We Make House Calls

In keeping with our review of changes over the past 25 years, this month we’re highlighting the innovative developments in field maintenance and the increase in mobile service. The range of maintenance programs and service offerings available today is incredible. An avionics box can be delivered by FedEx, a windshield changed out, your engine washed, compressor blades blended, and carpets cleaned without relocating the plane to an authorized facility. We asked Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, Stevens Aviation, and Duncan Aviation to describe the mobile services they offer, how they deliver, the qualifications of the technical staff that man these mobile operations, and the business drivers that motivated offering mobile support.


Gulfstream product support: “Best of the biggest”

Gulfstream maintains the largest company-owned product support network in business aviation with more than 4,000 professionals worldwide. The network, which covers North and South America, Europe, India, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Australia, includes 11 company-owned service centers, one company-owned component repair facility, seven Gulfstream-authorized service centers, and 14 Gulfstream-authorized warranty facilities.


Field and Airborne Support Teams (FAST)

According to Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., the dispatch reliability rate for its large-cabin business jet fleet is “in excess of 99.5 percent.” Even with this astounding figure, sometimes an operator will have an “aircraft-on-ground” (AOG) situation and need service. Product Support President Mark Burns says, “Gulfstream is always looking for new ways to demonstrate our commitment to our customers and FAST is the next step in our evolution as the top product support organization in business aviation.” The FAST teams are staffed with more than 30 dedicated pilots and technicians, a full-time manager overseeing the operation, and two G150s to transport technicians and essential parts to aircraft at airports in North and Central America and the Caribbean. “In cases where an operator’s aircraft is located outside the G150’s range of service, Gulfstream will fly the needed parts and technicians to a major hub to connect with commercial airline flights to reach the customer’s aircraft.”

In January 2014 Gulfstream introduced a specially equipped 74-foot tractor-trailer staffed to provide maintenance and support for aircraft owners attending more than 20 major events around the country. This mobile service center has special tools, a generator, air compressor, satellite dish, Wi-Fi connectivity and the top 10 parts most often needed. The AMTs assigned to the truck can make minor repairs, change engines, replace LRUs, and conduct post flight, unscheduled and storage inspections.

These lucky AMTs have an office, computers to access technical data, and break room complete with lounge, galley kitchen, and stocked freezer and refrigerator.

We spoke to Darrell Frey, director regional service center operations, for his perspective on the growth and delivery of mobile services. “Product rates have grown and we need to support both in- and out-of-production aircraft. Developing the FAST trucks and teams is one way we are going to keep up. Our biggest FAST vehicle is used for major events where there will be a congregation of Gulfstream aircraft operators such as the Masters Tournament and large business board meetings.

“Speaking to the next 25 years, our biggest challenge will be managing information, communications, and technology to keep our customers and employees connected 24/7. Today we use Gulfstream’s intranet, the Internet, Skype, and Studio G in Savannah’s multimedia center to share best practices, technical data, and information around the globe.”


Stevens Aviation

Stevens Aviation is a large U.S. company with a long history of providing aircraft maintenance, modification, and refurbishment services from its fixed base operations. It recently placed a mobile maintenance unit at the Signature Flight Support Hangar in Centennial Airport, CO, to provide service as far away as Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. We asked crew lead, Tim Schilling and general manager, Robert Wyatt to describe the business and technology drivers that moved them to expand their field and mobile maintenance organization.

“Aviation in general is dependent on the health of the overall economy. We see business rebounding and the maintenance business growing again, albeit slowly. However, the competition among FAR 145 operators for new business is brutal. Customers are more attentive to their maintenance needs, better educated about aircraft maintenance, and aware of what services other FAR 145 operators offer. They expect mobile service because if they break down, they want to know that we will be there to get them flying again. We also see an increase in fractional ownership and FAR 135 operations and to attract their business, it is critical that we provide good mobile service. Those customers are generating revenue so when their aircraft are out of service, they must get repaired as fast as possible.

“Previously we needed the aircraft at our facilities to perform maintenance but with advances in aircraft and communications technologies, providing field services is much easier. Now if we find damage or see a crack in the field, we use smart phones to take a picture, email it to the customer and discuss next steps. We can take a photo of the flight log and email that to the customer to release the aircraft. Before these advancements, you couldn’t get in touch with the AMTs until they reached the AOG location and called in; now we maintain continuous communications between Tech Support and our trucks. Aircraft maintenance computers allow us to download fault data, perform troubleshooting and be better prepared before leaving for the AOG.”

To deliver its mobile service, “We have a Crew Cab Box Truck and four highly trained AMTs with about 50 years of general experience on a variety of business aircraft. They can make LRU changes, replenish fluids, change tires, wheels and brakes, make minor repairs for ferry flights, and do minor checks. When we know we will need a component, we drop ship it to the aircraft’s location so it is waiting when our maintenance guys arrive.”


Duncan Aviation

Duncan Aviation is another huge aviation service company that is meeting customer needs and requests through field service. Its new Mobile Interior Services offering is an example of aviation companies leveraging existing services into natural or new niche markets. It is for those customers needing a way to freshen or maintain their aircraft interiors but not wanting to pull their aircraft out of operation or relocate it to a Duncan Aviation facility.

Jeremy Rutherford is the interior completions team leader in Cincinnati and coordinator for the company’s satellite interior services. “Duncan Aviation began providing mobile interior service at our satellite location in Cincinnati for a major local customer,” he says. “Our specialists would drive to the customer’s aircraft, remove the compromised piece of equipment or furnishings and take them back to their shop to make the necessary repairs.”

Rutherford emphasizes, “Duncan Aviation’s interior specialists are skilled master craftsmen who can quickly arrive at the aircraft and quietly and discreetly remove and replace major cabin components, clean or replace carpets, make minor repairs to cabin fixtures, or reupholster seats.” Recognizing the potential of this service, Duncan began offering it nationally and now coordinators take customer requests and assign the work to its certified interior specialists located in Cincinnati, OH; Battle Creek, MI; Lincoln, NE; or Provo, UT.

From these interviews we can conclude that competition and customer expectations are driving the expansion in mobile service. These companies are staffing their mobile units with experienced AMTs who work effectively with their technical operations centers and have customer relationship skills. In the future AMTs will need their A&P and FCC certificates and maybe a commercial vehicle operator permit.


Charles Chandler began his aviation career as a junior mechanic for American Airlines and retired after 27 years of service. He has a masters of science degree in adult and occupational education with a major in human resources development.