Reader survey highlights the good, the bad and the improving

AINonline
July 24, 2007, 4:55 AM

Gulfstream Aerospace, for the second year in a row, achieved the highest overall score for product support (pertaining to its original models), according to the results of an annual AIN survey of turbine business aircraft operators. Cessna Citation also repeated its previous performance by coming in second, with customers giving the Wichita manufacturer an even higher overall score than last year.

Although scores for all the turbine business aircraft operators fall off when comparing their support of older versus newer aircraft, Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream also holds the distinction of having the top rating in service and support provided to customers of both newer (less than 10 years old) and older (more than 10 years old) jets, ranging from the legacy GIIs to modern G550s.

Overall scores this year for Gulfstream’s support of the older Israeli-built Westwind and Astra business jets were higher than last year, indicating an improvement in customer service. But even the higher overall score this year failed to prevent the standing for these models to drop compared with their position among competitors last year. This was the result primarily of other manufacturers improving support for their older models as well.

There were other significant shifts in year-over-year standings. For example, Dassault, which placed third overall last year behind Gulfstream and Cessna, placed fifth this year, behind Boeing Business Jets (meeting the minimum response cutoff for inclusion in this report for the first time) and Sabreliner, itself moving up to fourth place from seventh last year. A Sabreliner operator thanked Avmats, a St. Louis-headquartered repair station, “With doing an exceptionally good job on keeping this old bird flying–airframe, engines and avionics.”

Meanwhile, Raytheon Hawker support continued an upward trend that started last year, moving to sixth place overall from eighth in the previous survey. The company’s turboprop support improved its standing from last year’s fourth-place showing to third this time. Raytheon Beechjet/Diamond support, which typically scores below that provided for the Hawker, also improved slightly–from last position in the 2003 survey to the ninth spot this year–besting support for the Bombardier Challenger, Global Express and JetStar.

Speaking of the Canadian manufacturer, Bombardier Challenger support deteriorated the most, and relative support for its other models declined as well, according to the survey. Challenger support went from fourth overall last year (behind Gulfstream, Cessna and Dassault) to third from the bottom this year. And next to the bottom was Global Express support, which did slightly better last year. Learjet support placement slipped from fifth place last year to seventh this year. The JetStar came in last.

In AIN’s 2000 survey, turboprop product service and support was led by Swiss-based Pilatus for its PC-12, followed closely by Mitsubishi and its contracted U.S. support facility–Aircraft Turbine Services in Dallas. Earle Martin, president of a southwest-based charter company, said Mitsubishi and Aircraft Turbine Services “aggressively pursue improvements in their award-winning support through expanding the number of service centers and training options, such as SimCom and the PROP safety seminars.”

Last year Mitsubishi took first place and Pilatus came in second. This year, they have switched places again: Pilatus scored the highest and Mitsubishi placed second.

Cessna and Raytheon turboprop support also switched places. Last year Cessna was in third place overall and Raytheon in fourth. This year Raytheon support for its King Air moved up to third place and Cessna support of turboprops (primarily Conquests and Caravans) dropped to fourth.

The last three manufacturers of turboprops did not change position–Twin Commander, Fairchild (for Merlins and Metros) and, at the bottom, Piper (for the Cheyenne and Meridian).

In addition to a numerical value of service and support, survey respondents were asked to comment on their support experience. AIN believes the comments provided anecdotal indication as to why respondents voted the way they did, though they did not necessarily correlate with the numerical score. The majority of comments were based on a single experience (positive or negative).

Companies that scored higher were not without their critics, and companies that scored lower also had their fans. It’s important to remember, then, that squawks voiced here, which are often based on a single or small number of incidents, might not represent a company’s overall performance in product support and service.

With that in mind, let’s dive into some of the comments.

Bombardier
Bombardier support for the Challenger and Global Express ranked nearly last, according to the survey results. Learjet support, however, was about midway between the best and the worst scores. Of the 21 comments submitted, 15 were highly negative of service and support.

Don MacLean, who works in the maintenance department for a Challenger 601 operator based in the Northeast, said, “Bombardier continues the lack of support for parts that it has come to be known for over the past three years. Lots of promises for improvement of the parts system, but no noticeable change. Every part needed is a struggle unless Bombardier’s system is bypassed–very often going  straight to the vendor when possible.”

Doug Gordon, director of maintenance for another single Challenger 601 operation in the South, believes Bombardier support “is falling fast. The company needs to make up its mind on what it’s going to do, and do it.”

“Bombardier still can’t understand what customer service is,” according to Scott Mullen, aviation maintenance director for a southern company that operates a Challenger 601 and a Learjet 55.

The flight department manager of a Texas company said, “I hope Learjet will turn around and support the 40 series a bit better in the future.”

Bombardier continues to make changes, but “improvements are not visible yet,” said Dennis Phillips, chief pilot for a Midwest firm. However, Phillips did praise Bombardier’s Greg Goodner for “pulling one [parts problem] out of the hat for us.”

Global Express parts support and completion quality came under criticism by Rub Cornel, manager of technical support for a Swiss-based operation. “Green aircraft are fine, but the completion work and quality are below industry standard.” He added that Challenger and Global Express parts support is “very poor.” While conceding there has been “some improvement” in Bombardier support, a chief pilot for a Nevada company said support is “still behind industry standard.”

Referring to a Global Express, the manager of a Northeast aircraft operation wrote, “Great aircraft, horrible parts support.”

Parts support was also the subject of a gripe by a Northwest-based flight department. “Learjet needs to pull its head out of the sand and figure out how to list the same part number in the equipment list, parts sales department and parts catalog.” Bombardier parts and accounting are a “nightmare,” said a maintenance supervisor for a large charter operator based in the Northeast. “Rather disappointing, considering the company was once the best.”

Technical support from Montreal, Bombardier headquarters, and service centers “needs improvement,” in the opinion of a director of flight operations for an upper Midwest operator.

Finally on the negative side, this comment from senior maintenance specialist Philip Richard at a well known corporation that flies 10 Bombardier aircraft: “Lack of parts and incorrect shipments are a major problem. We used to purchase all parts from Bombardier, but we now order from other sources for our aircraft that are not in warranty.”

The Bombardier Learjet was the main subject of the six respondents who had positive experiences with support. “Our field service rep [Thomas Rutherford] has been outstanding,” said Ken Shelton, the chief pilot for a Learjet 31 operator based in the South. “We have had several avionics issues over the past four years and Rutherford has been involved in each one. He stays in touch with the service centers until the problems are solved and visits us at home base to aid in troubleshooting.”

“Although we have had numerous squawks with our new Learjet 45,” said John Delaney, a pilot for a small Kentucky company, “the responses from tech reps and Learjet’s maintenance people have been quite good.”

Chuck Letizia, director of maintenance for a New York aircraft management enterprise that operates Learjet 31s, 35s and 55s, said, “Learjet engineering and tech support have been exceptional for four straight years.” The director of maintenance for a Florida-based charter company reported a “big improvement” in Learjet field service and singled out Bombardier tech rep Tim Verble for special mention.

“Improvements” in product support for the Challenger and Global Express were also noted by two large charter/management firms based in the Northeast.

One of Bombardier’s latest efforts to improve product support was an agreement signed in April under which Camp Systems assumed responsibility for providing maintenance-tracking services for the more than 700 business jets currently enrolled in Bombardier’s in-house Computer Integrated Maintenance Management System.

Many Bombardier customers will also be watching how support will be affected when Bombardier closes its business aircraft service center in Indianapolis on or about October 1. A Bombardier spokesman described the flow through of business at Indianapolis as “less than at the others.” The spokesman said the company “looked at the current and projected needs of our customers over the next few years. We looked at capacity across the network and felt that we had more than enough capacity to satisfy the needs of our customers with one less service center.” The spokesman told AIN that the company is recommending that its Indianapolis customers use the Bombardier service centers in Wichita and Hartford, Conn.

Cessna
Survey results placed Cessna, the largest manufacturer of business jets, in second place for the second consecutive year. All but one of just eight comments submitted were complimentary. James Nawrot, a senior captain with a Midwest operation, had this to say: “Citation parts and warranty continue to be very good.” Edward Connelly, manager of flight operations for a California firm, had just one word to express his opinion of service and support: “Outstanding.”

The chief pilot for a small Midwest operation also used one word to describe the level of support: “Excellent.” He was particularly impressed with the high level of support from Cessna and other major Citation component OEMs (Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Pratt & Whitney Canada) because his Citation is more than 19 years old.

Ronald Pilz, director of air transportation for a university in the southern region, said OEM support and service has been “good.” This operator noted he is a participant in the Cessna Pro Parts and Power Advantage programs.

A regional maintenance director for a large, international charter/management firm reported that “support for our Citation X is far better than that for our Bombardier Challenger.” Steve Day, a pilot at a North Carolina company that operates two Citations, said: “Cessna has been remarkably consistent in providing high-value aircraft that are safe and easy to fly, if not the most comfortable to sit in. Product support is generally excellent, although the Citation service centers can be slow and pricey.”

Price was a bone of contention for Malcolm Soare, chief pilot for a Montana company. “The price of some parts is outrageous,” he said. “We just paid $7,600 for a temperature control valve made by Airborne for our Citation Excel.” He also expressed dismay that when the part failed it “didn’t even have 500 hours on it.”

Meanwhile, Cessna is expanding its service and support facilities. The company’s new Citation service center in Orlando, Fla., opened on June 21. The 155,000-sq-ft facility (which replaced the original 47,275-sq-ft center built in 1983) will be further enlarged to nearly 200,000 sq ft by October. Cessna is also building a massive Citation service center in Wichita. When that 500,000-sq-ft facility opens later this year, Cessna said it will be the largest general aviation maintenance facility in the world.

Dassault
Despite a major restructuring and expansion of support services that was completed late last year, the scores submitted by Falcon operators for this survey resulted in the company’s slipping in its overall standing. The French manufacturer placed third overall last year. In the current survey, the company came in fifth behind survey newcomer Boeing Business Jets and Sabreliner.

Notwithstanding Dassault’s placement in the list, the vast majority of comments received were positive. “We manage two Falcon 900EXs and we are very pleased with Dassault’s dedication and support.” This from a lead aircraft technician at a Las Vegas-based company. The director of aviation added his comments: “We continue to experience the utmost in dispatch reliability coupled with continuing improvement in service and support.”

Dassault was lauded by chief of maintenance Ron Ruocco for not only supplying “100 percent of the components requested,” but also because “Dassault has supplied CFE and Honeywell LRUs when these companies had no available rotables, such as bleed valves and load control valves.”

An operator in France labeled Dassault parts and modifications “expensive,” while Robert Engl, chief pilot for a Northeast firm, cited “defective” replacement parts as a big problem. “When they are electrical, such as relays, Dassault will not credit us.”

“We have had great response from Dassault Falcon Jet,” said the chief pilot for a large U.S. corporation based in the Northeast. “But sometimes our requests get buried in the organizational jungle.” And this from Herv Hodgson, a captain with a Washington-state company: “Dassault has come a long way over the past 10 years in finally making service a significant part of the total package.”

Earlier this year Dassault named four new Falcon field service representatives “to boost customer service throughout the U.S,” said the company.

The new Dassault Aircraft Services (DAS) network is designed to provide Falcon customers with “the kind of support they expect of airplanes of this quality,” said Todd McGahey, v-p and general manager of the Dassault service center in Wilmington, Del.

The goal is to “build an integrated approach to Falcon service worldwide; improve all levels of support offered directly to Falcon operators; and develop programs that reduce operating costs.” The plan brings service centers at Paris Le Bourget, Little Rock, Ark., and Wilmington under the DAS umbrella. Maintenance, paint, refurbishment, avionics mods, engineering, nondestructive testing, AOG go teams and full warranty services are available at all three locations.

Also part of the DAS network are Dassault subsidiaries Aero Precision Repair & Overhaul in Deerfield Beach, Fla., and Midway Aircraft Instrument at Teterboro Airport, N.J. The reorganization is part of a $30 million program that includes major growth at Wilmington, a new paint bay at Little Rock and an expansion of the regional service representative network.

Readers will have to wait until AIN’s survey next year to find out if these and subsequent changes in product support lift Dassault above its placement this year.

Gulfstream
As might be expected from the company that has placed first in the two most recent AIN surveys (for GII through G550 support), Gulfstream is not resting on its laurels, at least not as far as its currently manufactured models are concerned.

Over the past several months, the company said it has reduced prices by up to 48 percent on more than 6,000 consumable spare parts. The price reductions apply to over-the-counter transactions, as well as service center visits to all Gulfstream and General Dynamics Aviation Services locations. Along with what it calls “competitively priced” parts, Gulfstream includes a one-year or 1,000-hour warranty, whichever comes first, on every part it sells. On July 31 Gulfstream concluded a temporary program in which it would match competitors’ parts prices.

These programs might be working for some operators, considering that not one survey respondent criticized parts prices for currently manufactured Gulfstreams. Some Astra operators, however, have a completely different take on Gulfstream’s support. “The price of parts from Gulfstream for the Astra is unacceptable,” according to a pilot for a Florida company. He added that his company has sold the Astra and purchased a new Citation X.

The chief pilot of an Illinois firm said he “cannot recommend the Astra to anyone.” He did not elaborate. That said, note that the overall survey score for OEM support by Astra/G100, Galaxy/G200 and Westwind placed this segment of Gulfstream eighth, below Learjet and above Raytheon Beechjet/Diamond.

A captain for the Georgia-based arm of a large aviation equipment supplier expressed frustration dealing with Gulfstream’s documents department: “This department is very unresponsive to customer needs. I’ve left numerous voice mails and sent several e-mails with no response. Apparently, its policy is to have no contact with the customer.”

All the positive comments appeared to have been submitted by operators of original Gulfstream models. For example, John Calchera, a GIV captain with an Arizona firm, said, “The combination of Gulfstream and Honeywell is unbeatable.” A similar accolade was made by Gary Thiele, a captain for a Southern California charter operator: “You can’t beat the combination of Gulfstream, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell.”

Gulfstream continues to provide “excellent global support,” said a captain for a large international concern based in New York. He did, however, say that Gulfstream should consider “some improvements in responding to customer needs” at the company’s London Luton facility.

The best example of an incident requiring immediate support came from Rod Hamilton, captain for a multi-national corporation based in Michigan. “Late one Saturday night we experienced an unusual engine vibration during start. We called Gulfstream from the run-up pad. On a conference call, the company hooked us up with Rolls-Royce engineers who diagnosed the problem and saved the trip.”

Raytheon Aircraft
This manufacturer continues to progress up the product support list in all three model categories–Hawkers, Beechjets/Diamonds and King Airs. Last year, Hawker operators ranked Raytheon eighth overall, and this year the numerical result from Hawker customers placed Raytheon in sixth–sandwiched between Dassault and Bombardier Learjet.

Raytheon ranked third this year among turboprop OEMs–below Pilatus and Mitsubishi– compared with fourth place last year. (Cessna and Raytheon switched places this year versus last year.)

It can be seen from the overall ratings averages that product support by all the OEMs falls for older aircraft versus newer models, and Raytheon is no exception. However, although operators of Beechjets and Diamonds do not have the same esteem for Raytheon service and support as do Hawker operators, their scores this year pulled up the Raytheon Beechjet/Diamond ranking to outscore support by Bombardier for both the Challenger and Global Express. Last year Raytheon support for Beechjets and Diamonds was at the bottom of the standings list.

A King Air B200 captain who flies for a Midwest-based charter company called overall support “excellent” for both the airframe and the P&WC engine.

“Parts and service have been good,” said the chief pilot of a Colorado company that flies a B200. “However, once in a while the most simple part becomes the most difficult price-wise.” Raytheon support has “improved significantly in the last few years,” said an operator based in South Carolina.

Dale McPherson, maintenance manager for a Northeast operation, said that when Raytheon late last year stopped giving distributors discounts on parts, “this drove up the prices. I now pay 10 to 15 percent more for the same part than I did last year.” In response to McPherson’s complaint, a Raytheon Aircraft spokesman told AIN, “We did restructure our arrangement with dealers last year, which resulted in fewer parts discounts. However, in that restructuring we provided incentives that allow them to make up for any shortfalls they might experience with the change in discounts.”

David Grimm, a captain for a Midwest company, claimed Hawker support “is so poor” that the company is not considering a Hawker when shopping for a replacement. A mechanic for a Florida company bemoaned the fact that parts cost more when they are needed for an AOG.

One of the most gratifying remarks for Raytheon came from a Midwest-based operator of two Hawkers and two King Airs: “Ed Dolanski [Raytheon Aircraft v-p of customer support] and his staff have done a great job in making Raytheon a leader in service and support.”

Under Dolanski, Raytheon Aircraft over the last couple of years has focused on turning around its after-sales support operations. Last month Dolanski said the company reached a turning point in the effort and is now working on sustaining the claimed improvements (AIN, July, page 8).

Helicopters
The year-over-year standings for two of the major turbine helicopter manufacturers changed. In last year’s survey the lineup from top to bottom was Sikorsky, Agusta, Bell and Eurocopter. In this survey, Bell topped the list, followed by Agusta, Sikorsky and Eurocopter.

Bell was lambasted in one comment and lauded in another. “Getting the Bell 407 to the 25-hour interval of inspections is an exercise in futility,” said Allen Lambert, chief pilot for a Virginia-based operator. “Every time we have accomplished the necessary mods to move to 50 hours, Bell raises the bar with something else that returns [the inspection] to 25 hours.”

But the chief pilot for a company in the same state said, “I’ve had excellent experience with Bell products and less than that from Aerospatiale [Eurocopter].”

Eurocopter is “falling way behind in AS 355 support in all areas,” reported an aviation department manager, adding, “Turbomeca needs to work on getting its parts availability up to par and parts costs under control.”

There were no comments about Agusta or Sikorsky.

Engines
A major shift in the standings for jet engine support moved Rolls-Royce (AE3007) from ninth place overall last year to first this year, followed by CFE, which ranked sixth last year. Honeywell support of both the former Garrett and Textron engines moved to the sixth and last spots, respectively, compared with seventh and eighth last year.

Rolls-Royce Spey/Tay and BR710 standing dropped from first and third, respectively, last year to third and seventh this year. General Electric moved up slightly–from 10th to eighth.

Meanwhile, Pratt & Whitney Canada fell to fifth place in this survey versus second place in the previous voting. “Our P&WC JT15D, one of two overhauled in April 2003, failed due to loss of oil pressure (oil pump seal) after 7.3 hours in service,” commented James Hughes, a captain with a Southern-based university.

A first officer for a regional airline said P&WC’s support of the PW306B has been “outstanding.” The pilot believes the engine manufacturer “realizes that this engine is not the best it has ever produced, and still P&WC bends over backwards to help us out in a pinch.”

On the other hand, a pilot for a Midwestern foods corporation is elated with the PW306A in its Gulfstream 200. “With more than 1,200 hours on a G200, there have been only a couple of problems, which the manufacturer has fixed.” The PW306A “is going to be a great engine.”

Operators of GE engines that commented had a similar opinion. The assistant director of a large consulting firm based in the Midwest said GE is “not competitive.” Doug Gordon, director of maintenance for a Southern-based firm that operates a Challenger 601, wrote, “GE needs to support business jets better. We don’t have the money or capability of the airlines!”

The one comment made on CFE738 support came from a large equipment rental firm that operates a Falcon 2000 based in the Northeast. “Since we took delivery in 1999 we have had nothing but excellent support from Honeywell.” But the aviation department manager for a multinational corporation based in Pennsylvania said, “The TFE731 program has suffered with the Honeywell merger” just under five years ago.

Warranty response and policies were criticized in the two comments submitted about Rolls-Royce support. The maintenance manager of a Southern California company said he really “dislikes BR710 engine warranty response. It seems they are always dragging their feet when it comes to providing warranty support. It is always very difficult. R-R could learn some lessons from Gulfstream about customer support.”

“Rolls-Royce warranty policies are without a doubt the worst I have ever dealt with,” according to Thomas Phillips, a maintenance chief for a charter/management operation in Florida. “AOG response time is OK. Tech reps leave a little to be desired. Sometimes you get the feeling you know more about the product than they do.”

Pratt & Whitney Canada maintained its first-place showing among turboprop/turboshaft engine support.

According to a corporate pilot for a Florida-based company, PT6 engines “recently developed ‘puffing’ problems, and Pratt & Whitney Canada is less than open about it.” Giovanni Mulas, manager of customer support for P&WC, told AIN, “In recent months, light combustor carbon puffing has been detected on some new high-power PT6A turboprop engine models, primarily during the production pass-off flight testing. This issue does not impact any aspects of operation or performance of the engine or aircraft. P&WC is pursuing minor combustion-liner changes that will eliminate the visible puffing, and will incorporate the product change in new engine production during the course of 2004. These improvements will also be available for engines in service as required, and can be easily implemented during the scheduled hot-section inspection.”

Honeywell (being graded on support for TPE331s) fell two places–from second to fourth, above last place Turbomeca, which itself was in third place last year. Rolls-Royce’s support for the Model 250 swung to third place from last a year ago.

Avionics
The vast majority of comments submitted pertained to avionics support. Out of 19 avionics manufacturers that had a sufficient number of responses to qualify them for inclusion in this report, Garmin, Universal and AirCell received the highest scores. NorthStar Technologies, Thales and Meggitt received the lowest ratings. Rockwell Collins, in fifth place, outscored all of Honeywell’s units. Among airborne phone providers, MagnaStar ranked 15th against third-place AirCell.

The following is a look at some of the comments, in order of company ranking.
The chief pilot for a machinery company in the South reported “excellent service from Garmin and Honeywell.” A chief pilot for a Midwest firm said, “Thanks, Garmin,” for giving “us more than expected.”

Second-place Universal received generally excellent comments, with two exceptions. Kenneth Schneider, captain for a Northeast company that operates nearly a dozen business jets, complained that the battery for a Universal 1000 cost $3,000 to replace. An operation headquartered in the Deep South claimed that after six months, Universal still hasn’t resolved problems with, first, an interference by the TAWS with the Honeywell GNS XLS and then a complete failure of the TAWS.

“Mary” at AirCell “defines customer service,” said Chuck Letizia, maintenance director of a management concern in the Northeast that operates three corporate jets. “I’ve found none better.”

Fourth-place Avidyne received two comments–one praised the company’s EX500 display “as the greatest” and its graphics, speed and accuracy as “tremendous.” But another operator was annoyed that “Avidyne sold us the EX500 without being certified in a King Air B200. Waited a whole year for certification.”

Rockwell Collins received about an equal number of both positive and negative comments. Negative comments included “Support for older systems is abysmally bad;” “TCAS has been unserviceable since RVSM mod” and “tech rep has been less than enthusiastic about the problem;” Collins “needs to go back to school for customer support;” autopilots “constantly walk on the roll axis–no one can solve the problem;” and loaner radio equipment prices are a “disgrace.”

James Renfroe, director of maintenance for a Midwest charter operator, believes that “Collins rushes to get new boxes to the consumer, and then the consumer has to help Collins work out the bugs after installation.” Despite this remark, Renfroe praised Collins tech-service rep Steve Freilinger for going “above and beyond” to help the customer.

R. Woods, line captain for a Northeast firm, said he is “happy with Collins products,” and a pilot for a Midwest company thought that Collins “has really done a great job of including input from the field in its products.”

Finally, a manager of aircraft maintenance is very satisfied with the job Collins’s field service reps are doing, “but more coverage is needed.” Collins tech rep Ron Habelt in the Atlanta region was described as “outstanding” by the lead maintenance technician of a Southern-based aviation firm.

Honeywell’s integrated avionics products ranked seventh out of 19, followed by Honeywell’s Global Wulfsberg in eighth and the Honeywell Bendix/King line at 10th. Allegations of poor reliability were a common theme from several respondents. “Primus 2000 avionics–not the best reliability of parts received from Honeywell repair stations,” said a chief of maintenance. This from a chief pilot in the UK: “Honeywell seems to have a policy of returning parts to service with the same faults still present.”

“Constantly troubled with failing on/off switches on King transceivers,” was the complaint from a pilot in the UK. “This has even occurred after repair and modification.”

A charter operator claimed “90 percent of returned parts arrive tagged with ‘no fault find.’ After installation, the same problem still exists.” This same problem was voiced by the captain for a large media concern. According to the chief pilot for a ministries group, “Poor Honeywell product support has caused us to use another manufacturer when adding new avionics.” Two respondents claimed long turnaround times and unreasonably expensive charges for repairs and loaners.

On the positive side, two respondents expressed complete satisfaction with the reliability, performance and service of their respective King IHAS 8000 and 850 units. “I have had excellent service from Honeywell,” said a chief pilot for a Southern-based company that makes machinery.

Shane Kelley, a first officer for a fractional operator, is also a part-time avionics instructor on the Citation at a simulator training organization. Kelley lauded both the Collins Pro Line and Honeywell Primus as being “excellent systems” and noted that “Honeywell has an excellent Web site for technical support questions.”

Rockwell Collins’s Airshow ranked 12. While commenters said Airshow is a good product, most respondents also cited frequent and expensive repairs. “We find that 20 percent of our unscheduled maintenance is with the Airshow product,” said the maintenance manager of a large financial concern.

The director of maintenance for a major charter company said, “Airshow refuses to support older models.” Douglas Slotolowicz, director of maintenance for a New York-based company, also claimed “it’s not possible to get older units repaired if you are not in warranty. $5,000 for an exchange unit, no exceptions and no rentals.”

“Nothing but good experiences with Airshow service” was voiced by Richard Wolfskeil, a pilot for a charter company based in Florida. He said, “I’ve never had such great support as Airshow gave our company.”

Unfortunately, all the comments received on the MagnaStar flight phone were unflattering. Timothy McGill, director of maintenance for a Falcon 2000 operator, wrote, “MagnaStar’s charging a $5,000 flat fee for any repair on a flight phone is outrageous.”

The director of aviation for a Northeast-based consumer goods company that operates two Challenger 601s said, “Our first of two MagnaStar phones failed 30 days after purchase. Replaced it with an old repaired unit. We have since replaced four units at our cost because they were just outside warranty parameters.”

The chief pilot for an equipment rental company that operates a Falcon 2000 thought the support policy for the MagnaStar was “not very customer oriented.” According to the director of operations for an investment firm that operates a Falcon 50EX, “We estimate our MagnaStar cost at $40 per three-minute call. I wouldn’t install one in another aircraft.”

This same manager was also unimpressed with his Thales emergency altimeter, calling it a “disgrace.” Thales, which placed 18th, next to last, also received this damning remark by the chief pilot for a Canadian company that operates a Falcon 900: “Thales was totally unresponsive to a recent warranty claim on a newly overhauled unit, which was misassembled.”

Jim Girdley, aviation department manager for a supply firm that operates a King Air, expressed his pleasure over his two NorthStar M-3 GPS receivers “until one had to have a SB update and the other wouldn’t send a signal to our new King 850 multifunction display.” Both units, he said, were in the shop for “more than two months and expensive to repair.”

The Bottom Line
We’ve covered a lot of manufacturers and products in this survey and have attempted to provide the data as thoroughly and objectively as possible. The method of presenting comments and scoring is not intended to malign or endorse any specific manufacturer or product. Instead, it is our hope that manufacturers will gain some insight into how some customers–albeit the most vocal–feel about their after-sales support, and will use this information in their continuing efforts to improve their customer support and service programs.

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