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Customer Satisfaction: On The Rise

By R&W Staff | February 1, 2008

When it comes to market perception of helicopter manufacturers, commercial helicopter operators still consider Bell the best of the pack.

In nine key areas, commercial operators say, Bell Helicopter comes out on top in six: customer support, parts availability, technical documentation, technical assistance, factory-provided training, and maintenance issues. It’s edged out by Eurocopter in overall aircraft performance and Robinson Helicopter in direct operating costs, they say, and clearly surpassed by Eurocopter, Sikorsky Aircraft, and AgustaWestland in technological innovation.

Those were among the findings of Rotor & Wing’s most recent survey of manufacturers’ standings among customer groups. In December 2007, we presented the first batch of results from that survey: the views of a select and experienced group of operators that constituted our Excellence Ratings of manufacturers’ customer satisfaction.

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In that report, we honed in on respondents with direct and current experience with the particular manufacturer’s aircraft, specifically those who said they have the individual manufacturer’s aircraft both in their company’s fleet and operating at the location at which they work. As we said then, we know of no publication that has ever presented such a comprehensive or thorough ranking of customer satisfaction in the rotorcraft industry, hence the label of R&W’s Excellence Ratings.

That approach differed from past R&W Customer Perception surveys, which looked at a broader slice of operators’ views that included all qualified respondents with opinions of the airframe manufacturers and their products and services.

As we also said in December, we would share more results of our survey throughout the coming year. In this report, we focus on those respondents who identified themselves as commercial operators. The response group is not limited to those with direct and current experience with the aircraft manufacturers on which they opine. Like the Excellence Ratings, it concentrates on the percentage of respondents who rated manufacturers as performing above average or better in each category. That was reflected in ratings of 7 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest or "excellent."

Looking at this broader slice allows us to examine long-term trends by comparing our most recent survey results with those from Customer Perception surveys dating back to 1997. We will look at that in more depth next month.

Another difference in this data set is that we include all responses about all manufacturers. In the Excellence Ratings reported in December, we explained, we excluded manufacturers for which we had not received responses amounting to at least 2 percent of the total response group. Those manufacturers included Enstrom Helicopter, Kaman Aerospace, Russia’s Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, and Schweizer Aircraft.

Our concern was that the relatively low number of responses combined with the smaller, more specialized survey sample would produce skewed results. In the results discussed here, drawn from a larger sample than the one in used for December’s report, we include all the manufacturers cited by respondents.

As we’ll discuss in more detail next month, we’ve compiled trends during the last decade in five customer perception areas: customer support, parts availability, factory-provided training (mainly for pilots), overall aircraft performance, and technological innovation. A review of the trends confirms what we saw initially in the December report: customer perceptions are on the rise. For the customer support category, for instance, nearly every manufacturer showed an upward trend in the percentage of respondents rating them as above average or better. (The exception was Bell, whose trend was relatively flat but high, consistently running above 70 percent, well above every other manufacturer.)

Who Responded

Of those who responded to this year’s survey, the vast majority identified themselves as commercial operators (or working for one). That was true for 67 percent of all of the survey’s 1,985 respondents, for 63 percent of the 1,123 respondents who said they were U.S.-based, and for 72 percent of the 819 responding from outside the United States. (The respondents were roughly evenly split between U.S. and international markets, 54 to 46 percent, respectively.)

In this year’s survey, 1,213 commercial operations respondents told us what position they hold in their organizations. The biggest single group identified themselves as a pilot or chief pilot. A full 28 percent said they held positions other than those specified by the survey. The next biggest group, 9 percent, said they were a business owner or other business manager. Eight percent said they were aviation department managers. Maintenance managers or staff each made up 6 percent of the respondents. Aircraft owners accounted for 5 percent, and the same percentage said they were "not involved in helicopters at all."

The division among commercial operators closely matched that all of the 1,848 respondents who described their role in their organization. (The main difference is that a higher percentage of commercial respondents called themselves business owners or business managers. Only 6 percent of the overall group said that was their role.) Pilots or chief pilots made up 37 percent, followed by the "other" group at 28 percent, aviation department managers at 8, maintenance chiefs or staff at 7 each, then the business owners or managers, and aircraft owners and the "not involved" group at 4 percent each.

Who Flies What

Bell Helicopter equipment was most represented in the fleets of 2007’s respondents. For fleets at the location at which the respondent worked, 1,448 answered the question, while 1,753 told us about their organization’s overall fleet. Bells were operated in 24 percent of the local fleets and 23 percent of the overall fleets, followed by Eurocopters, 23 and 22 percent, respectively. Sikorsky made up the next most common types, at 12 percent locally and 13 percent for the overall organizations.

Fleet compositions diverge a bit thereafter. Robinsons make up 11 percent of local fleets, while Bell/Agusta aircraft were reported to account for 8 percent of overall organization fleets. (Robinsons matched AgustaWestland at 7 percent of overall fleets.) As we’ve said before regarding these surveys, the Bell/Agusta category likely covers more than the AB139 (now the AW139) and includes — in the respondents’ minds — Bell aircraft built under license by Agusta, such as the AB205, 206, and 412.

For the rest of the local fleets, respondents said AgustaWestlands, Bell/Agustas, and MD Helicopters products each accounted for 6 percent. Schweizers and collectively "other" types (such as Hillers and Brantleys) each made up 4 percent. Boeings were reported to make up 2 percent of local fleets, while Enstroms and Mils accounted for 1 percent and Kamans less than 0.5 percent.

For overall fleets, respondents said MDs made up 6 percent, other types 4 percent, Schweizers 3, Boeings and Mils 2 each, and Enstroms and Kamans 1 percent.

As has long been true for commercial operations, respondents to 2007’s survey told us they have relatively small fleets.

Slightly more than half said fewer than five aircraft are operated at their location, 23 percent put the number at one and 30 percent said 2-5. A total of 1,050 respondents told us about their local fleets (and 23 percent of them said there were no aircraft operated at their location).

One in 10 said there were 6-10 helicopters operated at their location, and the percentages dropped off after that: 4 percent with 11-15 helicopters, 3 each with 16-20 and 21-50, 1 percent each with 51-99 and 100-199, fewer than 0.5 percent with 200-299, and 1 with 300 or more.

For their overall organization’s fleets, 26 percent of the 1,020 respondents who answered the question put the count at 2-5 helicopters. Ten percent said their outfit operates just one helicopter, while 9 percent put the number at 6-10. Four percent each said their organization’s fleet size was 11-15, 16-20, 51-99, and 200-299 aircraft, while 8 percent put the count at 21-50. Six percent each said their overall fleet had 100-199 helicopters of 300 or more. Of the total, 19 percent said their organization had no helicopters.

What They Do

The biggest group of commercial respondents was from emergency medical service operations — 18 percent each for the 1,079 who answered about the primary purpose of their local operations and 881 who did so for their overall organizations’ activities. (That was nearly matched by those who said the primary purpose was a type other than those specified by the survey; 18 percent put their local operation in that "other" category and 17 percent did so for the overall organization.)

The next biggest group was offshore operators at 13 percent overall and 12 percent of local fleets, followed by those flying VIP transport, at 11 percent overall and 13 percent locally. For-profit flight training accounted for 9 percent of overall fleets and 10 percent of local ones. Law enforcement operations accounted for 7 percent of both overall and local fleets, and air taxis did so for 7 percent of overall fleets and 6 percent of local ones. Tourism operators made up 4 percent of overall and local fleets, while aerial application ones accounted for 4 percent of overall fleets and 3 percent of local ones. The groups of long-line/heavy-lift and powerline/pipeline patrol operators each constituted 2 percent of fleets overall and locally. Firefighting operators made up 1 percent of both fleet divisions.

The Survey

This survey was conducted during a three-week period in May-June 2007 by Litchfield Research of Marietta, Ga., by sending an e-mail invitation that directed respondents to a Web-based survey form. From R&W’s exclusive database of 27,000 subscribers and others involved in helicopter operations around the world, a sampling of 15,000 names was chosen (on an nth name basis) to receive the survey. About 2,000 invitations were undeliverable. A total of 1,985 respondents entered the survey — a 15.2 percent response rate. Some did not complete every question. The survey has a 98 percent confidence rate and margin of error of ±2 percent when all respondents answered the question.

Chart 1: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions Of Technological Innovation (Percent)

Chart 2: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions Of Customer Support (Percent)

Chart 3: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions Of Parts Availability (Percent)

Chart 4: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions of Technical Documentation (Percent)

Chart 5: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions Of Technical Assistance (Percent)

Chart 6: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions Of Direct Operating Costs (Percent)

Chart 7: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions Of Maintenance Issues (Percent)

Chart 8: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions Of Factory-Provided Training (Percent)

Chart 9: Commercial Customers’ Perceptions Of Overall Aircraft Performance (Percent)

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