Getting a faulty aircraft available for service again is an urgent priority for many operators.
Aircraft on ground (AOG) is a phrase that no operator wants to hear but sometimes has to face. Support from the manufacturer can be crucial to solving the AOG situation. However, many companies in the helicopter business would admit that manufacturer support has not always been up to scratch.
In its ongoing improvement effort last October, Eurocopter launched its Customer Support Center (CSC), a 24/7 hotline service to improve support.
Having started by serving customers in Europe, the CSC should now be available to operators worldwide. One of the aims of the CSC is to provide customers with a ‘one-shot, one-number’ solution by the grouping of different skills (technical, administrative, contracts, etc.) in one place. It’s expected to evolve as a big improvement on the previous call center that dealt only with AOG.
AMT spoke to Jean-Pierre Dedieu, executive vice president of support services at Eurocopter. He says, “Our main improvements are the availability of spares, and the turnaround times for repair and overhaul — these are the two key issues for all customers in terms of support performance. We identified some time ago that we were poor in rapidity of answers?— sometimes we had the typical French attitude that unless we have the perfect answer, we don’t answer at all. Now we have developed a system which is much more reactive to customers, and more friendly. Even if we don’t have good news, we explain what’s happening — we let the customer know when we will have new information.
“The CSC is focused on all the urgencies of customers; it might be an AOG situation, a technical question, or any other type of question that needs an urgent answer. It might be a question on a warranty claim. The customer may need to know very rapidly if the claim is accepted. We have also grouped with the CSC the parts by hour (PBH) and the repair by hour (RBH) contracts. In RBH, the customer owns the parts. In PBH, we own the parts.
Management of these can be very urgent, like AOG logistics. We have grouped all these teams in the same place. The CSC headquarters is between Aix-en-Provence and Marignane, not in the crowded manufacturing plant.”
The center itself
The CSC employs approximately 85 people. It operates at night and weekends, in addition to normal business hours. The CSC is connected to the worldwide logistics system of Eurocopter, including the two ‘platforms’ (warehouses) in Paris and Hong Kong. If a customer needs a part, and if the part is not available in Marignane or Donauworth, the customer has direct access to the two platforms. The third platform in the United States should now be activated in Dallas. It will have a higher level of stock than the subsidiary did before, particularly for new products like the 225, which is being used offshore in the United States.
Dedieu says, “The stocks in the platforms reflect the nearby customer fleets and the parts are ready to be shipped, already packed with airworthiness certificates — they can be shipped in hours. We’re talking up to about 30,000 parts.”
Eurocopter’s IT system
“Our IT system is based on three software backbones: SAP for resource management, SIEBEL for customer management (customer profiles, fleets, etc.), and a VPM configuration management tool. All the major subsidiaries are connected. We recently opened a customer portal, a transactional portal with specific rights of access. It’s not open to all on the Internet; customers need a password. There’s e-ordering of spares, access to technical publications, illustrated part catalogues, a used part return facility, etc.” This portal should now have replaced the American Eurocopter portal in the United States to serve the 600 American customers.
The CSC has ‘multicompetence plateaus’ — groups of logistics experts, technical support experts, repair specialists, and transport specialists — to give customers top-level service.
Dedieu says, “The CSC provides solutions, not just answers. If we have no parts, we will find other ways to solve the problem — perhaps repair, maybe on-site with the customer. We have about 20 AOG workstations filled by three shifts, depending on the workload and customer requests. They have three large screens, each showing all the priorities which are constantly being reshuffled. The CSC gets about 130 AOG calls per day — some days up to 200. The CSC is connected to all the other IT systems in the company.?In an adjacent room are the technical support people. In the past this was separate.”
The customer component
“Customer feedback is good,” Dedieu continues. “But we need perhaps another six months to confirm that we have a much better perception. We are now more advanced in this sphere than our competitors. We modeled the CSC on Airbus support. We have also benchmarked engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Canada, which is performing well in these areas.”
A major customer of Eurocopter, and one that has been using the CSC virtually from its inauguration, is France’s Heli-Union. It was founded in 1961 with one aircraft, but now has more than 30. It supports mainly oil and gas companies around the world, shuttling employees between offshore or very isolated onshore sites and customer main bases. The company mainly operates Dauphins, particularly the C3, N, N2, and N3s. It also flies Pumas, Super Pumas, and Sikorsky S-67A++ aircraft.
AMT questioned Heli-Union deputy managing director Patrick Pinna about the CSC. “Eurocopter support has improved over the last five years,” Pinna says. “With the CSC it is now very efficient, very professional. Some 80 percent of items are delivered very quickly. The other 20 percent take a little time. However, Eurocopter will pull parts from aircraft on the production line if required. They understand the pressures and the environment in which we work. The portal is very good. They are inventive, whereas some other manufacturers can be focused on their military customers.”
Overcoming a communication barrier
Stephane Maucci, chairman of MBH Technics, the maintenance and overhaul division of Mont Blanc Helicopters, tells AMT, “Eurocopter has improved its support over recent years; they have been selling more and more products on the world market, so it’s been vital for them to improve support. Of course, for French people it’s very easy to work with Eurocopter, but for other customers it is different. There can be language problems, but I think customers in other countries have seen a big improvement over the last two or three years and now particularly with the CSC.
“We are a certificated Eurocopter maintenance center and so we have a lot of contact with the CSC. It is very good for spares, technical information, etc. They have made a big effort to satisfy all their different customers. We had problems a few years ago with the SAP system at the Marignane factory trying to get spares. It was bad for a year from mid-2005. But now everything works very well.”