Since the day its legendary Dart turboprop engine powered the revolutionary Gulfstream I on its first flight back in 1958, Rolls-Royce business aviation engines have been associated with exceptional performance, quality, and industry-leading innovation. The company continues its keystone position today as it transitions many of its business aviation services to the digital world.
If any doubts remained about the value that businesses and individuals place on their private aircraft, they’ve been washed away by business aviation’s role in the global post-pandemic recovery. According to mid-October 2021 statistics from FlightAware, bizav flights in North America were up nearly 36 percent this year over 2020 and were some 22 percent higher than in the “good ol’ days” of 2019.
The increased usage comes with a downside, however. Business aircraft operators are so busy keeping their aircraft flying that it’s been difficult for them to find time to provide valuable off-site training for their maintenance technicians.
As an industry leader with over 8,000 engines in operation around the world, Rolls-Royce Business Aviation’s solution to the problem is to bring the training and information to the technicians, wherever and whenever they need it.
To achieve its goals, the company uses a combination of digital tools, including virtual reality (VR) training, the digitization of its complete library of technical publications, and a new online customer portal.
“We pride ourselves on doing things right and meeting the needs and expectations of our customers,” explains James Prater, Rolls-Royce Business Aviation’s vice president of customer support. “We are more than the makers of great engines; we strive for excellence in every product and service we provide — and this of course applies to the digital world.
“We recognize that going forward, an increasing share of interactions with our customers will be through digital channels,” Prater continues. “And we believe that the experience from each of those interactions should reflect the quality and elegance associated with our brand.”
Prater says that to help ensure that these ambitious goals are met, the company relies on the one group that is guaranteed to tell it what’s good and, more importantly, what’s bad about any new offering: its customers. In particular, the 30-plus members of Rolls-Royce’s Corporate Customer Council (C3).
“We bring ideas to the C3, asking the council to challenge our thinking, so we can ensure that the end result will be something that customers value,” Prater says. “The most recent examples of this collaboration are the BR725 VR Training, our SAFinity [Rolls-Royce Business Aviation’s sustainable fuel initiative] service, digital technical publications, and our new customer portal.”
Real training in a virtual world
Long before the pandemic, Rolls-Royce Business Aviation and the members of its C3 recognized that the growing complexity of its engines mandated a new form of distance learning. The initial offering was the VR (virtual reality) Familiarization Training for its BR725 family of engines.
“The VR technology creates an environment for real-time training to take place between instructors and students, where hardware, processes, and procedures can be visually seen and carried out online without the need for travel,” Prater says. “Our BR725 Engine Introduction and Servicing VR Course have consistently received exceptionally good reviews from users.
“The reduction of lost time and cost savings are appealing to customers,” he continues. “Add the quality of the virtual environment, coupled to our high-level of professional instruction, and that delivers the ‘wow’ factor.”
Prater also says that the success of the initial BR725-specific VR training program has accelerated the development of additional virtual and augmented reality-based offerings.
“Our Advanced Troubleshooting and Maintenance Course is coming soon,” he notes. “Using the latest VR capabilities, we will bring the flight deck into the virtual reach of the technician on the maintenance stand. With a simple head turn, the VR environment will immerse the technician in an interactive flight deck.
“The student can make adjustments on the engine, then see the effects of those changes on the cockpit indicators,” Prater continues. “Interacting with an aircraft’s maintenance computers, the student can identify engine faults and isolate the root cause, then make repairs to restore the engine to optimum performance.”
Of course, with its far-reaching array of engines and user types, Rolls-Royce Business Aviation isn’t limiting its introduction of digital solutions to virtual and augmented reality. Another area that is receiving a total digital makeover is its customer portal.
“Our vision of an effective customer portal is one site, with one login, which gives customers comprehensive access to an array of digital solutions, all tailored to their unique relationship with Rolls-Royce Business Aviation,” Prater states. “That’s the way customers access the information they need from our massive technical-publications library.”
But, as he explained, the goal for Rolls-Royce Business Aviation is to go beyond the expected and to introduce digital technical publications that are unlike anything you’ve seen before.
“We are working toward our vision to provide the best technical publications in the industry: fully digital tech pubs that are intuitive and interactive, with 3D illustrations and the ability for the operator to make annotations and to download temporary copies for access in remote locations,” Prater says. “It’s a long journey with many intricacies, and we are making steady progress toward our goals.”
Internal growth often begins from the outside
The digital world is anything but static, so as you might imagine, trying to stay ahead of all the fast-paced advancements and innovations available to meet a company’s needs can easily distract it from its core business.
To that end, Rolls-Royce Business Aviation has increased its presence in the industry group Yocova (You + Collaboration = Value.) “Yocova is an industrial collaboration platform for aviation that facilitates the exchange of ideas, data, and digital content,” Prater states. “It’s a global community where professionals can connect and collaborate with aviation peers in public forums and private working groups.
“As a secure, trusted environment, it is ideal for sharing ideas and data, and even a marketplace for people to find, try, buy, sell, and deploy new apps, data, digital solutions, and services,” he adds. “The beauty of Yocova is it reaches beyond the boundaries of Rolls-Royce and supports all makes and models of aircraft, as well as an array of industry support providers.”
Whether it’s virtual reality, 3D technical publication, or increased interaction with customers and peers, it’s clear that Rolls-Royce Business Aviation has its sights set squarely on products and services built to meet every user’s definition of the “digital world.”
“More and more customer interactions are becoming digital,” Prater says. “And, in fact, most of those will be through a portable device. We plan to develop and deploy an array of intuitive apps that are supported by an integrated customer portal and a robust CRM to deliver a seamless and enlightening customer experience.
“Our goal is to have everything our customers want at their fingertips,” he concludes. “We will be their always-on business aircraft operational team that is staffed by people they trust to deliver excellence.”