The new U.S. headquarters of international trip support group United Aviation Services (UAS) in Houston is now fully operational and has handled several hundred trip requests since its soft-launch opening on August 26. The office has a staff of 40 people, more than 20 of whom are in the operations department, which operates on a 24/7 basis like the UAS global headquarters in Dubai, arranging services such as fuel, flight permits and ground handling.
Over the past year or so, UAS has embarked on a fast-track expansion. Which is likely to result in the opening of more new bases in the next 12 months. The privately owned company, which was founded in 2000, has made significant investments in recruiting and training staff based in 37 locations around the world. It has 37 different nationalities among its 350 personnel, and between them they speak 40 languages.
According to Jay Husary, UAS’s senior director of operations and sales, the Houston office gives its service a more local feel for its established client base in North America, and also gives UAS closer access to clients in Latin America. The new office is managed by experienced international flight planning executive Ryan Frankhouser, who was formerly with Arinc Direct and will report directly to Husary.
Trip Management System
Here at the NBAA show, UAS (Booth No. C8518) is demonstrating its new Trip Management System (TMS), which now serves as a portal for customers as well as for the company’s own operations team. The software, which was developed in-house, allows users (mainly pilots and flight schedulers) to track every aspect of a trip in real-time. When another new version is rolled out in March 2014 it will have a billing function that allows clients to make payments and check invoices, as well as serving as a tool for UAS to provide service quotes.
To develop TMS, UAS approached almost 40 customers and asked them to specify the features they would like to see in it. This resulted in a Beta version of the software, which was then given to a separate group of pilots and flight department personnel for evaluation. According to Husary, the feedback has been very positive. “They said it is comprehensive, simple and user friendly,” he told AIN. “It’s like having an operations department in your smart phone.” He said that UAS will be rolling out more new technology in the coming year.
All aspects of a trip are updated immediately in TMS and the users can manage aspects of their current trip or go back as far as 10 years to check details from previous trips. Every user has a unique ID and password to ensure secure access to the system, which can be used on a tablet device or smart phone. It provides live updates on events in much the same way as Apple does on the iPhone.
“We are redefining the concept of customer service [in flight support],” Husary told AIN. “I know that many companies make such a claim. For us it means that UAS is not just a service provider, we are an extension of the customer’s own flight department and we get to know their most critical needs. We believe customer service is possible only if you are prepared and know your customer ahead of time. It’s about being proactive, not reactive.”
A prime example of this approach involved a flight for a customer into an African airport that had no airstair. UAS informed the client that no stairs were available, and after he opted instead to use a better-equipped airport further away, it trucked a set of stairs from 100 miles away to accommodate the flight. “We have seen it quite often in the industry where clients are left to deal with issues like this on their own on arrival,” said Husary. “We believe that it is our responsibility to handle problems for the client because we want to be known for service that goes beyond the ordinary.”
Trained Agents on Site
In places where there is a lack of infrastructure the company’s goal is to at least ensure that there is a trained ground-handling agent on site to make the best of the limited resources. This is a fairly common challenge for UAS because it supports clients in all the major emerging business aviation markets, such as Africa, Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
“Turkmenistan is a good example of this,” said Husary. “There is very little infrastructure there but we have ensured that our people on the ground know what to do to compensate for this. We invest in training people to deliver the maximum level of service. We believe in proactive readiness. This means analyzing trends from previous trips to the same places and making preventive plans so that we are well-positioned to handle even the most unique challenges.”
UAS’s approach to recruiting staff is to find people with aviation experience, but who also demonstrate a willingness to adopt its “customer-first attitude.” Husary said the company spends as much time training recruits in its customer service philosophy as it does in training for operational procedures and technical aspects of the job.
One of the most recent additions to its network is at Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. It took more than a year of preparation to establish this operation, but Husary insisted that, “We won’t start a project with a UAS tag on it without ensuring that we can do things to the same standard.
“With the U.S. economy recovering and sustained economic growth across Latin America, especially Brazil and Mexico, customers are flying more and we are seeing an increased demand for our services,” commented Husary. “While the level of service we provide from Dubai is outstanding, we believe this new office [in Houston] will greatly improve the customer service and quality we can provide through local coordination to our clients in this region.”