Reliability You Can Count On

Robert Vieito measures success by tenths or even hundredths of a percent.

As the program manager for the Gulfstream G450, it falls to Vieito to ensure the dispatch reliability of the G450 fleet. And just recently, the aircraft’s reliability hit an all-time 12-month high of 99.9 percent.

That equates to just one missed flight in five years. And if it were up to Vieito, it would miss even fewer.

“I’d prefer the aircraft not miss any,” Vieito states. “When a commercial flight is delayed or even worse, canceled, how do you feel about it? Now imagine you’re an individual whose personal transportation needs mean owning a private aircraft, and it can’t leave the ground. Our customers don’t want to miss any trips, so we try to minimize that and get ahead of missed trips as much as we can.”

And he’s not alone.

Reliability is so important that Gulfstream has hundreds—if not thousands—of employees dedicated to ensuring it remains as high as possible. There are the program managers—from Michael Cuson on the G150/G200 to Dave Scott on the about-to-enter service G650—who watch their fleet dispatch reliability numbers like stockbrokers watching the market fluctuations of an IPO. There are the technicians in Product Support, the engineers who design the aircraft, the technical writers who write the service bulletins …

“It’s so hard to measure just how many people are involved,” says Lor Izzard, the former G150/G200 program manager who’s now the G280 program director. “So many people are accountable for it. Everybody has a part to play.”

So what exactly is dispatch reliability? In the most basic terms, it’s the ratio of missed flights to dispatched ones. If an operator has 100 flights scheduled, and the aircraft, due to a maintenance issue, can’t leave the ground for 10 of them, the dispatch reliability rate for that particular aircraft drops to 90 percent. The formula for calculating the rate involves a bit more data: Take the number of landings minus delays and divide it by the number of landings plus cancellations. Multiply the result by 100 and you’ll get the dispatch reliability rate. A dispatch reliability rate of 99.5 percent means the aircraft missed one flight every year.

While the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) sets a standard dispatch reliability rate for the business-aviation industry, Gulfstream sets an even higher internal standard known as operational reliability, which exceeds the NBAA standard and incorporates operational factors, such as foreign object damage, delayed or missing parts and maintenance- or pilot-induced delays. Determining that rate falls to Pres Henne, Gulfstream senior vice president of Programs, Engineering and Test, with input from his management team.

The goals are high; but so too are the reliability rates Gulfstream aircraft are able to achieve, ranging from a 12-month average of 99.91 percent for the G550 to 99.87 percent for the G150 in 2011.

“Our target operational reliability rate gets higher and higher every year,” says Tim Farley, Gulfstream’s vice president of Engineering. “If you told me back when we started this what the number would be today, I would have said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ but the number inches up. How did it get there? A lot of hard work. You don’t get there by looking at it lightheartedly.”

Lighthearted is definitely not a word Gulfstream’s five program managers would use to describe the process of ensuring operational reliability stays high, a process that fills 90 percent of their day. They talk to customers about possible issues and concerns. They scan field service reports for potential problems. They closely monitor each and every missed flight to figure out the possible reliability repercussions. They call in to the daily safety review meeting. And all the while, they work to ensure that every possible step has been taken to mitigate reliability impact on both the present and future.

“Every morning, I’m on that safety review call to see if there’s some trend developing,” Vieito says.

And every afternoon, he’s at the Reliability, Quality & Availability Action Team (RQAAT) meeting—one of several reasons Gulfstream’s rates remain consistently high.

The RQAAT team got its start in 1999 with the introduction of the GV, which faced a series of reliability challenges. That’s when Gulfstream leaders decided to put a process behind ensuring Gulfstream aircraft were the best of the best.

Enter the RQAAT.

RQAAT Manages Changes

According to the directive that created it, RQAAT is a “cross-functional team responsible for identifying and resolving issues that can negatively affect the safety, reliability, quality and availability of the Gulfstream fleet of aircraft.” Once an issue has been identified, the team determines the appropriate resolution and maintains metrics to ensure constant improvement.

Watching the team in action during its daily meeting is akin to watching a finely rehearsed ballet. The group—consisting of program managers, engineers and technicians—meets at 3 p.m. in Savannah’s Research and Development Center II with a Product Support contingent videoconferencing in from the Savannah Service Center.

On this particular day, the large-cabin RQAAT items range from a converter malfunction to a throttle anomaly.

The team tackles each task, one by one. For every problem, there is an action. For every slide, there is a question or suggestion from the team’s co-chairs, the vice presidents of Engineering and Sustaining Programs.

The meetings move quickly, with the team tackling investigation requests, walk-ons, upcoming walk-ons, pending issues, issues being monitored and issues that may be walked on, in rapid succession. Once they’ve discussed each item on the list, they begin looking for more:

“Any new walk-ons?” someone asks.

“I need HUD condensation back on,” someone else chimes in. “We don’t want to wait until final phase to test this. We want to do it in production.”

The decision is made: HUD condensation is back on the list.

“RQAAT can literally touch every part of the aircraft or flying experience,” says Izzard. “It’s RQAAT that manages the changes and pushes them out to the fleet.” The changes can be a modification to the aircraft, an adjustment or addition to training, education for operators or a publication change.

But the dispatch reliability process doesn’t end when the RQAAT meeting does.

Let’s Talk

When the meeting stops, the communication starts.

“All roads lead back to communication, and that includes dispatch reliability,” Vieito states. “Communication with the customers is so important.”

Izzard couldn’t agree more.

“The customer is always first.”

“Product Support plays an equally important role,” Izzard explains. “After all, it’s the technicians handling the issues or the Technical Operations and Field Service teams working hand-in-hand with the program managers that ensure customer concerns are addressed. These teams also leverage communications opportunities, such as the Customer Advisory Board and customer entry-into-service newsletters. They understand Gulfstream customers better than anyone.”

Take the time aircraft were missing trips due to the engine starter valve not opening. RQAAT figured out that pilots were releasing the button too quickly; they actually needed to hold it for two to four seconds. The team explained the process in Breakfast Minutes, Gulfstream’s weekly newsletter to operators, and those missed trips stopped.

The RQAAT was so successful at increasing reliability that it was expanded to include the GIV in 2000, all mid-cabin aircraft in 2002, and has been implemented on every new aircraft model since, including the about-to-enter service G280 and G650. Anyone can present a potential concern to the team for possible inclusion in the RQAAT process. And many times, those concerns come from customer conversations.

“If you look away, reliability goes down,” says Farley. “And it’s easier to go down than up. Just one event and boom, you’re fighting your way back to the top.”

Just ask Izzard.

Climbing to the Top

During Izzard’s tenure as the mid-cabin program manager, he watched as the G200’s reliability started to slip.

“With the rest of the Gulfstream models, we were used to talking about dispatch reliability in tenths or hundredths of a percent,” he recalls. “With the G200, tenths or hundredths didn’t count. The percentages were behind where we needed to be. That clearly wasn’t acceptable to management, ourselves or our customers.”

The RQAAT team evaluated the aircraft as a whole, including its dispatch critical components and removal lists. From that, they determined the biggest factors affecting the fleet’s reliability and grouped together a specific set of service bulletins intended to address those items.

“We knew that with these service bulletins, we could increase dispatch reliability,” Izzard says. “So we made a decision to invest in the fleet. We launched a dramatic fleet-wide retrofit action known as STEP, Short-Term Enhancement Program.”

Since then, three additional G200 STEPs have been pushed to the fleet by the Retrofit Coordination group.

“Now we’re back to talking about G200 reliability in tenths or hundredths of a percent, which is where we need to be,” Izzard states with satisfaction.

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