Gulfstream Aerospace’s substantial investment in establishing China’s first factory-owned service center for business aircraft appears to be paying off as the U.S. airframer prepares to add support capability for its latest G650 and G280 models later this year. The facility, which opened at Beijing Capital International Airport in December 2012, supports more than 130 Gulfstream jets now based in Greater China (out of a total Asia Pacific fleet of around 234 aircraft) as well as growing numbers of visiting aircraft.
The U.S. airframer delivered its first aircraft into Greater China in 2003 and over the past five years the number of Gulfstream aircraft based there has increased fourfold. The service center, which is a joint venture with Hainan Airlines Group subsidiaries Hainan Aviation Technik and Beijing Capital Airlines, now employs 42 people. That number is expected to reach 100 in the next few years, and to include a higher proportion of Chinese nationals.
The process of getting a complex technical operation established in China was far from straightforward but, according to Gulfstream product support president Mark Burns, the company has succeeded by taking the time to carefully respond to the requirements of local regulators and by making a big investment in training personnel.
“In fact, it has gone very smoothly from a technical point of view, and training and mentorship have played key roles,” Burns told AIN. “We have conducted surveys and have had very good comments from Western customers and positive feedback on our [Beijing] technicians. They haven’t seen any drop in service levels [compared with Gulfstream service centers in other parts of the world]. This is important because customers didn’t want this to be an inferior product. They expect consistency in the support we provide.”
Gulfstream Beijing has been under the leadership of general manager Kay Ardalan since the project was in the development stage. The operation started with seven experienced Gulfstream technicians, including several with more than 20 years of experience. This team has recruited and trained Chinese nationals and Burns said the company has been very impressed with the caliber of these local recruits.
Initially, the facility was approved to work on the G450 and G550 models. In recent months, Gulfstream has seen growing numbers of long-range G650s visiting China and it will soon be applying for Chinese approval to support this type in Beijing. There is also a growing need to support the super-midsized G280, so the approval process for this aircraft will also begin later this year.
“It’s not really harder to set up a service center in China, there are just a few more gates to walk through,” added Burns. “You really need a business partner in the country to make sure you don’t make any mistakes.”
One challenge is the process for importing aircraft parts into China. “The importation laws for materials are very different [in China] compared with the West. It’s far more restrictive,” said Burns. Nonetheless, the Beijing service center benefits from having its own spares warehouse and more extensive stocks are available in Gulfstream’s main regional parts store in Hong Kong, which has just been doubled in size and now carries around 50 million parts. It also has a spares warehouse in Singapore. Over the next few years, the company will expand its spares inventory in Beijing.
Typically, aircraft are generally at the Beijing service center for between 7 and 10 days and its staff usually work on three to four aircraft each day. As staffing increases, the company expects the team to be ready to work on six to eight aircraft each day.
Gulfstream’s Hong Kong team is establishing a more comprehensive Asian support office with dedicated technical personnel available to help operators trouble-shoot issues, and maintenance planning and flight operations staff to support new customers. The company also is adding field-service representatives in China, including one stationed here in Shanghai. Meanwhile, the G450 and G550 simulators installed at Flight Safety International’s Hong Kong training center are getting busier as pilot numbers for these types increase in this part of the world.