Rebecca Loranger has had a Learjet in the repair shop for months, and she’s not happy. The director of sales for Charlotte, N.C.-based Corporate Fleet Services, a dealer that trades in Learjets and other Bombardier corporate jets, brought a 10-year-old plane to a Bombardier service centre in Dallas for a pre-buy inspection on June 30. She expected it back within five weeks. As of last month, she’d been waiting 11. Even worse, the repair bill had jumped to US$90,000 from US$60,000. “It’s nothing short of a nightmare,” she said. “The right hand can’t tell what the left hand is doing.” At rival Gulfstream and Cessna facilities, she says, service would have been much faster.
This isn’t an isolated problem. In fact, Montreal-based Bombardier has a reputation for the worst after-sales service in the business that it can’t seem to shake. Its corporate jet division—whose high-profile customers include Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, Exxon Mobil and Wal-Mart, plus Russian oligarchs, Brazilian beef barons and an Asian casino magnate—may have almost single-handedly lifted the fortunes of the industrial giant. But for the past five years Bombardier has shown up dead last in the influential industry surveys of aircraft operators on customer support by U.S.-based journals Professional Pilot and Aviation International News.
The surveys track such categories as quality of service centres and how long owners are forced to keep malfunctioning planes grounded until the manufacturer can ship out spare parts. Nobody keeps Oprah waiting, so more than bragging rights are at stake. “You sell the next airplane with service on the current airplane,” says Murray Smith, publisher of Professional Pilot.
The results are sharply at odds with Bombardier’s standing as the industry leader in one of the world’s most elite businesses, which gathered for its big annual convention in Orlando this week amid fears of a global recession. Its Learjet, Challenger and Global planes list for between US$9 million and US$50 million, and the three lines accounted for billings of US$3.4 billion in the first half of 2008, up 24 per cent from a year earlier. The whole industry is undergoing an unprecedented boom, and the wait for some Bombardier models is now up to 46 months. “We expect demand to be strong for the next decade,” Bombardier’s aerospace chief Guy Hachey said this month.
But Bombardier’s reputation for poor after-sales service calls into question whether it can remain on top of the game. In the Pro Pilot survey, Bombardier placed last in six out of seven categories among the five main jet makers. The company didn’t fare much better in the AIN survey. Bombardier’s archrival, Gulfstream Aerospace, topped both surveys.
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