Aircraft manufacturers are tackling the challenges of providing after-sale support for their aircraft like never before, with stepped up efforts in areas ranging from improved parts distribution and pricing to the addition of factory-owned service centers and authorized independent facilities. Two long-range business jet manufacturers, Gulfstream and Dassault, are at the forefront of efforts to improve support on a global scale.
The unprecedented growth in recent years of the number of business aircraft shipped outside the U.S. has created the need for additional service capability in areas where general aviation is a weak sibling of the commercial airline industry. Business jet manufacturers are well aware of this need and are expending great efforts to build maintenance infrastructure in burgeoning locales in the Middle East, India and China.
“We’re continuing to expand our authorized partnerships around the world,” said Mark Burns, Gulfstream president for product support. Gulfstream has added Jet Aviation in Moscow as a service center and this year inked agreements for maintenance support in India, Australia and South Africa. Gulfstream also continues to explore new partnerships in Brazil and Europe, he said.
At Gulfstream’s Savannah, Ga. headquarters, the company has hired about 550 new technicians in its service center network during the past two years, half of whom are based there. The first phase of an expansion of the Savannah service center is open and construction began on the second phase last month. New hangars were also recently added at Gulfstream sister company General Dynamics Aviation Services locations in Las Vegas and Dallas. “We’re well prepared for future growth,” said Burns.
At its London Luton company-owned service center–Gulfstream’s only owned facility outside the U.S.–growth continues with the facility doubling in size during its first five years in operation. Last year, Luton saw 1,300 maintenance visits.
For Gulfstream, managing the needs of customers flying a growing fleet means offering Gulfstream-flavored service whether the customer goes to a factory-owned or independent service center. “We want to make sure when the customer shows up, it feels like a Gulfstream experience,” Burns said. “We’ve spent a lot of time helping [independent centers] get to the caliber of service that our customers expect.” This includes making sure parts are available quickly at depots around the world and helping customers interact with Gulfstream via a single phone call to the OEM’s call center, whether they end up at a Gulfstream or independent facility.
Dassault Falcon’s product support organization has undergone many changes as well. Jacques Chauvet is now the company’s senior vice president for worldwide customer service, while former senior vice president for customer support Gerry Goguen is now in charge of overseeing global customer relations and business strategy. The company has chosen two vice presidents to head the customer-service efforts in their respective territories. Frank Youngkin, based in Teterboro, N.J., covers the Western Hemisphere, and Pierre Thielin, based in Saint-Cloud, France, is responsible for the Eastern Hemisphere. The latter also works as a liaison with Dassault engineering.
The strengthened customer support organization is designed to improve communication between the Teterboro and Saint-Cloud teams, Chauvet explained.
The goal is to harmonize procedures and use the best features of the two cultures to serve customers worldwide. The link to engineering is an effort to place customer concerns in the heart of the Dassault engineering organization, he said, so that optimum solutions can be offered to Falcon operators.
One trend Chauvet said he has noticed in the Falcon community is that many new buyers who have never operated a business jet don’t have the necessary support infrastructure. Dassault and other business jet manufacturers are helping buyers, especially in countries where there is little in the way of general aviation services. “We have to be ready in case we need to provide an answer for the customer,” he said.
At Saint-Cloud, Dassault has developed a new communications system linked to Teterboro and to Dassault’s other technical call center in Boise, Idaho. “These three centers are working closely to provide assistance worldwide 24/7,” Chauvet said.
For more serious problems like structural repairs, a worldwide repair team is available 24/7 to provide technical assistance. Team members are based at Dassault’s Bordeaux, France facility and at the company’s Wilmington, Del. repair center, where tools and experienced technicians are available for major structural repairs.
A new effort by Dassault involves downloading maintenance data from aircraft computers to analyze failures more quickly. Dassault is testing in Europe data transfer mechanisms over the Internet, including tapping directly into the jet’s maintenance computer while on the ground. This offers Dassault support technicians the opportunity to learn far more about what might be wrong with an airplane than is available to pilots.
Gulfstream has also developed the ability to download maintenance data, but it is doing so from airborne Gulfstreams, using the company’s new PlaneConnect system.
Earlier, Dassault Falcon announced its Reliability Plus effort to improve dispatch reliability by tapping into a variety of information sources to prevent problems that cause dispatch delays. Dassault takes information from Falcon’s integrated maintenance network, top-20 removal items, MMEL (master minimum equipment list)-affected items, service bulletins and advisories and parts catalog changes, and makes it available through the company’s computer-aided troubleshooting system, which is updated regularly and available to Falcon operators and maintainers. “Like all OEMs, we have numerous documents related to attaining maximum reliability for our aircraft,” said Goguen. “While Falcons have the reputation for being extremely reliable aircraft, Reliability Plus will further enhance dispatch rates by gathering actionable reliability information and providing it to our operators in a useful format.”
With little maintenance infrastructure in Asia, said Chauvet, Dassault Falcon is adding authorized regional repair centers and spares depots in many new locations.
Spares sites will include Russia, India, Turkey, South America, the Middle East and West Coast U.S., he said. New service centers include Bhakari Aviation and Execujet South Africa at Lanseria International Airport and Palmali at Ataturk Airport in Turkey. In August, Dassault Falcon announced plans for its fourth factory-owned service center, to be located in São Paulo, Brazil. Dassault Falcon currently has three factory-owned and 30 authorized service centers.