By combining new designs with advanced metals and composites, and integrating cutting-edge technologies, today’s business jet manufacturers are taking great strides in increasing the reliability and reducing the maintenance requirements of their new-generation offerings.
Whether its avionics capabilities, cabin connectivity, range, speed, fuel efficiency or any of a host of other performance-enhancing advancements, the past decade or so has seen amazing leaps forward in the capabilities offered by new business jets.
While the perception may, or may not, be accurate, to most of us, the only element of the current business jet that hasn’t benefitted from any real advancements have been the requirements and procedures for maintenance and inspections. Sure iPads and electronic documentation are making inroads, but everything else is pretty much where it was back when Lear 35s and Gulfstream IIIs were factory new.
Whether you’re a maintainer or an owner/operator, you’ll be happy to know that’s all going to change. And it will happen sooner than you think. Every business jet manufacturer is committed to developing and implementing new capabilities, materials and services to help their customers get the most value and reliability out of these amazing aircraft.
To learn more about what’s coming, Aviation Maintenance magazine assembled a virtual roundtable of leaders from Embraer, Falcon Jet, Gulfstream and Textron Aviation, (Bombardier and Honda Jet were both contacted, but declined to participate, ED), to find out what these leading OEMs are doing to introduce new technologies and materials to bring significant technological advancements to aircraft production, inspection, and maintenance.
Dassault Falcon Jet
When it comes to introducing new technologies or manufacturing techniques into the development and production of its business jet line, Dassault Falcon Jet has the advantage of being able to pull from its deep roots in high-performance military aircraft for inspiration.
“When it comes to engineering and development, we really benefit from the duality of our history in the defense and business aviation sides,” John Loh, Dassault Falcon Jet’s vice president of Customer Service said. “Our R&D activities related to improving our maintenance programs in both sectors are a constant focus for us.”
Because of that ongoing effort and stimulus from its commercial and defense customers, the company has identified a number of new technologies and processes which range from using drones for aircraft inspections to new diagnostic apps, to advanced fleet maintenance data analytics, to a new paint application process, and many more.
“We recently implemented our FHDB (Fault History Database) as part of our fleet diagnostics program, which will allow us to do some advanced troubleshooting,” Loh said. “We’re looking at it to help detect fleet-wide issues earlier in their cycle. In addition to lowering maintenance costs, we’re using the data to help substantiate the extensions of certain maintenance intervals.”
Loh said that Falcon is taking the use of real-time data and diagnostics a step further with their new 6X. “The 6X will have FalconScan, which uses patented algorithms that monitor about 100,000 parameters throughout the aircraft. As we collect that data from each aircraft, we can then leverage it fleet-wide and apply it in a learning mode,” he said.
Along with FalconScan, the Falcon 6X (and the Falcon 8X) also benefits from new manufacturing techniques called HALT (Highly Accelerated Life Test) and HASS (Highly Accelerated Stress Screening). These additional tests are part of a comprehensive effort to ensure that the airframe is fully mature by the delivery of the first aircraft. The testing exposes equipment and systems to extremes of vibration, humidity, temperature, pressure and other in-flight phenomena exceeding those that the aircraft will be subjected to in service.
While you might not think of it as “new technology,” Falcon is putting considerable research into mitigating airframe corrosion through improved painting processes.
“On fastener lines, adhesion of the external epoxy paint is problematic due to the presence of unfavorable coatings on the heads. Even after the reactivation of these surfaces by grinding, paint adhesion might remain insufficient,” Loh said. “Dassault Falcon Jet has explored several solutions with the need to comply with the high aesthetic standard required for business aircraft.”
“We finally adopted a scheme involving the use of aqueous solution-gelation (sol-gel) adhesion promoters.This ecologically-friendly technology allows the formation of a very thin, high-adherent polymer layer on the metallic surface,” he said. “Dassault Falcon Jet first adopted this technology for field aircraft after structural repairs or prior to a repaint. We are now using it as part of the new aircraft completion process.”
Embraer Executive Jets
Rafael Leite, Embraer’s director of Customer Relations for South America stated that the company has made several significant strides in bringing significant technology advancements to its global operator base.
“A team of maintainability specialists was created to analyze the market’s and our customers’ maintenance requirements, taking into account maintenance learning from Embraer´s previous developments. This team was also responsible for influencing the program and finding product design solutions, resulting in a maintenance-optimized aircraft,” he said.
Leite explained that one of the tools that the company is implementing is the use of virtual reality and digital mock-ups. These next-gen systems have helped both designers and engineers to identify design, maintenance and assembly issues in an early stage, as well as to study alternative solutions before starting the manufacturing process, avoiding costly corrections in more advanced phases of program development. By using these resources, a significant reduction in special equipment and tools is possible. Maintenance procedures can be achieved while also reducing the aircraft’s equipment/component Mean Time to Repair (MTTR).
Of course, digital simulations are great tools for designers and engineers, but they can never replace actual data gleaned from aircraft in the field. The more you know about what maintainers and operators are finding the better.
To help gather, analyze and share this critical information on a global scale, Embraer Service and Support, EmbraerX (the division of Embraer dedicated to creating “disruptive businesses”) recently launched a new secure digital, collaborative platform called, Beacon.
“Beacon is working to better integrate the entire aviation maintenance ecosystem, starting with empowering the network of maintenance providers and mechanics who can partner with operators in need of unscheduled maintenance. For example, interruptions and AOG situations,” Leite said. “The ultimate aim of Beacon is to make the lives of maintenance providers and operators easier by streamlining current work processes and reducing spare capacity over time.”
“By digitizing key steps in the maintenance process, Beacon helps operators connect with on-call maintenance providers near aircraft-in-need in a timely fashion,” he said. “This means that operators get more effective support while mechanics gain access to more opportunities. To reiterate, the ultimate goal is to reduce ground time by helping aviation professionals to communicate more effectively with one another.”
“Beacon is agnostic and fully dedicated to connecting problems with thoughtful solutions,” Leite said. “Again, we are starting by better connecting the maintenance part of the industry, but our vision is that over time Beacon will become robust enough to connect the entire ecosystem, which would include synchronizing parts, tools, etc.”
Unquestionably, the single-most significant statement Gulfstream has recently made regarding its commitment to servicing its fleet is investing nearly $100 million dollars to open two, state-of-the-art MRO centers. The first was the 190,000 square foot facility at Appleton International Airport and the most recent is the 202,000 square foot MRO in Savannah.
And, as impressive as this service and support investment is, according to the company, it’s one piece of an impressive effort. Overall, the company will complete two service center expansions and open three new service centers in 2019 and 2020, adding approximately 790,000 square feet of dedicated MRO hangars, offices and back shops in the U.S. and Europe.
But, with Gulfstream’s worldwide in-service fleet numbering approximately 2,800 aircraft, there are times when customers will have AOG situations far from help. And getting eyes on the problem no matter where it is, is the goal of one of the company’s more ambitious, new generation tools: remote witnessing and inspections.
“We began using this technology in 2018. It features live video streaming, for conformity inspections of supplier parts and for maintenance-related inspections,” explained Derek Zimmerman, president, Gulfstream Customer Support. “The technology allows us to inspect parts and components remotely, saving both time and money since a technician does not need to travel for an on-site inspection.”
As Zimmerman explained it, the former Director of Gulfstream’s Quality Organization developed the innovative inspection process after he realized that the medical industry had been using live video for years and that it could also work for aviation.
Since its introduction, Gulfstream has partnered with the Aeronautical Repair Station Association to develop FAA policy for the industry on remote witnessing and inspection activities, adding to Gulfstream’s position as an industry leader in innovation.
With a product line spanning King Air turboprops through the Citation family of business jets, no other manufacturer produces as many private and corporate aircraft as Textron Aviation. And in their decades of experience in manufacturing and product support, they’ve learned a host of valuable lessons that are put to use in their current lineup.
On the customer support side, the company has introduced a diagnostics system called LinxUs to help operators minimize downtime, especially those as a result of unscheduled maintenance.
“LinxUs provides fast fault notifications and expedites unexpected maintenance by isolating important details,” stated Kyra Shortt, senior vice president of Global Customer Support at Textron Aviation. “Aircraft in flight can receive maintenance notifications is as little as six minutes through their personal aftermarket service account. The notification is facilitated through either ARES or Garmin data transfers.”
While LinxUs provides the ability to notify operators of maintenance issues is a great step in improving aircraft uptime, the company is complementing that with the recent expansion of its Global Service Network. The goal of this investment is to ensure that Textron Aviation aircraft owner/operators will have access to quality services no matter where they fly.
“Over the past year, we have established or expanded service options in Singapore, London, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines,” the representative said. “We have also leveraged Able Aerospace to expand overhaul and repair options, providing more component repair, and overhaul and approved replacement parts solutions.”
Capabilities like LinxUs help notify operators of pending maintenance issues and the expanded Global Service Network provides support, but the company aims to reduce the number of maintenance issues in the first place. To help achieve this goal Textron Aviation has taken significant steps to upgrade its manufacturing capabilities to help minimize airframe issues in new-generation aircraft.
“Over the years, Textron Aviation has introduced robotic drilling and riveting techniques in some areas of the factory to improve the production consistency of specific components at various stages of the manufacturing process,” Shortt said. “This has led to improvements across the production line and in the overall reliability of each airframe.”
“In addition, the new Cessna Citation Longitude’s production program takes advantage of new technologies like monolithic machining, where major assemblies are milled out a single piece of metal rather than assembled from smaller pieces,” she explained. “This reduces the number of parts and offers more precise tolerances for easier assembly and maintainability.”
To help further reduce the chance for AOG situations, Textron Aviation recently introduced a new Aircraft Maintenance Data Hub to the Textron Aviation Customer Portal. The hub displays a summary of upcoming or overdue maintenance for all aircraft that have an active subscription with a recommended aircraft maintenance-tracking provider.
“This makes it easier for customers to understand service and support requirements for their aircraft,” Shortt said.