Dassault is pressing ahead with the expansion of its service center network for Falcon business jets despite the severe downturn that business aviation is enduring. According to the French airframer, enough new aircraft deliveries are planned over the coming months and years to justify the addition of several centers, either factory-owned or -authorized, according to Dassault’s customer support senior executives. Another factor is that the company wants to be ready for the next upturn.
More Falcons flying from more bases has created a need for more skilled maintenance technicians all over the world. For the most part, it is unscheduled maintenance that is needed, said Jacques Chauvet, senior vice president for worldwide customer service.
Much of the demand to increase support infrastructure has come from emerging markets, some of which, notably Russia and Brazil, have become major new Falcon customer bases. In total, there are now five Dassault-owned centers (DAS, standing for Dassault Aircraft Services) and 28 authorized service centers (ASCs).
“It would have been unrealistic to want, at every service center, full capabilities from line maintenance to major overhauls,” said Chauvet. The first level is a line maintenance service center, which can perform quick (up to one week turnaround time) repairs like airframe and engine troubleshooting. It is dedicated to operations that are aimed at releasing the aircraft back into service as swiftly as possible. It also can perform scheduled inspections up to 2A+ checks.
A major service center adds capabilities such as inspections up to B checks. It also may maintain engines and APUs according to OEM authorization. Those repairs can take as long as two to three weeks.
Finally, heavy service centers may perform inspections up to C checks. They are approved to carry out major repairs, modifications, paint, refurbishing and upgrades.
Dassault estimates at 15 to 20 percent the proportion of Falcons that are maintained outside the network of factory- owned and -authorized service centers. For example, a number of out-of-production models (such as Falcon 10s and 20s) are still flying in the U.S. and their operators often have full-fledged flight departments to maintain them or work with nonfactory-authorized maintenance shops.
This year, agreements are anticipated for local partners to become new ASCs in a number of countries. In Western Europe, these include Switzerland and Austria. “In the latter country, we have few aircraft based but a lot of traffic, so we are setting up a light maintenance base,” Eloi Dufour, director of the ASC network, explained to EBACE Convention News. In Moscow, an ASC is being created as well, although subsidiary Dassault Falcon Service already has two technicians for line maintenance there.
In Mumbai, India, a Falcon operator is to become an ASC. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabian Airlines–a government Falcon 900 operator–is to be added to the network. ASCs are to open this year in Tel Aviv, Israel and Turkey.
At Reno/Tahoe International Airport in Nevada, Dassault in April opened a DAS facility with 12 employees. “We are starting with a line maintenance capacity but expect the site to grow,” Chauvet said. Plans call for the nearly 40,000-sq-ft facility to be staffed eventually by more than 40 Dassault Falcon personnel. The company has invested $1.3 million in tools and ground support equipment.
In Brazil, Dassault is creating its newest factory-owned center, DFJ do Brazil, set to open in June at São Paulo’s Sorocaba Airport. The current partnership with Morro Vermelho Táxi Aéreo in São Paulo is being terminated.
In Asia, Hawker Pacific is going to add two facilities–one in Shanghai, China, and one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They will specialize in different models. Hawker Pacific already has ASCs in Singapore and Sydney, Australia.
ASCs also are bases for go-teams, which travel to the place where an aircraft is stuck to repair it on-site with the needed tools and parts. Sorocaba, 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. He added that local partners now are evaluated even more thoroughly for financial solidity.
A number of service centers will add 7X capability this year, including some in China, Russia and the Middle East. Since January, two–in South Africa and Finland– have added this capability already. There were 33 Falcon 7Xs in service as of late April. “In Europe, EASA regulations call for heavier training, with on-the-job sessions,” Chauvet noted.
Dassault has three-year contracts with its ASCs, and the level of activity is measured every year. This was one reason Chauvet cited for having basically no statistic on how much the economic turmoil is affecting the Falcon maintenance business. Frank Youngkin, western hemisphere vice president for Falcon customer service, has seen the activity in his sector down by 30 percent year-over-year. In addition, customers have been making service requests with much shorter notice.
At ASCs, performance is also measured through customer feedback surveys. Each ASC has a customer service manager responsible for day-to-day relationships with the manufacturer. Regular audits are conducted by Dufour’s team. In turn, the Dufour organization is audited by Dassault’s directorate general for total quality.
An ASC is required to have two airframe/engine and two avionics technicians per aircraft type. In addition, Dassault works with ASCs to ensure they maintain the required technical skills, facilities and insurance coverage. The manufacturer also ensures that ASCs maintain their airworthiness authority approvals. “Although EASA and FAA approvals account for 80 percent of the needs, a Bermuda-registered aircraft needs the service center to hold a Bermuda approval,” Dufour noted.
Dassault is increasing the number of its spare parts distribution centers. The group’s spares parts inventory worldwide has climbed from $400 million in 2005 to a planned $650 million late this year.
The company also has added nine distribution centers to the two already existing. Another two–in Russia and Turkey–are to bring the total to 13 in the near future. “The idea is to get closer to where the aircraft are so we can avoid delays encountered with Customs,” Chauvet explained.