Photos Courtesy of Duncan Aviation
Airplanes are expensive. Most of us do all we can to reduce that expense, but despite our best wishes – and often in the face of meticulous preventative care – eventually something is going to malfunction. When it does, we turn to the experts at Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities.
Enter a company like Duncan Aviation. Even if you are not a customer of theirs, there is a good chance the majority of you reading are familiar with the name.
After more than 60 years in the business, Duncan Aviation is the largest privately owned MRO facility in the world. The company provides nose-to-tail support for Bombardier, Dassault, Textron, Gulfstream and Embraer aircraft.
Repair is an integral portion of Duncan Aviation’s business model. With three major MRO facilities in Battle Creek, Michigan, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Provo, Utah, and multiple satellite shops around the country, Duncan Aviation repairs approximately 25,200 components and accessories each year.
When a customer calls regarding a potential repair, one of Duncan Aviation’s 10 customer account representatives (CARs) provides technical and troubleshooting support. The team works alongside shop technicians and sales reps to handle virtually any aircraft system problem including batteries, electronics, avionics and landing gears.
With the phone lines open 24/7/365, this group of CARs administers around 600 calls and inquiries every week. The team members often face pressure from operators with grounded aircraft and time-critical situations.
This led us to wonder: What exactly takes place on their end – behind the phone? We visited with Andrew Theis, a 15-year Duncan Aviation customer sales and service representative, to find out.
A Day in the Life
Each morning, Andrew Theis arrives at his office by 7 a.m. and promptly opens his computer to respond to any pressing emails or phone calls from international customers. Whether it’s sending pricing to a customer in Australia or arranging the shipment of a loaner unit to a grounded aircraft in Europe, he must prioritize these items as the workday in those distant countries nears completion. While he addresses international cases, his phone and computer start to come alive with the day’s newest inquiries. Andrew responds to each while also beginning to check the status of his ongoing repair orders.
A repair order, or work order, is tied to every component in the shop. With a quick search in Duncan Aviation’s proprietary computer system, Andrew can view each customer’s work order which includes information such as repair status, unit history, aircraft model, owner, etc. When a customer calls regarding accessory or component repair, it is the job of a customer account representative (like Andrew) to affirm the issue, discuss all options and develop a repair order unique to the customer’s needs and timeline.
Once a solution and deadline is agreed upon between the CAR and customer, an elaborate sequence of events is initiated: shipment of the component or accessory to Duncan Aviation; thorough inspection (and testing) by a specialist; development (and approval) of a repair estimate; shipment of an in-house loaner unit to customer (if applicable); repair of the component; shipment back to the customer; final payment. The customer account representative closely monitors and manages every step of the process.
“My job is unique in that I bridge the gap between the customer and the shop,” said Theis. “When I am in the shop, I am an advocate for the customer. When I am speaking to the customer, I am an advocate for the shop. So, it is so important for me to understand and communicate effectively why and how a repair is taking place.”
At any given time, Andrew can be managing around 280 work orders. Depending on the situation, the shop prioritizes the work to meet the guidelines set by Andrew and the other CARs. The typical target is to have the component repaired and back in the hands of the customer within 10 working days. But there are situations where this can be cut down to less than 24 hours.
“Our default response is to do everything in our power to make the customer’s deadline,” said Theis. “And while some cases can be classified as urgent, the ‘why’ is less important. It’s nice to know, but in every situation, their target is our target.”
Football is a big deal in Lincoln, Nebraska. For every home game, there are thousands of Cornhusker students, alumni and fans that descend upon the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. This includes dozens of aircraft arriving at Duncan Aviation’s home airport of LNK.
Late one Friday evening, prior to a major home game, a local medevac operator put in an urgent call to Duncan Aviation regarding what appeared to be a malfunctioning ELT. The operator was unable to troubleshoot the issue and as a result, the aircraft was grounded in California until the unit could be repaired or replaced.
Andrew responded to the call and relayed details of the issue to the appropriate technicians in the shop.They confirmed the ELT was the likely culprit. Andrew then arranged for expedited shipping of the faulty unit from California to Lincoln. By midnight, the ELT was dropped at their front desk.
At 7 a.m. the next morning, game day traffic was already in full swing. A Duncan Aviation technician (one who was not originally scheduled to go into work) worked his way through traffic to retrieve the unit for inspection. Back at the shop, he was able to quickly diagnose the issue and produce a cost estimate, which the customer promptly approved over the phone.
Once the job and paperwork were complete, the next step was getting the unit back on an airplane to California. While the unusually high airport activity presented some logistical obstacles, Andrew was able to coordinate with the courier and make it happen: the repaired unit was back in the hands of the customer by 6 p.m.
In less than 24 hours, the broken unit was shipped across the country, fixed and reinstalled on the airplane, allowing the medevac to be back in the air at a moment’s notice.
While not all of us need a “24-hour turnaround” service, it’s nice to know that there are MRO facilities and people like Andrew that can make that happen. In the highly competitive MRO market, customer care, clear communication and timely turnarounds are expected – and that’s lucky for us when we run into the unexpected.