Discovering the unique characteristics of business jet ownership in your operation can be similar to getting to know a new child. Each is unique and requires patience and expertise notes Aviation Director, Johnsonville Sausage, Andre Fodor…
As I write, I am cruising at FL400 above the Atlantic. Europe lies three hours behind us, and I’m settling down to another seven hours of flight before we begin our descent into sunny Florida, the latest stop on a marathon of transoceanic flights.
We’ve been to several European destinations and far beyond, down to South Africa and Zimbabwe. During these trips, we’re validating our new long-range jet and developing confidence and trust in its reliability and performance capabilities.
The FMS stokes a desire in me to climb to the upper flight levels, but for now I’m holding back aware there’s a software bug in it. Trusting my review of the performance charts, I’m confident in my decision to stay put for another three hours before climbing higher. Having a greater buffet speed boundary and protection envelope is a good choice when high performance wings laden with fuel are trying to squeeze every bite of lift from the thin air outside.
The ‘First Nine Months’
As I ponder all of this, I’m reminded that this is not my first carrousel ride! I have purchased and incepted many airplanes before, and they all have had their challenges, learning curves and especially maintenance snags that created dispatch reliability challenges and a hefty dose of new learning and experiences. I call this the ‘First Nine Months’; it’s akin to when my wife and I were pregnant with any one of our three children. These were stages of anticipation, learning and wondering at what was considered normal or abnormal.
Similarly, we read manuals, service bulletins and magazine articles - and we discuss the aircraft’s operation, performance, advantages and challenges with other owners in an attempt to become as well prepared as possible before our new ‘baby’ is delivered.
But as any proud parent knows, no amount of reading or research can completely prepare you. All babies are different and don’t come with a specific manual that will answer all your challenging questions. Neither do airplanes; each comes with its own characteristics!
The First Nine Months can be tough; your professional experience, ability to think outside the box and the long-term relationship that you have invested and built with the OEM will now be put to test. Your principal’s expectation will be to show-up and fly on the new airplane. To them, these tribulations should (and will) be invisible. It falls upon you, the Flight Department Manager, to juggle the trips and the maintenance.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve returned from a long trip on a brand new airplane, only to head directly to the service center so that 'issues' can be resolved ahead of the next trip. It takes years of professional experience to accept and understand why new airplanes break and malfunction regardless of who builds them.
To the uninitiated, it’s reasonable to expect that if big money has been spent, everything should work perfectly - but these are highly complex machines, often delivered in the haste of the end of a fiscal year to take advantage of tax depreciation…
Overcoming Teething Troubles
I could tell many stories of aircraft ‘teething’ issues of the past. For example on one jet I flew, every time we operated in cold weather our flight control lock system would not disengage.
As troubleshooting progressed, we discovered that as the aircraft’s cockpit warmed up the system would operate correctly. Thus, a hair dryer bearing the same color as our aircraft became an integral part of our equipment, allowing us to accelerate the cockpit heating process.
It took us nearly two winters and a large dose of goodwill and dedication from aircraft mechanics and engineers to single out an obscure relay. It took everything from a portable air conditioner, dry ice, freeze gas and many other ingenious devices for us to discover the problem.
If it wasn’t for that mutual cooperation – a team-based approach to problem solving, goodwill, and careful prior investment into building long-term relationships), I would still be wielding a blue hairdryer on my tool belt during winter operations!
As I work in maturing a new airplane, I want a high dispatch reliability which will cure my acid reflux; parts that don’t fail and that keep maintenance low and inexpensive; and high reliability that will keep me and my passengers safe, relaxed and secure as I cover the world on one of our many adventures. I nurture the jet and my professional relationships according to my desire for those outcomes!