Dassault Aviation’s maintenance and operations (M&O) seminar held here in Geneva on April 1 was a prime opportunity for the Falcon business jet manufacturer to highlight customer support initiatives that it has taken in an effort to keep up with its North American competitors. This year, the French airframer will hold 14 regional seminars around the world, featuring a morning of presentations and one-on-one meetings with operators in the afternoon.
“We have a variety of attendees, from flight department managers to technicians,” Pierre Thiélin, Falcon customer service v-p, explained to AIN at the event last month. Participants can request certificates of attendance to serve as credits for recurrent maintenance training.
The afternoon meetings provide venues for operators to discuss solutions to the problems they have encountered. “Usually these issues arise before the meetings, as our customer support managers have weekly contacts with each customer,” Thiélin said, but sometimes Dassault’s support people have to deal with unexpected complaints.
The company uses several surveys to assess its performance. AIN’s annual maintenance and support survey, which differentiates “newer” and “older” business jets [less than or more than 10 years old], for example, has made Dassault aware that it should take better care of the “older” models, Thiélin said.
One of its priorities for 2010-2011 is to implement the recommendations received from the Falcon Operators Advisory Board (OAB), he said. Among them is one that calls for improvements to aircraft-on-ground response. The Falcon OAB involves “more than 100 operators” in 10 working groups (see box). It has issued 14 major recommendations that have been or are being implemented.
Another focus of the OAB working group, for example, is the aircraft delivery process. Dassault is creating a new Web tool to improve its relationship with the customer, between order and delivery. “Customers want better guidance on what to do between order and delivery. They have a lot of choices to make. They need to understand, for example, how the weight of the cabin interior they choose will impact performance,” Thiélin explained.
Participants also discussed a problem related to the Falcon 7X, Dassault’s newest product, namely, the correction of “teething problems” that is facilitated with successive “loads” of software. The main problem, according to operators, is the number of false alarms experienced in the aircraft’s starting phase. “In built-in tests, design engineers have set some parameters very conservatively, hence the number of false alarms,” Thiélin explained. This problem also has occurred on the new Airbus A380 ultra-large airliner, he mentioned.
Practical Maintenance Training
At the M&O seminar, a discussion of training centered on Dassault’s recently created practical program for maintenance technicians. As Eloi Dufour, director of the service center network, explained, “There were too few Falcon 7Xs in the field [to provide] maintenance trainees [opportunities for] hands-on training.” Therefore, the company has organized such training for Eastern Hemisphere customers on green aircraft at its Bordeaux and Istres facilities.
It has received “excellent feedback,” Dufour reported, because each trainee practices each maintenance job. As a result, the company plans to extend the program to the Western Hemisphere and to include the Falcon 2000 and 900 series.
Further to the subject of training–that of hardware availability–Gérard Dailloux, vice president of Falcon operational support, said last year “was not a good year to invest in simulators.” He explained that Dassault wants to ensure its customers have enough representative simulators available, featuring all variant options. He noted, for example, that EASy II simulator flight decks are needed to reflect the latest standard of Dassault’s integrated avionics.
The OEM has postponed release of the EASy II flight deck, an upgrade of the current EASy integrated man-machine interface, because it wants it to be “more mature” at entry into service. “Two additional flight-test programs will take place this year on a Falcon 900EX,” Thiélin said. Therefore, new Falcon 900EXs will be delivered with EASy II from late this year. As for retrofit, service bulletins are scheduled to be released in the second quarter of 2011. Service bulletins for the Falcon 7X and the Falcon 2000 series are scheduled for late 2012.
EASy II includes synthetic vision, ADS-B-out capability, Honeywell’s Runway Awareness and Advisory System, the ability to fly WAAS LPV approaches and cockpit-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC). One year ago, Dassault had hoped EASy II would be certified late in 2009 on the Falcon 900EX, and it expected approval on the 7X and the 2000 series by the end of 2010.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is to mandate CPDLC for all aircraft over FL285 for all in-service aircraft from 2015. “We are working on a solution for non-EASy II Falcons,” explained Stéphanie Cimino, operational certification manager.
Dassault now is also working with the EASA on operational suitability certificates. This is a requirement instituted after EASA realized it has “done everything it could about airworthiness,” as Dailloux put it. Therefore, the agency now is studying minimum syllabuses for pilots and maintenance technicians and a master minimum equipment list (MMEL). It also is looking at simulator representation.
To shorten the time it takes to solve urgent problems, Dassault is endeavoring to plan ahead. The company is encouraging Falcon operators to let customer support know their needs before they go on a trip because it will allow local representatives to arrange ground support, Customs clearance and generally be in a better position to assist them. “We begin with greeting the crew upon arrival. Sometimes passengers with technical background are happy to talk to us as well,” Thiélin said. Dassault insists the service is confidential and secure.
Another problem discussed was corrosion, long a concern for operators who fly in corrosive environments–from an airport by the sea, for example. Dassault is designing a new tool to better evaluate exposure to corrosion. It includes sensors on the aircraft that continuously monitor parameters such as humidity and temperature. After data analysis, maintenance will be performed at the onset of corrosion and measures taken may be as simple as applying a preventive spray. It has completed laboratory testing and “in-flight evaluation is in progress,” service engineer Emmanuel Winer told AIN. This evaluation tool will be available for all Falcon models in 2014.
Cost of Spares
Like other business jet manufacturers, Dassault faces customer complaints about the costs of spare parts, so it is trying to make its spare parts better value for money. For example, Jean Kayanakis, vice president of Falcon worldwide spares, promised slow-moving parts will receive the same level of service as those that move fast. Dassault continues to produce more than 300 old part numbers every year for older aircraft.
Also, she said, when customers return a part they can get free shipping if they act quickly. Kayanakis’ team, which has offered a high-volume discount program in the last few years, now plans to offer “a more inclusive and complete program” that will result in discounts for “a large number” of customers.
According to both Dassault Falcon CEO John Rosanvallon and Thiélin, Dassault has not slowed down its investment in customer service, despite the economy. For example, $650 million worth of spare parts are now available from 11 locations.
But how can such major efforts in customer support be funded in these tough times? “Some revenues come from spare parts sales,” said Thiélin. Another source is aircraft sales, as is selling services such as FalconCare. In the future, he said, FalconCare may be offered on in-service Falcons in addition to those newly delivered, “but the profit margin is thin,” he conceded.
Selling technical documents for aircraft is said to be a loss-making business. “Our customers tell us they are expensive but publication pricing does not recoup document design,” Thiélin said.
Guillaume Landrivon, director for customer relations and field service, disclosed some statistics about the manufacturer’s maintenance and support operations. Last year, Dassault’s customer support department received 22,000 requests, via phone or e-mail. Half of them were deemed “easy to answer”; the other half required technical skills.
Falcon Operator Advisory Board Lends an Ear
Dassault’s Operators Advisory Board (OAB) brings Falcon operators together with customer service representatives. According to Dassault, “The OAB meets twice a year to discuss high-level service issues such as, but not limited to, aircraft operating costs and the quality of Falcon customer service. OAB member input ensures that Dassault’s product support efforts–both current and proposed–are concentrated in the areas most important to operators. OAB members are appointed to represent different geographical regions and a balanced range of Falcon models and operating environments. Members must be currently operating Falcon aircraft as either a chief pilot, chief of maintenance or director of aviation.”
The OAB is comprised of 20 permanent members and representatives from 100 companies but currently, said Falcon customer service vice president Pierre Thiélin, there is no Asian member. This gap will be bridged one day, he said, when the benefits offset difficulties such as arranging conference calls that would be challenging because of time zone differences. “We are waiting until we have more customers in the region,” Thiélin said.
Under the current process, Dassault selects candidates for the board and the OAB votes to elect one member. However, to be as diplomatic as possible, Dassault tries to have board members co-opted, rather than elected.
Falcon 2000EX/LX One Step Closer To LCY
Falcon 2000EX EASy and 2000LX operators will be offered a service bulletin for reduced landing distance by the fourth quarter of this year. The improved landing performance hinges on a “nose-up auto brake” system that would cause braking to start automatically as soon as the main landing gear has hit the runway. The result is a shortened landing distance now compatible with London City Airport’s difficult steep approach and short-field requirements.