NBAA: Aftermarket reigns for Bombardier

Between waiting for the Global 7000 to debut in 2018 and managing a production slowdown in the interim, Bombardier’s Business Aviation division is not expecting to return to growth on the product delivery front for at least a few years.

The opposite is true in the aftermarket business. With a deep and growing delivered fleet and an increasingly far-flung operator base, the company’s maintenance and services business is in rapid expansion mode, looking to open new service centres in Europe and Asia and expand existing facilities in the USA. In an otherwise slow-selling period, the aftermarket represents Bombardier’s best path to revenue growth in business aviation, leading the company to pour resources and new ideas into services.

Jean-Christophe Gallagher, vice-president and general manager for customer experience at Bombardier Business Aviation, says: “This year we guided 150 deliveries on a fleet of 4,500 airplanes. Every year we have more airplanes flying out there that have collectively more needs in terms of servicing, so we want to make sure that our business is of the right size to actually service all of these customers.”

As the services business is expanding, production output is declining. The Global 5000/6000 assembly lines in Toronto dropped from an annual rate of about 80 a year ago to about 50 now. The cancellation of the Learjet 85 has left Bombardier’s Wichita, Kansas-based operations few paths to drive new sales. On the other hand, Bombardier’s fleet of delivered jets continues to stay ahead of retirements, leading to a growth opportunity in the aftermarket.

Part of the growth will be fuelled by new products and new technologies. Anticipating such demand, the business aviation executive team has grown to include a new position to lead aftermarket strategy.

One role for the new strategy leader is to stay on top of new offerings available in aircraft coming off the production line. This would include features such as Ka-band satellite connectivity, which was announced earlier this year as a new standard item in Global 5000 and 6000 jets. As such technologies enter the forward-fit product stream, the strategic director will make sure the business is prepared to support those systems on the service end.

The company’s large base of delivered aircraft offers even more opportunity for growth. Bombardier continues to support aircraft, such as the Learjet 35 and Challenger 600, that came off production lines in the early 1980s and even before. Those aircraft require new technology to continue operating in the controlled airspace or on certain desirable routes. Bombardier officials point to avionics upgrades, such as FANS, ADS-B Out and CPLDC, as increasingly mandatory items in the cockpits of older aircraft.

“We live in a world that’s rapidly becoming technology-dependent,” says Bill Milloy, vice-president for parts. “Our customers really need our help as the OEM to guide them because If you’re like me you’re kind of faced with this alphabet soup. There’s obsolescence issues, there’s regulatory changes. Nobody serves their interests like the OEM. So that role plays a very important piece of ensuring the customers’ assets continue to be worth their while.”

The company is also strengthening its internal infrastructure to be more responsive to customers. The public highlight of that effort is the Learjet 45 operated by the customer response team, which was stood up in 2014 to respond to aircraft on ground incidents in the continental USA. In an age of global, on-demand logistics services, the Learjet 45 parts delivery aircraft still provides value in Bombardier’s aftermarket support system.

“Truth be told, we could probably sing the praises of this airplane a lot more than we have,” Milloy says. “We’ve been understated on this airplane. Others may have used it as a travelling billboard. I can assure you that for us it’s a hard-working machine.”

Relying on airlines’ belly-freight capacity as an on-demand parts delivery system is problematic, according to Bombardier.

“A lot of time what they don’t tell you is airlines bump airplane parts. You can’t afford that,” Milloy says. “Your part gets bumped off a commercial flight because they had an uptick of passengers. When it absolutely must get there, we use our own. That gives you control. That allows you to bring in a different level of sophistication by bringing technicians with you, and allows you to bring in a different category of stuff outside of the run-of-the-mill to anywhere around the country.”

For international support, Bombardier’s customer response centres still rely on airlines and on-call charter companies to distribute parts on an emergency basis.

The customer support network is also growing as the Bombardier operational fleet continues to increase. In the past year, Bombardier has announced new maintenance centres in Biggin Hill outside London and Tianjin in China. In the USA, it is opening a greatly expanded interior modification facility in Tucson. The new shop will be able to provide complete interior refurbishments for aircraft older than 10 years.

On the US East Coast, Bombardier is also getting bigger to keep up with rising levels of demand. A 27,800m2 (300,000ft2) service centre in Fort Lauderdale will be expanded by about 20% to cope with higher capacity. The expansion will open in 2018 to provide service to multiple regions, including the US, Canada and Latin America.

Another element of Bombardier’s expanding services network is the globally dispersed fleet of trucks that carry parts and service tools to parked aircraft. Bombardier is adding two more trucks to the 15-strong global fleet, with both of the additions stationed at the company’s main US hub in Chicago.

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