Airframe OEMs are seeing new business opportunities and aftermarket revenue streams for their next generation of commercial jets, but customer support will not be business as usual.
“The OEMs have learned that each customer is unique and the ability to tailor support and react appropriately is vital,” says Richard Brown, principal consultant at ICF SH&E in London. Many of the new aircraft are commencing service with new operators in growth regions without traditional maintenance infrastructure. “Supporting a 787 operator in Ethiopia or Azerbaijan is harder than in Chicago or London, which is why airframe OEMs, such asand , are offering tailored maintenance programs for their new-technology aircraft,” he says.
Brown cites Airbus's success with its Flight Hour Services (FHS) maintenance contracts on theand . “This leads us to ask how relations between airframe OEMs, component OEMs, airline MROs and independent MROs will evolve. MROs are asking if they should compete or partner with OEMs in a more OEM-centric customer service market,” he says.
To expand its footprint in aftermarket support, Boeing designed its GoldCare program, which is part of its integrated services offerings under the Boeing Edge, as a comprehensive fleet maintenance and engineering management service. Initially offered as a premier customer option for the 787, Boeing has since expanded GoldCare to all in-production models except the 767. Bernard Hensey, Boeing's vice president-fleet management, reports that “it is anticipated” that GoldCare will be made available for the 737 MAX. “GoldCare represents the first time Boeing has offered a complete wrap-around customer service option,” he notes.
GoldCare is offered on a cost per flight-hour basis and can include engineering, materials support and MRO. Customers can select one option or all of them for a turnkey package. Hensey says Boeing is setting up a global GoldCare delivery infrastructure at existing regional service centers in Singapore, London and Shanghai. The number of centers could reach up to eight as airline interest expands. However, Boeing's MRO partners will be operational, on-site and at customer line stations.
“Prospective 787 operators wanted assurance that Boeing would be prepared to support the aircraft within a line station network, in addition to hubs, since the 787 has been designed for point-to-point, hub bypass,” Hensey points out. “When you move phased checks to line stations, they have to be broken up into smaller packages, and you add another level of maintenance complexity to the line station network. That required us to provide teams offering enhanced entry into service capabilities for airlines planning to maintain the aircraft, more at line stations than hubs,” he says.
Asked if the just-resolved 787 battery issues have generated any changes with customer support, Hensey says the battery problem resolution was handled within the standard infrastructure built around entry into service of any new aircraft.
Among the narrowbody aircraft OEMs,expects to make the first deliveries of its jets in July 2014. The new jetliner family, consisting of the 110-125-seat CS100 and the 135-160-seat CS300, are being primarily marketed against the Airbus /A320 and -700.
“We are well aware that we are delivering a new type of aircraft, and our customers were concerned we had a sufficiently mature infrastructure in place to support it,” says Bill Molloy, director of customer services and support for Bombardier Customer Services in Montreal. “With over 160 people totally dedicated to the CSeries, we have put a very strong (support) infrastructure in place,” he says.
Molloy explains that upon entry into service, each CSeries airplane will incorporate an “aircraft health management system,” enabling downloading of real-time data for diagnostics and prognostics. There is also “SmartFix Plus,” an electronic fault-isolation manual that links with other electronic manuals to facilitate troubleshooting. “This is a knowledge-based tool, established for the CSeries, that will evolve as more experience is gained with the aircraft.”
Because the CSeries makes extensive use of composites, Bombardier is also targeting composite repair issues.
“Since many of our CSeries customers have no experience with composites, Bombardier is establishing the infrastructure to support repairs in the field, as well as training,” says Molloy.
The OEM plans to extend its “Smart Services” customer support plan—currently available for, Challenger and Global series business jet owners—to CSeries operators, says Gary Martin, Bombardier Customer Services vice president-sales, marketing and service programs. Bombardier will offer the support plan on a pay-per-event, or cost per flight-hour basis, he points out.
The regional jet world is expanding; for the newest models, some OEMs have teamed with more experienced organizations for customer support. One case in point is Russia's Sukhoi Holding, which has established SuperJet International (SJI), a joint venture within Italy, to support Sukhoi Civil Aircraft's 100-seat , which entered service in 2011.
According to Nazario Cauceglia, SJI's CEO, customer support is being delivered through a worldwide SJI MRO network. He notes that the network was established as a partnering arrangement with nine companies—encompassing 13 MRO facilities—with regional jet maintenance expertise. The network includes AAR (U.S.), Interjet (Mexico), South African Airways Technics (South Africa),(Singapore), Air Works (India), Ameco Beijing (China), Sabena technics (France and Tunisia), FL Technics (Lithuania) and Volga-Dnepr (Russia).
“Superjet's logistics strategy has been focused on a central spares distribution center located at Frankfurt Airport, and managed byLogistik Services (LTLS),” Cauceglia explains. “SJI's support warehouse at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow covers spare parts requirements for Russian and CIS customers, and the Fort Lauderdale [Fla.] LTLS-managed warehouse will be operational in the second half of 2013 to support operators in the Americas.”
SJI, Cauceglia explains, also has established “a proprietary, integrated life-cycle plan for off-wing components maintenance” called SuperCare Plan (SCP). “SCP has a modular approach, which provides incremental packages of services, up to a full turnkey solution, through a fixed rate per flight-hour.” The flight-hour rates are based on fleet size, network assumptions, maintenance parameters and contract terms, he says.
To address concerns involving the aircraft's entry into service, SJI usually deploys a dedicated team that includes a field service representative and a pilot instructor who provides line training assistance during first flight operations.
Cauceglia reports that additional on-site spares and technical support-related services can be provided, when required, along with an “entry into service task force” composed of aircraft, systems and engine OEM representatives. A dedicated team to support initial maintenance operations also can be stationed at the customer's base.
Also partnering with a major airframe company for customer support is Mitsubishi Aircraft. Under an agreement announced at the 2011 Paris air show, Boeing Commercial Aviation Services will handle all customer support—including spare parts provisioning, service operations and field services—for the 70-90-seatfamily.
Under the agreement, Boeing will establish a website modeled on MyBoeingFleet.com, the OEM's customer support portal. For MRJ customers, it will be designated mymrjfleet.com.
“We believe Boeing's experience in their customer support could help us to achieve our goal of maximizing the life of the airplane,” says a Mitsubishi Aircraft representative. “One example is the web portal, which will have a user-friendly interface and bring together the applications and data needed to detect and predict service, maintenance and repair needs.” The portal also will support an aircraft health management system to provide real-time monitoring.
Mitsubishi has not yet selected a group of MRO partners but plans to do so before the first aircraft enters service. It might create a branded program, on a cost per flight hour basis for global customer service, as well as a reliability management program, which will include the airplane health management system for real-time monitoring.
Health management technology, in fact, raises some complex issues, including aircraft performance data access—especially for independent MROs.
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