Maintenance oversight matters
New data technology is delivering much improved transparency for owners, particularly over maintenance and costs. Words: Yves Le Marquand
Business aviation, for all its pioneering, engineering advances, has, by its own admission, not been the fastest to adopt the revolution in customer service seen elsewhere.
Remaining airworthy requires a regimented maintenance schedule that must be followed. Now, through the digitisation of data and the development of software, in particular portal software, clients have more control. This is because owners’ oversight of efficiency and transparency has improved while, often, costs have been reduced due to better flight diagnostics and, in some cases, engine prognostics.
Textron Aviation and Duncan Aviation, two of the largest MRO service providers, have launched online portals. Aiming to improve efficiency, streamline billing processes and increase transparency, the online portals give the client more control over their maintenance programme. The portal benefits the service provider too, keeping client information and diagnostic data in an up-to-date, digitised and accessible format.
Brian Rohloff, Senior Vice President, Customer Support, Textron Aviation, told Corporate Jet Investor (CJI): “Digitising our data has been integral to enhancing the customer experience at Textron Aviation. We use online customer surveys to help us learn where to improve in the most efficient way. Digital services have also allowed us to make our billing process much easier for customers. Our Customer Portal is also mobile-friendly, meaning customers can engage with us remotely and check the status of their aircraft wherever they are.
“Additionally, LinxUs Air [its fault isolation system] provides immediate notifications to customers including the indicated cause of in-flight events while airborne, allowing maintenance resolution planning before the airplane lands – resulting in reduced downtime.”
Rohloff said Textron is currently developing a new Single Sales Document process, giving customers a simpler invoice, which integrates deposits adjusted work statements, and allows near real-time status updates on their maintenance. It has been piloted at the Greensboro, North Carolina and San Antonio, Texas, service centres and will be rolled out to all Textron service centres, worldwide by the end of 2020.
Transparency is key, Rohloff told CJI: “Transparency is extremely important in building trust with the customer and it’s something we strive for across our entire global service network. A desire to be as transparent as possible is part of what has driven our Single Sales Document project and the improvements we’re making to our billing process.”
Despite all the benefits of technology, Rohloff admits approaching customers solely from a technical standpoint doesn’t always resonate.
“They need to feel heard and valued and I want that to be their experience when interacting with Textron. To maintain our friendly, personalised service experience, we’ve utilised all the technological tools at our disposal and particularly embraced remote capabilities like video conferencing. For example, a complete interior refurbishment spec session was able to be completed entirely remotely via video call.”
Technology is making an even bigger impact after Covid-19, according to Jeffrey Lake, President, Duncan Aviation. The US-based MRO set up its online portal, myDuncan, over a decade ago, but it has been continuously updated and upgraded by a team of programmers as technology evolves.
Textron Aviation (Orlando facility pictured below) believes its online portal helps to improve efficiency, streamline billing processes and give clients more control over their maintenance programmes.
“We’ve utilised all the technological tools at our disposal.”
Lake told CJI: “Over this last year, myDuncan has been a vital component of communication and service for our customers. When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, we limited customer access to our facilities and encouraged customers to follow their projects through the myDuncan app. Prior to the coronavirus, roughly 20-25% of our customers didn’t stay on-site with the aircraft because they relied on the myDuncan portal. The number has now increased to more than 50%.
“That is because the portal is so functional. We require on-site customers to use it as well, because it streamlines communication, increases transparency and helps keep documents on-hand.”
Lake noted the company was fortunate to have the myDuncan portal system in place at the outset of Covid-19. Programmers quickly came online with customer video conferencing options and webinars during the early days of the pandemic. However, Lake, like Rohloff at Textron, has learnt face-to-face meetings cannot be completely replaced by video conferences.
Customer interaction is vital, especially when running a boutique-style service. Although not an MRO, rather a completions firm, AP Completions’ attitude towards technology aligns with Textron and Duncan. Founder, Andrew Broccoli believes human interaction is very important alongside the use of technology despite the role it plays in simplifying processes for customers, especially in 2020.
Broccoli said: “Through the online portal, I have been able to simplify and centralise information for my customers. I can almost walk them through the ongoing works in real-time. Even if I come across an issue or something that needs to be discussed, sometimes doing a quick video, which you can do on the portal, can provide some clarity that photos could not.
“There are many ways a portal can help the process, aid transparency and keep the process going in a timely manner.”
Broccoli believes “it’s all about transparency”. He said: “With customers spending considerable sums on outfitting and completions, no matter the mission, they want to know what they have paid and that the work has been carried out to the very best of our ability. So, the online portal gives all that information to the client all in one place. And it is permanently recorded so there’s no chance of forgetting.”
Jeffrey Lake, President, Duncan Aviation, says technology is making an even bigger impact after Covid-19. Duncan Aviation set up its online portal myDuncan, pictured above, more than 10 years ago.
At a glance: Online portal benefits
• Quotes: Customers can view and compare quotes, request schedules and approve agreements
• Change orders: Instant approvals help customers track and manage items pending review and include data and information like photos and parts options
• Log Entries: Customers review log entries as the job progresses, make notes, mark what they have reviewed and what they want to follow up later. They can also communicate with inspectors through portals
• Work order review: Customers can review squawks (assigned air traffic transponder codes) and supporting documentation on their work orders
• Job status: Project overviews illustrating progress and a history of approved work. They can see a schedule of key project milestones
• Documents: They can retrieve invoices and waybill tracking information for shipments
• Component repair tracking: Customers can approve work and stay current on the progress of send-in component repairs. They can also view return-to-service documentation when the work is complete.
“We need to use data to get out of an opaque market.”
Making the costs of business aviation more transparent for owners and operators is the key to maximising the growth potential of the sector, said Mark Winzar, Senior Vice President Business Development at Jet Support Services Inc. (JSSI), for which maintenance operations make up a significant chunk. “It’s clear to me, this is an opaque market with a lack of visibility [about operation and maintenance costs] that will ultimately limit growth. We see it does happen. We need to use the data to get out of an opaque market,” Winzar told CJI’s Middle East & Africa conference in September. (See report page 60).
Winzar identified the figure of about $32bn as the annual spend for services, maintenance fees and more in business aviation. “We need to be able to articulate how that money is being spent and its true value. It’s difficult to go back to an owner with a $3.2m bill without transparency.”
JSSI was working to improve transparency, based on the information generated by the 2,000-plus business aircraft on its programme and the 10,000-plus maintenance invoices generated every year.
One solution Winzar suggested might be to follow the example of commercial aviation. “Although the commercial world is down at the moment, it uses analytics and data to drive down costs. It’s feasible to get that into the private aviation sector.”
Duncan Aviation has deployed the latest technology wherever possible. But executive jets still need to be refuelled at its MRO facilities.
Hands-on cost control. “It’s difficult to go back to a customer with a $3.2m bill without transparency,” JSSI’s Mark Winzar told CJI’s Middle East & Africa conference.
Technology speeds supply chains.
App to locate local providers
At a recent Corporate Jet Investor Town Hall online meeting, Byron Severson revealed, TallyHo! – a new app which connects owners and operators with the services they require. App users can search for the service they need and locate providers in their area or any area to which they may be flying. Then a second app, a platform for the service providers, allows companies to monitor their traffic and “bang for their buck”. The app is free to users and service providers who pay a subscription.
Severson explained his inspiration. “I bought my first airplane four years ago and it needed a lot of maintenance. So, I had a lot of opportunity to look for service providers. What I found was it was difficult to find new service providers. You had to go to Google or online message boards, which worked, but took a lot of time and rarely provided multiple quotations.”
TallyHo!, which takes its name from a term used by British fighter pilots in the Second World War, also includes a messenger feature creating a one-stop-shop for users. That was an idea developed after feedback from market research, said Severson. The messenger feature allows the sending of appointments and images.
Severson believes the use of data and technology is only going to expand. “I think there’s a lot of energy, thought and investment going into a space that’s been largely ignored in our industry.”
Severson predicts various firms will begin to form partnerships strengthening the value of technology: “That will involve integrations or partnerships where you are connecting the service event with finding the service providers and then connecting the information about the aircraft. At the same time, you will be integrating that with maintenance due dates, cycle due dates and putting all of that ecosystem together.”
Severson puts it well. This is an area that has largely been overlooked compared with the ingenuity and innovation witnessed in, for example, avionics and engineering. However, change is clearly afoot. Our contributors all agreed about the importance of improving transparency for customers and improving the use of digitisation and software to deliver that data accessibly.
Technology offers a golden promise. Through the use of online portals customers can feel assured they are receiving value for their investment, keep up-to-date with progress remotely, schedule works, video call with maintenance teams via smartphone or laptop and reap a range of other benefits. There is an ever-growing reliance on technology and with that an ever-growing investment ready to back its evolution.
Despite a slow start, the future for the use of data technology, particularly for maintenance oversight, looks bright. For owners then, the only way is up.
ABOVE: Brian Rohloff, Senior VP Customer Support from Textron Aviation, says digitising data has benefited customers.
RIGHT: Automated handling at Textron Aviation’s MRO improves efficiency.