Airframers offer attractive by-the-hour maintenance plans.
By Owen Davies
In the first part of this article (Pro Pilot, April 2023, p 30), we established that hourly cost maintenance programs (HCMPs) are no longer a novelty. If bizjet operators do not sign up for them automatically, HCMPs are at least a known option when buying new aircraft or considering the future maintenance needs of an existing fleet.
Bombardier has offered them since 1986, Bell since the early 1990s, and Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) for about 35 years. Herein, we survey the programs offered by 7 prominent aircraft original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
The manufacturer’s Smart Services maintenance contracts are offered under the names Smart Parts, Smart Parts Plus, Smart Parts Preferred, and Smart Parts Elite. They cover the cost of parts for Learjet, Challenger, and Global models up to 25 years old. Unlike many HCMPs, Bombardier’s are metered in flight hours, rather than calendar time.
The baseline Smart Parts program covers airframe systems components, wear on tires and brakes, life-limited components, alerts, recommended service bulletins, and avionics. Extra cost options include coverage of landing gear overhaul, cabin system components, scheduled labor, unscheduled labor for removal of covered parts from normal operations, and APU parts and labor exclusively for Global 5000, 6000, and 7500 series aircraft.
Smart Parts Preferred contracts include parts and labor for unscheduled events if customers have signed up for the unscheduled labor option.
The new Smart Services Elite program covers parts and labor for unscheduled events by default. It also takes care of freight for delivery of parts, as well as technical publications and mobile repair teams. Contracts last for 5 years or 5000 hours (whichever comes first), or 6 years or 6000 hours. The company reports that 93% of Smart Services customers renew their subscription when the previous contract expires.
One benefit of the Preferred and Elite programs has been especially welcome of late. Annual price increases are capped at 2.95%. Bombardier says that this feature has saved customers 8% this year. So far, more than 1600 aircraft have been enrolled in the programs.
Airbus Corporate Jets
The Airbus ACJ Care program offers tailored incremental packages to support the operator’s material, engineering, and maintenance needs. At the bottom end of the product line, the Essentials package supplies components, support, repair, consumables, expendables, tooling, and ground support equipment.
At the top, the Total package adds line, base, and heavy maintenance; engine maintenance, and leasing; and service by a Continuing (EASA) or Continuous (US) Airworthiness Management Organization.
Components are available by the hour or by the event, providing operators with inventory at their main base and selected outstations, backed up by access to unanticipated parts as needed.
For maintenance work, Airbus relies on service centers provided by 6 MRO companies worldwide. Each ACJ operator is assigned to one of 11 customer support directors (CSDs), who handle large-scale and continuing issues such as entry into service preparation, contract administration, and safety coordination. For technical issues, the ACJ Customer Care Centre (C4You) provides e-mail answers to routine questions and 24/7 telephone support for critical situations.
In addition, specialized engineers at Airbus Technical AOG Centre (AIRTAC) provide 24-hour assistance until the plane is returned to service. There are 2 locations – one covering most of the globe, and one located in and dedicated to China.
Phenoms are served by the company’s Embraer Executive Care (EEC) programs. There are 3 levels, each with contracts lasting 5 years. EEC Prime Parts covers only the cost and next-day air shipping of the 100 most expensive parts. These include avionics, autopilot servos, starter generators, and cockpit windshields. Wheels and tires can be added to the plan separately.
EEC Standard covers scheduled and unscheduled maintenance of repairable parts, replacement of expendables, and next-day air shipping of parts orders. Under the EEC Standard contract, work need not be carried out by an authorized Embraer service center.
EEC Enhanced coverage includes parts for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, expendables, consumables, and next-day air freight for parts. Labor is covered for work carried out by Embraer authorized service centers and for AOG events handled by an Embraer mobile recovery team.
An engine option covers parts and labor for certain scheduled engine maintenance, but it excludes off-wing maintenance, hot section inspections, work that would be covered by P&WC’s ESP program, and items normally covered by insurance.
EEC pricing is adjusted for consumer price index inflation. Contracts can be passed on to the new owner when a plane is sold.
Pilatus is a relative newcomer to hourly cost maintenance. The first PC-24 customers signed up for a CrystalCare contract in 2017. The program became available for the PC-12 NGX 3 years later. Nearly half of PC-24s and 12% of the PC-12 NGX fleet are signed up for CrystalCare. Service contracts are not offered yet for PC-12 NG or PC-12 legacy aircraft.
The full CrystalCare program adds coverage of many items not included with the aircraft warranty, and extends coverage of some that expire before the 5-year term is out. For the PC-12 NGX, available additions include prop coverage for scheduled labor, parts, and overhaul; P&WC’s ESP Platinum hourly maintenance program for the PT6E-67XP powerplant; AOG recovery service; freight costs; consumables; expendables; and recommended service bulletins.
Extensions include maintenance tracking by CAMP Systems, which otherwise expires after 1 year; cabin systems, factory options, troubleshooting labor; and unscheduled parts, labor, overhauls, and repairs; and the Honeywell maintenance and service plan – all of which are covered for only 2 years under warranty. For the PC-24, coverage adds a performance and mass and balance calculator. The Williams FJ-44 turbofans are covered by Total Assurance Program (TAP) Blue.
CrystalCare also provides 2 Pilatus-specific benefits – an annual corrosion inspection and up to 4 exterior washes per year.
Assuming 150 flight hours or 100 cycles per year, coverage for a new PC-24 in the US adds up to $650 per flight hour and a monthly fee of $7800. Bills from CAMP, Honeywell, and/or P&WC are bundled into the single invoice. Initial CrystalCare contracts expire after 5 years, and renewals are available for 36 or 60 months.
Its Customer Advantage Plans (CAPs) have been well received. Kimie Lishman, senior manager customer relations support, notes that one operator has been continuously renewing a contract since Bell first offered HCMPs in the 1990s.
Bell’s maintenance plans have evolved since then. In 2023, there are 4 – CAP Standard, CAP Executive, CAP Select, and CAP Premier. All plans cover standard helicopter configuration parts priced over $250, parts for unscheduled maintenance, and component exchanges, including shipping costs. Bell’s CAPs cover avionics.
When customers sign up for a CAP before delivery, they receive 3 years of labor coverage for unscheduled maintenance instead of 1. Beyond that, there are significant variations.
CAP Select and CAP Premier cover life-limited parts and overhauls. They also cover warranty-related labor for 3 years. The CAP Standard and CAP Executive plans do not.
CAP Select and CAP Premier plans are renewable. The CAP Standard plan is not, and renewals for the CAP Executive plan end when the helicopter is 10 years old.
With the CAP Standard and CAP Premier plans, billing is based on flight hours, but there are no minimum or maximum limits on hours flown. Contracts last 5 years.
The CAP Executive plan is a 1-year contract billed annually. Coverage is limited to 100 or 200 hours at the customer’s choice. There is no minimum limit, but, unlike the other plans, payments for unused hours are forfeit.
With the Select plan, minimum and maximum flight hours, billing, and contract duration all are tailored for each customer.
When the aircraft is sold, Premier contracts return any remaining funds to the owner. At the seller’s choice, they can also be passed on to a new owner.
While this is the current lineup, Bell’s HCMP offerings are likely to keep evolving. “We’re always looking for ways to improve,” says Lishman.
For more than 20 years, the first helicopter maker has offered hourly cost maintenance contracts under the moniker Power by the Hour. HCMPs are available for all current civil and military Sikorsky models. Contracts are tailored to the customer, so they may include anything from basic parts coverage to tip-to-tail programs. Standard durations are for a minimum of 3 years, but 5 to 10 years is typical.
A company spokesperson reports that customers almost always renew their contracts at the end of the period, and that not doing so is very rare. She also notes that maintenance contracts have benefits for the manufacturer as well as the customer, as they make it possible to forecast demand more accurately and make it easier to optimize their supply chains with long-term contracts.
More than 2500 Airbus helicopters are enrolled in the company’s HCare programs. The plans make sure customers have routine parts on hand and, for unexpected needs, provide access to the firm’s network of 8 logistic hubs or central/regional inventories, 92 authorized service centers, and 4 customer care centers.
The program was revised earlier this year, with 5 variations now offered. HCare First is a concierge-style service for operators of Airbus Corporate Helicopters. It covers the cost and shipping of parts, labor for their installation and removal, and maintenance inspections.
Fleet airworthiness follow-up, on-the-job training for company technicians, and on-site help by a team of field technical representatives also can be covered. Almost everything is an option, so the details and duration of each contract can be tailored to the operator’s needs.
The other HCare varieties are similar, but are designed for specific customer groups. HCare Initial is aimed at operators whose helicopters still have that new vehicle smell. HCare In-Service is for those whose helicopters already have some flight-hours on them. HCare Lifetime covers Airbus rotorwings from first flight to last. HCare Classics is intended for those operating H120, Dauphin, Puma, and Gazelle helicopters. More than 2000 of these legacy helos are still in use.
Under the first 4 programs, customers can opt for 1 of 3 levels of parts management. “Guaranteed repair” locks in repair and overhaul turn-around times. Customers can opt to pay costs by the hour or at the time of the repair or overhaul. “Part availability” guarantees lead times for parts delivery for both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance events. Fixed-hourly-rate payments are standard. “Fleet availability” adds coverage of maintenance by Airbus to optimize availability of aircraft for large-scale operators. Again, fixed hourly and monthly rates are standard.
Overall, executive aircraft OEMs have their customers well covered by programs to ensure top aircraft condition with minimal downtime for maintenance and repair.
Reliable maintenance and improved resale values make the OEM’s HCMPs one option most operators will wish to consider. But not the only one. Part 3 of this series will cover programs from MROs and engine makers.