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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Rotor & Wing: Excellence Ratings: Setting the Standard

James T. McKenna

As it prepares to move into the turbine market, respondents to R&W’s latest survey indicate, Robinson Helicopter may be the benchmark against which other manufacturers must measure their overall support of the marketplace.

IT MAY COME AS NO SURPRISE THAT ROBINSON Helicopter comes out on top.

Because of the philosophy and tactics of its quirky founder, the Torrance, Calif. manufacturer today is the world’s leading producer of helicopters. Frank Robinson, who gave the company his name 34 years ago, has wrestled safety challenges and, for the most part, conquered them. He personally decides whether you’re ready to own and fly his products. He won’t do business with the military, as nearly every other helicopter maker does, because he won’t bend to the brass’ requirements of red tape and political butt kissing. He has his own standards for doing things. They pervade his company and its products. Most would agree that those standards are fairly high.

It is fitting, then, that Rotor & Wing respondents should rate Robinson Helicopter above all other manufacturers concerning its performance in keeping its customers satisfied. That is something the helicopter world might take note of as Frank Robinson prepares to move into the turbine world with his new, Rolls-Royce 300-powered R66, slated to win certification and enter the market in the next year or so.

1. 2007 Customer Satisfaction Excellence Ratings

Robinson 80
Sikorsky 74
Bell Helicopter 72
Bell/Agusta 71
Boeing 69
Eurocopter 66
MD 64
AgustaWestland 57

A Savvy Subset

The slice of R&W respondents who rated the manufacturers is a savvy one.

We took a different tack in crunching the numbers for this year’s Customer Satisfaction Survey. This year we asked how manufacturers perform in a series of critical areas, from overall aircraft performance to technical documentation, just as we have in past Customer Satisfaction Surveys. In examining their answers for this year’s report, however, we narrowed in on those respondents who have direct and current experience with the particular manufacturer’s aircraft. The responses presented here to the category of "customer satisfaction" questions are specifically from respondents who said they have the individual manufacturer’s aircraft both in their company’s fleet and operating at the location at which they work.

We value the opinions of all those who responded to this year’s Customer Satisfaction Survey and those in years past, as do all of you and the officials of companies who make and support helicopters. We will be sharing their views, as captured by the 2007 survey, throughout the coming year in the magazine and on our Web site, www.rotorandwing.com.

But the nature of this industry is that most people have direct experience with only a small number of aircraft types. Of that group, a select few own, operate, fly, or fix those types. In assessing how satisfied the marketplace is with the various airframe makers then, we chose to focus on that select group. It constitutes a small subset of the overall survey sample. But it is a subset that we are sure you will agree represents the most knowledgeable and influential portion of that sample.

(You will find the specifics of how we conducted this year’s survey and how participants responded at the end of this report.)

To further refine our findings, we concentrate here in reporting on the percentage of that select subset who rated the manufacturers of aircraft that they know and operate as performing "above average" or better. Their compiled responses, then, reflect the degree to which very focused market segments consider the individual manufacturer’s performance to be excellent, or approaching that level. Hence, this report goes beyond a mere measure of market perception of the various helicopter manufacturers and their products. It even goes beyond a measure of customer satisfaction for those manufacturers. By honing in on the percentage of the focused market segments who consider a manufacturer’s performance exceptional, this report produces what we are confident in calling Excellence Ratings.

As far as we can recall, no publication has ever presented such a comprehensive or thorough ranking of customer satisfaction in the rotorcraft industry. That being the case, we believe the R&W Excellence Ratings will become the new standard by which helicopter companies measure themselves.

Some Points of Explanation

Please consider a few points of explanation.

For the Excellence Rating charts (as is indicated in each), we excluded manufacturers for which customer responses amounted to less than 2 percent of the total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 respondents. These manufacturers included Enstrom Helicopter, Kaman Aerospace, Russia’s Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, and Schweizer Aircraft. We concluded that presenting answers from groups of fewer than 40 respondents would not represent a sound measure of the Excellence Ratings and, therefore, would be a disservice to readers and to those individual manufacturers. (The full survey results, including data for those four manufacturers, will be available for purchase on our Web site.)

In the same vein, we include in each Excellence Rating chart the total number of responses for each manufacturer and each category. This tells you the size of the sample that generated the rating.

It might seem fitting, given the exclusion of Enstrom and Schweizer, to leave Robinson out as well and present this report as an all-turbine one. We chose not to for several reasons. As we said at the start, Robinson is currently the largest producer of helicopters and its is preparing to enter the turbine market. In addition, the size of its worldwide fleet resulted in a sample size exceeded generally only by Eurocopter and Sikorsky.

2. Primary Role in Your Organization Re Helicopters (% of Total Responses)

  All Responses Commercial Responses
Aircraft Owner 4 5
Pilot/Chief Pilot 37 34
Aviation Dept. Mgr. 8 8
Maintenance Chief 7 6
Maintenance Staff 7 6
Owner/Financial or Other Business Mgr. 6 9
Not Involved With Helos At All 4 5
Other 28 28
Total Responses: 1,848 1,213

Most of the Excellence Ratings are based on answers from all respondents, both commercial, civil, and military as well as United States-based and international ones. This results in a comprehensive survey.

Commercial Insights

We present a few charts using data based on answers only from commercial respondents. We believed the nature of these questions lent themselves to commercial-only answers. Examples are the questions on how new helicopters are to be acquired by the respondent’s organization and what is the primary mission of the fleet operated by the respondent’s organization? Again, the full survey results for those and the other "commercial-only" questions presented here will be available on line.

4. Number of Helos in Your Organization (% of Total Comm’l Responses)

You will note that we include a chart on Excellence Ratings for the direct operating costs of a manufacturer’s aircraft, but we do not include DOCs in the compiled ratings for each manufacturer (Charts 3, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 21, and 24) or the comparative chart of Excellence Ratings (Chart 1). Our conclusion was that DOCs are not an accurate rating of customer satisfaction or performance excellence. This is because DOCs are affected to a significant degree by the size and power of an individual aircraft as well as the particular missions for which it is used. As an example, Boeing scores very poorly in DOCs. We do not believe that says that customers are unhappy at all with that manufacturer’s products (largely variants of the H-47 Chinook). Rather, it is an indication that those are low-DOC product. In addition, there are ample commercial resources, such as HeliValue$ and Conklin and de Decker, for comparing different helicopters’ baseline DOCs.

Lastly, the results here should not be construed as contradicting other surveys in the field that report Bell as being No. 1 in customer support. Had we asked the same basic question those surveys pose ("Rate the following companies on your satisfaction with their customer support") and limited our sample to commercial and corporate operators, we would be presenting similar results here. In fact, our first cut at the data did just that, and we drafted a headline that read: "Customer Satisfaction Survey: Bell’s Still King." After that initial take, we drilled down deeper and found much different (and, as you will see, more significant) results.

3. Robinson Customer Satisfaction Report Card

% of total respondents with the mfr’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location.

Category Rating
Overall A/C Performance 86
Technological Innovations 67
Direct Operating Costs 85
Maintenance Issues 83
Technical Documentation 86
Technical Assistance 81
Factory Training 81
Parts Availability 81
Customer Support 75
Excellence Rating 80

Note: Direct Operating Costs are not factored into the Excellence Rating. DOCs are dependent on the size and power of individual aircraft and directly related to the role for which they are being used.

5. Manufacturers Represented in Your Organization’s Fleet* (% of Total Comm’l Responses)

* "Manufacturer" includes its predecessor companies and their aircraft types.

6. What is the Primary Mission of Your Organization’s Helos? (% of Total Comm’l Responses)

No matter how you slice the data in this year’s survey, customer satisfaction seems to be up from 2003, when we last presented such findings. Back then, our results included all non-military respondents, whether they had direct experience with particular manufacturers’ products or not. We focused then as well on respondents indicating a helicopter maker’s performance was above average. Looking at this year’s results in the same way (non-military respondents, with or without direct experience), the results compare as follows.

7. Sikorsky Customer Satisfaction Report Card

% of total respondents with the mfr’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location.

Category Rating
Overall A/C Performance 87
Technological Innovations 81
Direct Operating Costs 47
Maintenance Issues 64
Technical Documentation 77
Technical Assistance 79
Factory Training 63
Parts Availability 62
Customer Support 75
Excellence Rating 74

Note: Direct Operating Costs are not factored into the Excellence Rating. DOCs are dependent on the size and power of individual aircraft and directly related to the role for which they are being used.

Bell came in at No. 1 in 2003, with 58 percent of respondents rating it above average in customer support. This year, by the same measure, 72 percent rated it as such, which again would put it at the top.

Eurocopter placed second four years ago, with 32 percent. For 2007, it garnered 51, which would have placed it fifth.

Sikorsky came in third in ’03, with 30 percent. This year, it hit 62 percent, which would have placed it ahead of Eurocopter.

Robinson was fourth last time, with 28 percent. It would have been third this year, with 54 percent saying it was above average.

Bell/Agusta placed sixth in 2003, with 18 percent, despite the fact that Bell/Agusta Aerospace had no AB139s (now AW139s) in service then. (The presumption is respondents may have been addressing Bell aircraft built under license by Agusta.) This year, with aircraft in the field, it would have moved up to fourth, with 53 percent.

Boeing was not included in the 2003 results. With 50 percent, it would have been sixth this year.

AgustaWestland came in eighth last time, with 12 percent. (Schweizer was seventh, at 14 percent.) This year, AgustaWestland would have been seventh, with 47 percent.

MD Helicopters was fifth in ’03, with 21 percent. This year, with 36, it would have been eighth.

One Slice: Gaining on Bell

Looking just at these data sets, you could conclude that Bell is still the customer-support king. But the breakdowns indicate the other manufacturers are gaining on Bell. Bell was rated 80 percent better than No. 2 Eurocopter in 2003 (that is, 16 percentage points higher than Eurocopter’s 32 percent). This year, Bell would have been only 10 percentage points, or 16.1 percent, better than No. 2 Sikorsky — 72 vs. 62 percent.

9. How Are New Helos to be Acquired?* (% of Total Comm’l Responses)

* This was asked only of those indicating helicopters would be acquired within 12 months.

8. How Many Helos Will Be Acquired in the Next 12 Months, For Your Location and Organization Overall? (% of Total Comm’l Responses)

Note: 50 percent of respondents said no helicopters would be acquired at their location, and 36 percent said none would be acquired by their organization.

That is far more evident in our Excellence Ratings for the customer support category (Chart 23). Those ratings shows that both Robinson and Sikorsky surpass Bell — 75 percent of respondents found them approaching excellence in that category, compared to 73 percent for Bell. Still, AgustaWestland, Eurocopter, and MD lag Bell significantly in that category.

The rough 2003-vs.-2007 comparisons also would suggest that while MD has made significant improvements in customer support, so has every other manufacturer, and that the company is attempting to raise its standing in a group that is collectively rising.

The higher satisfaction ratings reflected in these more general customer satisfaction perceptions may be an effect of today’s much more upbeat market. In 2003, the aircraft replacement cycle among offshore operators had not yet begun, nor had the expansion of the emergency medical service segment in the United States. Both are in full swing now, and activity in most other segments is up as well. It may be that an upbeat market breeds upbeat perceptions.

It is clear that refining the data set as we have this year produces dramatically different, and much more significant, measurements than our previous surveys and most others’.

About the Respondents

A bit about the respondents to our survey. Of all respondents, 58 percent answered from the United States and 42 percent identified themselves as international respondents. That split was roughly the same for those who said they were commercial respondents (54 vs. 46 percent), but roughly two-thirds of military respondents identified themselves as from the United States. Two-thirds was also roughly the split of all respondents who put themselves in the commercial category vs. the military one. That was true for those who said they were responding from the United States (63 vs. 37 percent). Internationally, the split was 72-28 commercial vs. military.

11. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Overall Aircraft Performance as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

10. Bell Customer Satisfaction Report Card

% of total respondents with the mfr’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location.

Category Rating
Overall A/C Performance 80
Technological Innovations 64
Direct Operating Costs 67
Maintenance Issues 70
Technical Documentation 75
Technical Assistance 77
Factory Training 71
Parts Availability 67
Customer Support 73
Excellence Rating 72

Note: Direct Operating Costs are not factored into the Excellence Rating. DOCs are dependent on the size and power of individual aircraft and directly related to the role for which they are being used.

12. AgustaWestland Customer Satisfaction Report Card

% of total respondents with the mfr’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location.

Category Rating
Overall A/C Performance 75
Technological Innovations 68
Direct Operating Costs 47
Maintenance Issues 42
Technical Documentation 56
Technical Assistance 62
Factory Training 54
Parts Availability 47
Customer Support 50
Excellence Rating 57

Note: Direct Operating Costs are not factored into the Excellence Rating. DOCs are dependent on the size and power of individual aircraft and directly related to the role for which they are being used.

14. Bell/Agusta Customer Satisfaction Report Card

% of total respondents with the mfr’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location.

Category Rating
Overall A/C Performance 74
Technological Innovations 76
Direct Operating Costs 53
Maintenance Issues 63
Technical Documentation 75
Technical Assistance 73
Factory Training 67
Parts Availability 71
Customer Support 66
Excellence Rating 71

Note: Direct Operating Costs are not factored into the Excellence Rating. DOCs are dependent on the size and power of individual aircraft and directly related to the role for which they are being used.

13. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Technological Innovations as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

15. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Aircraft Direct Operating Costs as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

16. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Maintenance Issues as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

As Chart 2 shows, more than a third of respondents identified themselves as a helicopter pilot or chief. That held roughly for all categories. Of those responding from the United States, 39 percent said they were in that category, while 33 percent of the international ones did. The exception was the military category; understandably, perhaps, 44 percent of those respondents said they were a pilot or chief pilot. The division among the other primary roles also was roughly consistent throughout the categories. The exception again was in the military category, where more respondents said they were maintenance chiefs or maintenance staff. The percentage was 9 for each, while it was generally 1-4 points lower for the other categories.

In plumbing how large a survey respondent’s helicopter fleets were, the results were interesting. While the general industry assumption is that most operators have five or fewer helicopters, the majority of respondents across all categories said there were more than five helicopters operating both at their location and throughout their entire organization. While the two divisions of the fewest aircraft, 1 helicopter and 2-5, were generally were the largest single divisions, only in the commercial category did they collectively make up a majority. That was 53 percent (1 = 23 percent and 2-5 = 30) for helicopters at the respondent’s location. It dropped to 36 percent (10 and 26, respectively, for the respondent’s entire organization).

In all other cases, those divisions collectively didn’t exceed 41 percent for helicopters at the respondent’s location or 26 percent for the entire organization. For all respondents and commercial and international ones, the splits were 41 vs. 26, 41 vs. 24, and 40 vs. 26. That meant that 60 to 76 percent of respondents had six or more helicopters at their location and in their entire organization. The exception, logically, was military respondents; only 19 percent said they had five or fewer helicopters at their location and only 6.5 percent said that was true for their entire organization.

The percentages for divisions of helicopters greater than 50 generally ran at 1-2 for the local site and 5-8 for the entire organization. The exception again was military respondents, where 14 percent said their organization had 100 or more helicopters.

17. Eurocopter Customer Satisfaction Report Card

% of total respondents with the mfr’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location.

Category Rating
Overall A/C Performance 84
Technological Innovations 83
Direct Operating Costs 51
Maintenance Issues 59
Technical Documentation 62
Technical Assistance 72
Factory Training 65
Parts Availability 49
Customer Support 56
Excellence Rating 66

Note: Direct Operating Costs are not factored into the Excellence Rating. DOCs are dependent on the size and power of individual aircraft and directly related to the role for which they are being used.

18. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Technical Documentation as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

Bell was generally the most represented manufacturer in respondents’ fleets, both locally and in the entire organization. For all respondents, fully a quarter said they had Bells at their site, and 22 percent said so for the entire organization. The next closest manufacturer was Eurocopter, at 18 percent for each. Only among international respondents did Eurocopter top Bell (22 and 23 percent vs. 21 and 19), although the manufacturers were essentially equally represented in commercial respondent fleets (24 and 23 for Bell and 23 and 22 percent for Eurocopter.

19. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Technical Assistance as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

20. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Factory Training as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

How the Survey Was Compiled

This year’s Customer Satisfaction Survey was conducted over a three-week period in May and June 2007 by Litchfield Research, an independent research firm based in Marietta, Ga.

The survey responses were obtained by sending an e-mail invitation that directed respondents to participate using a Web-based survey form. From R&W’s exclusive database of 27,000 subscribers and others involved in the operations of helicopters around the world, a sampling of 15,000 names was chosen (on an nth name basis) to receive the survey.

About 2,000 e-mail invitations were undeliverable. The first 25 respondents who fully completed the survey received a R&W Helicopter Recognition poster as an incentive to complete the survey. A total of 1,985 respondents entered the survey — a 15.2-percent response rate. Some did not complete all aspects of every question.

21. Boeing Customer Satisfaction Report Card

% of total respondents with the mfr’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location.

Category Rating
Overall A/C Performance 82
Technological Innovations 79
Direct Operating Costs 41
Maintenance Issues 53
Technical Documentation 70
Technical Assistance 74
Factory Training 65
Parts Availability 60
Customer Support 68
Excellence Rating 69

Note: Direct Operating Costs are not factored into the Excellence Rating. DOCs are dependent on the size and power of individual aircraft and directly related to the role for which they are being used.

The survey results include answers for each of five groups of responses for each question. Those groups are: 1) all responses 2) U.S. responses 3) international responses 4) commercial responses and 5) military responses.

U.S. and international groups were determined by respondents’ answers to Question 1 of the survey, "In what country are you currently based?" Commercial and military groups were determined by respondents’ answers to Question 2, "As it pertains to this survey, please indicate if you are answering from a military role or for a commercial enterprise."

22. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Parts Availability as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

23. Customers Rating the Manufacturer’s Customer Support as Excellent or Above Average

% of total respondents with the manufacturer’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location who rated it 7 or higher on a 10-point scale, 10 equaling "excellent."

(XX) = total number of qualified responses

Note: We exclude here manufacturers for which customer responses were less than 2 percent of total qualified survey responses of 1,985, or roughly fewer than 40 responses.

24. MD Customer Satisfaction Report Card

% of total respondents with the mfr’s aircraft in their fleet and operating at their location.

Category Rating
Overall A/C Performance 80
Technological Innovations 70
Direct Operating Costs 68
Maintenance Issues 64
Technical Documentation 63
Technical Assistance 61
Factory Training 65
Parts Availability 56
Customer Support 51
Excellence Rating 64

Note: Direct Operating Costs are not factored into the Excellence Rating. DOCs are dependent on the size and power of individual aircraft and directly related to the role for which they are being used.

Some respondents did not complete one or both of these questions, which accounts for any difference in the number of responses for "All responses" as compared to the number of responses to the sub-groups. That is, Group 2 plus Group 3 may not equal Group 1.

As a result of rounding, some percentage totals may add to 99 percent or 101 percent.

Unless otherwise indicated, all percentages are calculated using the "total responses" figure at the bottom of each table or column as the denominator.

Open-ended "other" answers have been excluded from the survey results.

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