A helicopter operating in the North Sea suffers a lightning strike which damages a critical part, forcing the pilots to take refuge on an oil platform, blocking the only landing pad from other movements. Within seconds of the engines shutting down, staff at AgustaWestland’s logistics center at Lonate Pozzolo near Milan are aware of the problem and a response plan is swinging into action. Technicians assess the extent of the damage and dispatch a replacement part within a few hours so that the aircraft can return to base. On large screens in a command center reminiscent of NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, support staff can monitor and share email traffic on incidents, as well as track an aircraft’s exact location and view photographs of problems.
The new facility went live in mid-2010 as part of AgustaWestland’s drive to be more involved in its customers’ lives. By the end of 2011, the manufacturer was supporting some 3,500 helicopters around the world. The major investment in support infrastructure was justified by the projection that this fleet could increase by 22 percent by 2016 and will then rise at an even faster rate beyond then.
Beneath the impressive command center, a vast warehouse stocks parts that can be quickly dispatched worldwide. AgustaWestland has developed software to trace the use of high-consumption items in great detail to assist in product development.
“Operators now want a dispatch reliability rate of at least 95 percent, almost up to the standard of [fixed-wing] airlines,” said Corrado Martinelli, who runs AgustaWestland’s Customer Support & Service division. By the end of last year, the average time for closing out a customer service request was 27 hours. Before the new center opened, it stood at around 48 hours.
Also new in AgustaWestland’s customer support armory is an advanced anomaly detection system, which forms part of the company’s new web services for operators using HUMS (health and usage monitoring systems). Backing this up is a new maintenance implementation team, established in May 2011 to provide operators with a more integrated support experience and to drive down operating costs. By collecting and analyzing more extensive helicopter performance data, the specialists are looking to safely extend fatigue limits on parts.
Last year, the manufacturer also opened a new fleet control center in Philadelphia to support the North American market. It added four more authorized service centers worldwide in 2011, taking the total to 75 and is now evaluating options for adding another 16 new facilities, including overhaul and blade-repair centers.