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Bombardier Inc. was once known among high-end private jet buyers for its industry-leading after-sales service. Then, in the early 2000s, its reputation nose-dived. Ever since, the company has been known for providing the worst service in the business to a clientele that includes global corporations, world leaders and the super-rich.
Photo: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg
Now Bombardier is on the comeback. According to the latest annual product support survey by influential trade journal Aviation International News, Bombardier’s Challenger was ranked No. 4 out of 11 jets, with a score of 7.7 out of 10, with its Global and Learjet ranked No. 8 and No. 9, respectively.
Though it is not stellar, the tally is an improvement—Bombardier held three of the four bottom spots in the 2008 survey, which measures factors such as spare parts availability and response times, and placed dead last in the four years before that. Its ratings have improved ever since.
“Bombardier has steadily and surely been putting a lot of effort into product support and it’s showing up in the results,” said AIN senior editor Matt Thurber.
Bombardier’s showing in a rival service survey by Pro Pilot magazine is a less-impressive fifth out of six, although its rankings in some categories have improved and it is no longer in last place, as it was for years.
“I think we’re making solid gains,” said Andy Nureddin, vice-president of customer services and support with Bombardier’s aerospace division. “Unfortunately, the way down is faster than the way up. It takes a lot of time to regain customer perceptions.”
Regaining its reputation for good service is crucial for Bombardier’s long-term growth. As one of Canada’s most global companies, Bombardier, like other private jet manufacturers, has benefited as demand for its high-end products has gone increasingly international, with growing appetite in the emerging markets of Asia, South America and even Africa in the past decade boding well for Bombardier’s future.
At the same time, it’s a maxim in the industry that the service a customer gets with its current plane helps determine its choice the next time that customer goes to market. That means Montreal-based Bombardier has a lot of work to do to keep up with its rivals, who are also working to improve their service around the globe. “When you have a product called Global, we have to ensure we have that reach [with service],” Nureddin noted.
Bombardier earned its golden service reputation when the industry was a lot smaller and predominantly based in North America. Its Challenger after-sales service ranked No. 1 from 1991 to 1999 in the Pro Pilot survey, and topped AIN’s survey in 2000.
But then the company merged the support infrastructure of its Learjet line into its Challenger operations and brought its new Global line of long-range jets into service.
“It was a perfect storm of complexity and scale,” said Nureddin, as demand and production soared in the late 1990s, then sharply fell before picking up again in the mid-2000s partly due to the strength of demand from emerging markets. “We were not prepared for that.”
With so many things on the move, “product support wasn’t a priority,” recalled Peter Bromby, vice-president of sales with Skyservice Business Aviation, a Toronto-based aircraft management firm that operates 23 Bombardier jets.
Bombardier’s service turnaround began in 2004. It invested tens of millions of dollars into new service and parts facilities around the world, from Sao Paulo to Dubai, introduced 24-hour customer response centres and hired dozens of roving technicians to visit customers on-site.
But the company’s reputation barely budged until it reorganized its disparate and disjointed airplane service and support efforts in 2008 into one central organization.
Since then, Bombardier has cut service turnaround times, increased the availability of spare parts, continued to build up its network of service centres and parts depots, anchored by global parts hubs in Chicago and Frankfurt, with a third hub planned for the Asia-Pacific region. Bombardier reduced the number of malfunctioning parts in its system and doubled its warranty period to two years.
“That’s the formula [for success],” Nureddin said. Although the company is the market leader in private jet sales globally, his goal is to regain the top spot for service as well—something that won’t come easily.
Bombardier’s rivals, Georgia-based Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. and Brazil’s Embraer SA, “will stand on their heads to service the customer,” said Murray Smith, publisher of Pro Pilot.
More importantly, customers are noticing. Skyservice’s Bromby said a replacement windshield that might have taken four days to arrive in the past now takes hours. “We’ve see a huge difference [in service],” he said.
Added Doug Spiger, who recently ran the flight department for a Fortune 500 company in the United States: “They’ve certainly poured people and money at the problem. The people now are very dedicated to improvement. But they still have some work to do.”
But Bombardier’s rivals aren’t standing still. Service leader Gulfstream has also opened more service centres and added a rapid-response airborne support team in California, while Embraer, a relative newcomer to the business jet market, jumped to second and third spots in the AIN and Pro Pilot surveys this year, respectively, after investing heavily in service.
“The manufacturers are all working extremely hard to keep their customers,” said AIN’s Thurber. “New aircraft sales are not what they used to be, and the support side is becoming an important part of the business.”