranty fulfillment. Mitsubishi operators did not provide enough responses this year to be included in the survey.

With the exception of Bell and Eurocopter, rotorcraft manufacturers should take note: operators are not happy. Despite a scale that tops out higher this year, three of the five OEMs’ overall scores decreased from last year.

Bell retained the top spot for the second year in a row with solid overall marks.
The manufacturer was tops in seven of the nine categories.

Survey newcomer MD Helicopters grabbed the second spot from Sikorsky, mainly due to top ratings in the authorized service center and cost of parts categories. Sikorsky was the first of the rotorcraft manufacturers to see decreased overall marks. In all, operators rated the manufacturer worse this year in six of the nine categories.
Eurocopter retained fourth spot this year, thanks in part to a sizable increase in the authorized service center category.

Agusta and Aerospatiale placed fifth and sixth, respectively. Between the two, operators decreased ratings for 14 categories (six for Agusta and eight for Aerospatiale).   

How the Survey Was Administered

This marks the second year the AIN Product Support Survey was administered electronically. Again, it has been a success, primarily because the easier-to-complete electronic format produces more results–the goal of every survey.

In all, more than 14,000 subscribers were contacted and asked to complete a survey, and approximately 1,450 returned, via mail, fax or the Web site, a completed survey. Roughly an additional 150 rated something–an aircraft, an engine or avionics–without finishing the survey. This equates to a better than 10-percent response rate, an increase from last year’s high. In the statistician’s world, a 10-percent response to a survey is regarded as remarkable.

The survey, devised by AIN’s editors, was designed and administered again this year by Newtown, Conn.-based Forecast International, a veteran leader in aerospace market data. While the bulk of the survey was similar to last year’s, there were a few major changes this year. The rating scale was expanded from one-to-nine to one-to- 10. The primary purpose of the change was to align the scale with AIN’s FBO survey.

To aid in understanding the percentage change, it’s important to note that ratings for support of newer business jets increased an average of 8.31 percent, while older business jets increased 5.58 percent on average. Newer turboprops increased an average of 4.20 percent, and older turboprops increased an average of 6.07 percent. Finally, rotorcraft ratings actually decreased an average of 1.53 percent.