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If you asked most users to name the best aspect of private aviation- the answer usually comes down to the ability to reach places no common carrier ventures- whether remote spots on the globe accessible only by air- or an alternative urban airport that lets you avoid the congestion and inconvenience of using the over-busy air carrier airport - and to your own schedule – not someone else’s. That’s why the ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st April 2008
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Keeping AOG from becoming another dirty phrase in air travel.

If you asked most users to name the best aspect of private aviation- the answer usually comes down to the ability to reach places no common carrier ventures- whether remote spots on the globe accessible only by air- or an alternative urban airport that lets you avoid the congestion and inconvenience of using the over-busy air carrier airport - and to your own schedule – not someone else’s.

That’s why the worst part of flying private can be when something breaks and grounds the airplane. Instantly control over the ‘Time’ element leaves the operator’s control and moves to the folks charged with fixing the aircraft. Aircraft on Ground – AOG: From pretty much every perspective- one of aviation’s ugliest acronyms. Use of AOG usually includes an implied dislocation from its home base. It almost always carries a sense of urgency – and the plane breaking on a typical trip is usually very urgent to everyone involved- including passengers and crew- any dispatch people connected to the aircraft’s operator- and- of course- the maintenance and support personnel – which stretches from those on the front line turning wrenches to the ones who pack a part for expedited shipment to the AOG site.

There may also be a ripple effect to FBO and hotel desk staff- particularly their respective concierges. In cases of particularly tough-to solve problems or heavily scheduled aircraft- AOG can impact people on future trips put at risk by the grounding too. Thankfully- this is well recognized- and AOG situations tend to receive urgent treatment up and down the chain of involvement.

It’s bad enough anytime the aircraft breaks. It’s so much worse when it breaks far from home. And when broken somewhere far away and with no on-field repair capability? That would be the worst scenario! But it happens. Modern aircraft- highly reliable though they are- consist of thousands of often-complex parts required to properly “fly in close formation” with each other- as one old aviator’s line puts it.

Even with the best of maintenance- once in a while something fails to work as needed. For the truly fortunate- the failure happens at the home base- with alternative travel and maintenance available. For the less fortunate- though- the problem occurs somewhere on the road – but at a facility capable of tending to the plane’s needs. The least fortunate need help that makes house calls- maybe even some place it takes effort to reach to begin with.

All three scenarios demand special attention from folks equipped to end this unproductive AOG situation and restore normal control of that Fourth Dimension.

Since failures can happen almost anywhere- companies specializing in international AOG support typically have traits that blend different disciplines to achieve their goal. Parts availability is a necessity; the ability to quickly get the part to the plane is essential. To bring everything together and return the plane to service every AOG situation needs qualified repair technicians.

The ability to close this loop wherever in the world the plane sits is the purview of the AOG specialist at engine and aircraft makers- avionics companies and support organizations. Domestically- within the Continental United States- under-24-hour AOG service is common; likewise in Europe and the trend is growing in Asia. When AOG support requires the movement of parts and people across international borders and on the opposite side of the planet- the capabilities needed to fulfill raidresponse AOG service become more demanding.

An AOG specialist may offer stock control and storage management and complete single-source logistic support services. To work internationally- the capabilities should also include the ability to move parts across national boundaries legally and quickly – which means export licensing to satisfy federal requirements- a working knowledge of freight forwarding and have access to expediters to keep parts moving when in the target country- recognition of and the ability to deal with rules governing any hazardous materials that may be involved- understanding of the inspection processes involved and the ability to handle international transactions in the required currency.

And that’s just for the parts half of the AOG formula. As noted above- equally critical to ending an AOG situation is the right help to accomplish the needed work- and someone with the authority to inspect and sign the log for return-to-service. For operators of any brand that boasts a network of service centers- the solution may be as easy as one phone call – particularly when the aircraft is still under warranty.

When an aircraft is new to the market- one of the tasks that the manufacturer faces is establishing both the network and the support reputation. Old and new- at some point the manufacturer matches the quality and professionalism of its aircraft with crisis-maintenance support- a necessary step if a planemaker wants to be taken seriously by the mainstream market for business-turbine aircraft.

Regardless of the type of owner- those who invest in a new jet expect service commensurate with their investment. That’s the expectation- whether the new jet costs the owner the smallest possible amount – say $1.6 million – or tens of millions for a machine still green. They all expect that investment to serve at a moments notice – and they want to see service equal to their use expectations: immediate.

Eclipse Aircraft and Embraer are among the newer players engaged in the process of establishing their support credentials – and AOG considerations are part-and-parcel to each company’s efforts. Eclipse recently launched its own rapid-response customer-support program under the title- OneCall AOG- an element of the company’s JetComplete program. The VLJ maker structured the program to assist customers in need with support access 24- hours a day- seven days a week- 52 weeks a year.

The program encompasses the elements of support that AOG situations demand: technical phone support- logistics and overnight parts delivery. As JetComplete Business clients- Eclipse 500 operators need only make a single call to a OneCall representative- who- in turn- manages all of the arrangements to repair the plane and authorize its return to flight. Eclipse wants every call to OneCall AOG to receive 24- hour return-to-service priority handling.

Embraer- meantime- understands well that reliability is as important to private fliers as it is to commercial operators. That’s not surprising- as for years Embraer has been a player in the regional and small-airliner fields while- at the same time- manufacturing both license-built Cessnas and its own line of general aviation aircraft. So it was also not surprising when Embraer last summer announced the ground-breaking and construction launch of its first of three executive jet centers planned for the U.S.

Embraer plans to spend about $40 million on the three- which includes the first – scheduled to open mid-year – at Williams Gateway International Airport outside Phoenix- another at Ft. Lauderdale- Hollywood International in Florida- and the third at Bradley International outside Hartford- Connecticut.

The company plans to offer full-serviced maintenance – scheduled and otherwise – repairs on engines- airframes and avionics- parts- inspections- and- most importantly- AOG rescue teams ready to travel to Embraer airplanes in need. The mobile AOG rescue teams will be supported by the supply of expendable and rotable stock and technicians trained to the specifics of the Embraer products that make up the immediate product line – the Legacy 600 – as well as the upcoming Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 jets already well into development. By taking these steps- Embraer helps assure its customers that parts critical to resolving any AOG situation won’t be too many hours away in Brazil.

But attending to the need for international AOG support is an ongoing issue that only grows with the number of planes delivered. Aside from the growth in the pure number of airplanes that need support- the regions where those jets are concentrated is also not static. Take the example of an established player finding increasing success in a new part of the world: Bombardier Aerospace in Russia.

The planemaker in February announced its designation of Switzerland’s Jet Aviation as operator of the newest Bombardier support affiliate to provide improved AOG coverage and line maintenance in a market that’s been emerging for the company.

Designating the new operation in Moscow- gave Bombardier its first factoryauthorized support facility in Russia. The base at Vnukovo International Airport is but the latest in a network of 45 facilities Bombardier maintains around the world to provide the highest level of AOG support for customers of its Learjet- Challenger and Global business aircraft. And you can find similar stories with Airbus- Boeing- Cessna- Dassault- Hawker Beechcraft and Gulfstream too.

Likewise- AOG service is an important element to customer service for business helicopter makers like AgustaWestland- Eurocopter- Sikorsky and others. Best of all- almost universally- special AOG service is available both under new-plane warranties as well as through most maintenance-bythe- hour programs.

At some point no-compromise AOG service stops being a warranty issue for manufacturers and becomes subject to how operators choose to meet their investment’s longterm maintenance needs. Some cover an entire aircraft- tip-to-tail and all the critical systems in between. Other programs may cover a specific area: airframe- general recurrent and preventative maintenance- for example- while another looks after the powerplants.

Even when under planemakers’ original warranty period- typically engine or panel AOG service came from the powerplant or avionics maker through the factory contact. CFE- Honeywell- GE- Pratt & Whitney Canada- Rolls-Royce- Turbomeca and Williams International all strive to earn their marks with flight crews with timely AOG support of their respective powerplants- both under warranty and under by-enrollment maintenance and upkeep programs.

For aircraft owners in the post-warranty period of ownership- OEMs continue to vie for their business. But such operators have options through the many third-party providers offering routine and AOG service. Regardless of how the service structure stands- these programs share a number of traits.

Many independent companies offer both stand-alone and by-enrollment maintenance programs that provide AOG attention. The by-enrollment programs hold great appeal because of their cost structure- which primarily serves to provide stable- predictable cost control over the aircraft’s upkeep. Such programs can actually increase the re-sale value of an aircraft – not to mention taking away unpredictability in maintenance.

And we can’t neglect to point out the added margin of confidence in the prospect that any AOG situations will receive the rapt attention of someone who can help make the experience as brief as possible. At Chicago’s Midway Airport- the joint efforts of Atlantic Aviation- Duncan Aviation and Jet Aviation- offers on-call maintenance with an emphasis on AOG needs. These companies also maintain their own independent operations at many other locations.

Less than two years ago- BizJet International- announced the start of a multi-company support network for VIP and business jet operators in North America. BizJet- a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik- crafted a network that includes Penta Aviation Services in Vancouver- BC; Western Jet Aviation- Inc. and Thornton Aircraft in Van Nuys- Calif.- the Palwaukee Service Center in Wheeling- Ill.- and FirstFlight in Elmira- NY. The plan: to add depth to BizJet International’s existing Global Support Network program which offers worldwide VIP customer service with the motto: “Get me home.”

Whatever the problem the customer encounters- anywhere the customer suffers the problem- BizJet’s “Get me home” approach encompasses earth with technical- operational and logistical services and support. That includes a rapid response team of specialists dedicated to AOG service. The company will- within three hours- assemble and launch the needed team by the fastest available means – even by special flight- if needed.

As much as planemakers- engine manufacturers and avionics makers pride themselves on the quality of their products and their capacity to make right things gone wrong- not every company can necessarily stock every part that might go bad. That’s why many providers of important components also set up in-house AOG systems.

No company wants a grounded customer- so keeping downtime minimal is as important to many vendors as it is the companies that originally used their components. Fuel-system components- wheels and brakes- APUs- even cabin-electronics suppliers work to make their inventory available to those in need.

Consider a business jet grounded by an in-tank component gone wrong – a component with an excellent track record. Since the part almost never fails- the jet maker may not have that exact part sitting on a warehouse shelf. But thanks to savvy partnerships and modern telecommunications- these vendors work with the planemaker- for example- to make the part show up as if it had been waiting at the airplane factory for just this occasion.

AOG Inc. in Dallas is but one such operator- with its expertise in the service and repair of integral fuel tanks and fuel systems for commercial- corporate- general aviation and military aircraft. The company’s AOG “Tiger Teams” provide around-the-clock service for inspections- repair of bladder type fuel cells- fuel components and auxiliary fuel systems. And another company- Ship It AOG- offers similar service for wheels- brakes- tires and other rolling components found on today’s modern jets.

How your AOG protection is structured should reflect the use of the aircraft- the availability of other travel options and the ability of the maintenance people to deliver. And to deliver- your AOG service should include the ability to reach out to distant points- reach in to the stocks of important parts vendors- and deliver both the parts and the people to fix the problem – fast.

No one likes losing control over their time and travel when taking control was much of the original point of investing in a company aircraft to begin with. By working with your maintenance professional – and the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association urges every operator to have a designated lead wrench for the plane – every company can find a way to keep AOG from becoming another dirty phrase in air travel.

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