Cessna expands European support chain
Cessna’s efforts to boost its customer and product support infrastructure in Europe go beyond bricks and mortar. As EBACE opens, the first steel structures are under construction at the site of its new factory-owned service center at Valencia, Spain. But, at least as importantly, the U.S. airframer is putting the human foundations in place with an extensive training and preparation process for the people who will be at the forefront of support for the fast-growing Citation fleet on this side of the Atlantic.
Last year, with Valencia still a construction site, Cessna hired an initial group of 17 technicians and next month they are set to graduate after six months of ground school with FlightSafety International where they have become fully versed in supporting all Citation models. Next, the group–composed of a mix of Spaniards, Danes, Germans, British and one American–will be assigned to various Cessna U.S. service centers to get a full year of hands-on experience in supporting Citation operators.
Cessna’s goal is that by the time the Valencia facility opens next year, it will be implanting a fully plug-and-play support team into the new building. By then, the company’s investment there will have topped $30 million, according to Brad Thress, Cessna’s senior vice president for customer support.
Some 1,300 Citations are operating in Europe now, with the fleet having increased considerably during the boom years of 2004-2008. This prompted Cessna to make a big commitment to improving the availability of parts and service on the continent. Consequently, it didn’t pull back on these plans when the downturn struck later in 2008 because it wanted its support infrastructure in Europe to catch up with what is available to customers in the U.S.
Another facet of its European support network is a new line-maintenance facility in the Czech capital Prague. This is part of a new support complex established by Cessna’s Textron group sister company Bell Helicopters after it acquired a local FBO at Prague Ruzyne International Airport. The 32,000-sq-ft Cessna facility received maintenance approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency in February.
Mobile Support Units
Following its support practices in North America, Cessna also is introducing mobile support units (MSU) to Europe. These consist of a truck carrying tools and a stock of spares, driven by trained mechanics.
The first European MSU is based at Lyon, France, and is largely being used to support operators in southern France, Switzerland, northern Italy and northern Spain. It operates under the auspices of Cessna’s long-established service center at Paris Le Bourget Airport.
Cessna also now is planning to add a second MSU to widen its service reach in central Europe; it would be attached to the new Prague facility. The MSUs can be used to respond to both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance events and are dispatched by a scheduler based at the service center to which they are assigned.
Meanwhile, maintenance at Le Bourget is about to be available around the clock with the implementation of a plan to take the Paris operation 24/7. According to Thress, the change has been far from straightforward or inexpensive in France, where labor laws are anything but flexible. But the move will greatly improve the flow of support work to the extent that, with good planning, a three-day maintenance event can be turned around in a day.
In addition to Cessna’s factory-owned service centers, Citation operators can also turn for help to a network of 13 authorized service centers throughout Europe. This year, working with Austria-based Citation operator JetAlliance, Cessna has established another line-maintenance outpost in the Russian capital Moscow.
On the parts distribution front, Cessna has again teamed with sibling Bell to open a warehouse at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, from where spares can be quickly dispatched throughout Europe and further afield to new markets to the east and south. The new facility opened earlier this year with an initial 1,600 line items, an inventory set to grow to more than 3,000. “We started out viewing this simply as an AOG outlet but it has become more, so we are moving to a full inventory,” explained Thress. “We are investing in the future across the board. The harder we work in the downturn, the better position we will be in for the upturn.”