Le Journal de l'Aviation went to meet Derek Zimmerman, President of Product Support at Gulfstream, during Ebace, the European business aviation show which was held in Geneva (Switzerland) at the end of May. As the certification and entry into service of the G500 business jet approach - and will be followed by the same for the G600 by the end of the year - he explains how his teams are getting ready for these events.
How are you preparing for the entry into service of the G500 and G600 ?
We embedded a support team into the G500 and G600 programmes long before they were announced. This team certifies that the design of these aircraft is suitable for maintenance and operations, and provides information about this design to the support organisation so that they can get ready too.
We also have a support team which is taking care of the G500/G600 prototype fleet. For a couple of years now, it has been taking part in the flight test programme, preparing the planes, providing feedback after their flights and building up real knowledge about these planes.
We are then able to use this knowledge as a base to train our operational technicians, our field representatives, our service technicians, our FAST technicians (Field and Airborne Support Teams, ed.) and all the employees necessary to be ready for these services which will be launched this year.
It's a process we've been working on for several years. The more familiar we are with how the planes are built, the better able we will be to prepare the ground for maintenance and be sure that our employees are ready for the introduction of the G500 and G600.
Are you also getting your spare parts offer ready ?
We are doing the same for spare parts. When we look at all the configurations, there are a lot of similarities with the G650 programme in terms of new design. We will therefore be using these common parts, technologies and systems to be sure we have the available stocks and to see where to put them. We will then be able to have common stocks for the three planes for most systems.
We are as well prepared for this launch as for all the products we've launched in the past.
With the shared features between G500 and G600, will you be able to use the same network to support both of them ?
The differences between the two planes are really minor. Our preparation for the G500 is essentially the same as what we need for the G600. We are not preparing for two different designs, but for one design which has a lot of similarities. For pilots, we have a common type rating, so the training is similar, as for technicians, spare parts and so on.
Have you started training future operators' teams ?
We started training pilots and technicians this year. Both for ourselves and for the operators, we didn't want to start training too early before the reception of the plane. So we're just starting to actually deploy training to our customers and Gulfstream technicians.
Are you sending out representatives to operators or do you prefer to get them to your facilities ?
We do both. The operators come to Savannah (Georgia, United States) for initial training. Then, when we deliver the first planes, we also send representatives to help transfer knowledge and information to the operators. These include pilots, technicians and cabin personnel who work with the operators to ensure they can operate the plane smoothly. Then they move onto another customer.
We think that this is a good compromise, with our local representatives and our FAST technicians who are assigned to the zone and who are available to provide assistance. These are really the three pillars of our offer.
You've made a lot of announcements about your support network over these last few months. Will you keep expanding over the next few months ?
We're continuing to expand our offer as the fleet is continuing to grow with more planes and more models. Our commitment is to support these planes and so we need to provide our service capacity for our customers.
You're right, we have made a lot of announcements. In 2016, we launched a new distribution centre for product support in Savannah. In 2017, we converted Jet Aviation in St Louis (Illinois) into a Gulfstream-dedicated MRO centre. At the end of last year, we announced a new facility in Van Nuys (California). This year, we have announced Appleton (Wisconsin) and Savannah, and we have just launched Farnborough (United Kingdom).
We have a few announcements we are working on to continue to expand in the United States, Europe and Asia. Our sister airline Jet Aviation (within the General Dynamics group, ed.) has also just bought Hawker Pacific, which will strengthen our capacity for planes based in Asia. This is an investment that Gulfstream has been making for 60 years and we will continue to grow.
Is this growth linked to the arrival of the G500 and G600 ?
It's more a global strategy. We are building more and more G650s, with nearly 300 in service now, and we have also produced over 550 G550s (out of a total of 2 700 planes, ed.). These fleets are more numerous, with larger aircraft, than what we had previously produced. So, we need larger hangars which are able to accommodate these planes and in more location, as our customer base is continuing to expand around the world.
You talk about the United States, Europe and Asia. Is Latin America not a market for Gulfstream ?
It's a good market, but maybe it's not developing as quickly at the moment as it has in the past. All markets have periods of quicker or slower growth.
We have a base at Sorocaba, just outside São Paulo in Brazil. We are continuing to look at how we can grow it, but we think we have the right size.
You launched a new AOG (aircraft immobilised on the ground) centre in March. Are you thinking about other comparable initiatives with specific new services ?
We are looking at how we are organised and we are making sure that we make the best use of technology and coordinate our resources in the best way possible.
Our Savannah Service Centre is the largest centre dedicated to business aviation in the world. The call centre alone has over 300 employees. We provide them with key resources thanks to the opportunities provided by technology, such as visibility of the planes that have been sent around the world.
While we are continuing to grow, we want to anticipate to guarantee the best coordination between our resources, our maintenance, our FAST teams and our vehicles around the world. We are not yet ready to make any announcements, but we will be doing so during the second half of this year, in particular in relation to new capacities for our Web portal.