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Editorial opinions


What changes have helicopter manufacturers made to improve customer service? How do they see customer support evolving in the future?

Anthony Baker
Airbus Helicopters VP Customer Support

Airbus Helicopters has a global network of 30 customer centers and some 96 MRO facilities. The company also dispatches techs to perform maintenance on site.
Airbus Helicopters North America has made it its priority to use this past year to improve its ways of working.

The company has done this in order to continue supporting its customers who fly helos to save lives, protect communities, and transport goods and passengers. One of Airbus’s main focus areas is AOG events.

Here the company has reorganized its approach, with a new team dedicated 100% to AOGs so as to work alongside customers, reduce lead times, and ensure 24/7 telephone and online support.

Airbus has increased the capabilities of its service centers and brought on its first H160 service center in the Northeast US, gearing up for entry into service later this year.

On the training side, Airbus has adapted schedules and procedures to fulfill customers’ needs during the pandemic, and has also launched new virtual training options.

The company will soon be deploying H145 5-blade maintenance training courses, and will inaugurate Helisim’s H145 (4- and 5-blade) Level D full flight simulator in Grand Prairie TX in the coming months. 

Lastly, Airbus is taking steps to increase its customer support management teams, who help streamline spares logistics and deliveries, and reduce AOGs, while also developing new processes to improve the customer experience of placing support orders. The company’s overriding goal in all this is to provide a seamless support experience so that our customers can keep their minds where they need to be- on carrying out their missions. 

As we look toward the future of support, I believe Airbus Helicopters will be using smarter technologies with its customers, from training, to how it troubleshoots technical issues and provides solutions. The company will have the capabilities to support its customers virtually regardless of their operations or locations, and is putting in place the required infrastructure and training to make this future a reality very soon. 

Ronnie Ries
Bell Senior Manager Customer Experience

Bell has invested into mybell.com, its customer portal, to continue to empower Bell owners, operators, and authorized maintainers to improve their operations.

The company has surveyed its customers, and has been praised on its efforts to improve customer experience, whether it is through its new eCommerce platform dedicated to expanding availability of spare parts and upgrades, or by improving its technical publication and exposure to warranty events.

In addition, Bell’s focus on ensuring its customers are happy and successful has resulted in the upcoming opening of a Customer Care Center, with a specific emphasis on further improving AOG support.

Bell expects to start seeing a much deeper symbiotic relationship between OEMs and customers with the ability to transfer operational data seamlessly between the 2 parties. That includes better opportunities to improve flight, maintenance, and training operations with connected fleet services like Bell’s low-cost health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) and QuantiFLY Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) solutions.

The manufacturer is also focused on providing further transparency to its customers via MyBell on how they’re performing on the delivery of parts, repairs, and even the delivery of customer aircraft.

Vittorio Della Bella
Leonardo SVP Cust Support & Training Worldwide

Leonardo’s worldwide network of service stations and maintenance teams offer support for civil and military operators.
Leonardo has established a clear customer-centric strategy with its well-known ThinkCustomer program, which was launched a few years ago and continues to be a journey of improvements based on the passion, dedication, and commitment of its people.

In the past few years, the company has been expanding its MRO network capabilities with both Leonardo-owned and third-party activities, and has partnered with its customer community to act as a single team in providing services close to industry hotspots.

This has certainly made the difference, as Leonardo has been able to improve its supply chain not only in terms of execution, but also at management level.

It is not a secret that a customer-centric culture will bring more and more need to offer a full customer experience with better products and services. It is no longer a matter of being excellent in selling spare parts or having superior Part 145 skills – the entire industry is looking at a global capability to provide flight and ground services to the crews, to the community, to the people.

It’s a matter of providing a new vertical flight experience and having a global fleet of “connected” helicopters, enabling these machines to leverage the digital innovation changes that the world is claiming. Ultimately, this will also reframe the way Leonardo, as a leading helicopter manufacturer, will design its products in the future.

Nick Nenadovic
MDHI VP Aftermarket and Customer Support

MD Helicopters has implemented a number of changes. We have spent considerable time improving our internal and external processes to increase mobility of our customer support team, leading to improved response times and better forecasting and parts availability.

Our supply chain organization has worked tirelessly to launch second sources for critical parts and invest in our inventory levels to enhance the customer experience. Specifically, MD has identified new sources for drive shafts, composite tailbooms, main gearbox pressure transducers, and temperature sensors, which will provide improved part life and reliability at lower costs.

The transducers and temperature sensors have completed testing and are now in inventory to support both production manufacturing and spares support. 

The company is also in the process of changing materials for main and tail rotor gearboxes to reduce manufacturing scrap rates, which will reduce lead times for transmissions.

Our technical publications organization has completed revisions to 15 manuals, of which 7 were released during 2020 and 8 this year (including 1 full revision), plus 2 currently in progress. We are planning to release a phased inspection program for the MD 530F, which is in final review.

Furthermore, we have restructured our catalog pricing and discount tiers, allowing more savings for our customers. The MDHI customer support team is committed to remaining nimble during these changing times, while welcoming innovative opportunities to increase customer satisfaction.

Particularly in the post-pandemic world, MD Helicopters foresees industry customer service continuing the shift to utilize digitally-based opportunities, like its innovative mymd.aero, that will anticipate customer needs, and return the best solutions possible to its customer base.

Daniel Rugenstein
Robinson Helicopter Technical Support Rep

Robinson works continually to improve its helicopters by reducing maintenance and unscheduled downtime, which results in lower operating costs and increased helicopter readiness.

This applies to the parts the company manufactures directly, as well as to items it purchases from suppliers, such as engines. One recent example is the engine start overspeed protection feature, now standard on all new-production R22 and R44 models, which protects the engine if an operator inadvertently tries to start the engine with the throttle open.

The company is also reducing costs by extending component lives. The R44 Cadet TBO was extended from the standard R44 2200 hours to 2400 hours, providing a lower cost per flight hour.

In recognition of the growing Robinson fleet, in 2019 the manufacturer expanded its FAA/EASA-approved repair station by opening a 37,000-sq-ft facility dedicated to customer service repairs and overhauls. This investment will continue to serve Robinson customers in reducing overhaul and repair turn times.

Robinson continues to provide technical publications on its website free of charge, and operators can sign up to receive free e-mail notifications of new revisions. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Robinson has maintained a dedicated staff of technical reps and customer support services to respond quickly to its customers’ needs.

For Robinson, the future of customer service is to provide faster and more comprehensive information to pilots and mechanics. Available on the R66 since inception, beginning in 2020 all new R22 and R44 helicopters now include electronic monitoring units (EMUs) which record engine speed, rotor speed, engine oil temperature, cylinder head temperature, manifold pressure, ambient pressure, and outside air temperature.

The EMU records and alerts mechanics and pilots to exceedances, providing quick, reliable, and accurate information at the time of an occurrence or during normal inspection cycles. This will increase safety by taking the guesswork out of assessing the severity of any exceedance, allowing for a quicker resolution.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also taught us how efficiently we can provide FAA IA and assorted other training using online collaborative tools such as Zoom. These tools allow us to reach a larger population due to the minimal time and associated cost required for our customers compared to in-person training.

Jason Lambert
VP Sikorsky Global Commercial & Military Systems

Sikorsky continues to invest in sustainment solutions to enable its customers to meet their mission. As part of Lockheed Martin’s Sustainment Success System (S3), Sikorsky is able to leverage a record military helicopter backlog to ensure continued investment in platform-agnostic technologies that benefit both military models in development and legacy commercial aircraft in service.

In addition, the company has empowered customers and company field service reps with mobile applications that speed technical troubleshooting and connect directly back to its Customer Care Center. 

Sikorsky has also rolled out sophisticated cognitive search utilities that draw upon decades of legacy maintenance records to speed fault determination, and continues to deploy interactive electronic technical manuals that can provide maintenance instructions for resolution.

Investments in algorithms originally intended for vanguard military programs such as CH-53K and F-35 are now allowing Sikorsky to introduce new artificial intelligence techniques and prove their relevance in driving improved operational availability.

This process has driven world-class forecasting analytics, resulting in operational availability rates of over 94% in commercial models.

The company focuses on keeping aircraft availability high, shortening the time it takes from identifying an issue to getting aircraft back up and flying, and improving the safety of the operation by making sure the correct information and parts are available to operators at all times.

Sikorsky remains dedicated to expanding the use of condition-based maintenance, coupling it with investments in advanced health and monitoring systems that target more of the aircraft’s critical systems. As increased mobile connectivity enables higher bandwidth data transmissions, real-time support and analysis of data coming off the aircraft will continue to shorten turnaround times while driving down inventory and cost.

The company also sees a shift toward embedding this intelligence on the platform itself, where the ultimate goal is for the integrated sustainment system to prognostically detect issues, signal spare part needs, and serve digital maintenance instructions to guide a repair using augmented reality.

All of this would happen with sufficient lead time to enable these actions to be scheduled to minimize mission disruption, improving significantly the mean time to repair.