AOG Service With A Smile
By Norman Chance
Fortunately for our family, this past Saturday was beautiful. The temperature here in the Midwest was 70 degrees — perfect for a much-needed garage sale. By some sure stroke of good fortune,we managed to sell almost absolutely everything we had in our driveway. As we wrapped up the last few items left, I looked up to see a Dash 8 turboprop on final approach to Indianapolis International Airport.
“Wow,” I commented. “Sure is a nice day for flying.”
One hour later I was deep into the continuation of my Saturday to-do list. Next on the list was the yard. As I attempted to start my lawn mower for the fourth time, my cell phone rang.
“Norm, this is Joe,” said the caller. “I have a customer who has blown a tire somewhere in southern Indiana.”
“Where?” I asked.
“Some place called Salem,” said Joe. Apparently his customer landed a Beech Baron on a one-runway airport, blowing a main tire in the process. To make matters worse, the airport didn’t have any A&Ps who could remove the aircraft on the field. An Indiana State Trooper showed up, filed a report, then notified the FAA that the airport was closed until the aircraft could be removed. Now Joe is a good customer. He runs a maintenance shop in Ohio and has been buying from us for several years. Joe is stuck trying to rescue one of his client’s airplanes over the phone. What do we do?
During the next two hours, I called eight different A&Ps until I found a gentleman who was 40 miles away from the stranded Baron. After coordinating with all parties involved, I drove to the Chance Aviation warehouse in Indianapolis and located two Goodyear 6.50 x 8 tires and tubes. After loading the tires and tubes into my Ford, two of my boys and I drove two hours to deliver them. That is what you call AOG service.
Aircraft on ground
Aircraft on Ground (AOG) is a term that has been used to express a critical aircraft parts requirement for a stranded aircraft. Normally AOG is used for commercial and military aircraft, as they have the highest urgency due to their respective operational tempos. The military flies 24/7 to protect our freedoms,while commercial airlines move 24/7 to keep up with a constantly-moving public. Since the introduction of the Learjet in the 1960s, general aviation has also entered into the AOG world. Entrepreneurs, university flight schools, air charter and municipal government operators have all seen the critical potential of these marvelous machines. In order to maximize their investments, operators seek to keep aircraft moving. This constant demand requires knowledgable aircraft maintenance professionals who can return these assets to service as quickly and as safely as possible ... and that is where we come in.
You can call it “supply chain management” or “product support.” Either way, once an A&P or an IA has determined what parts they need to address the AOG, the ball gets turned over to the parts department. Your parts professional turns to a combination of electronic and printed resources to find exactly where the desired part is. Most of us who work in some sort of product-support capacity have laptops and hard drives full of manufacturers’ catalogs and spec sheets. I actually have an external hard drive full of current and out-of-print catalogs. Some catalogs are getting so hard to find that I have resorted to scanning them in, page by page. Those of us who are lucky enough to have older large catalogs (such as the old Van Dusen catalog) find having our own personal libraries to be a very important resource (along with electronic media).
The real fun begins once your parts professional has confirmed the exact part and application data. Do I have one in stock? Do we have a part under a newer or older dash number? Many folks fail to grasp the effort it takes just to cross reference all of the insanely mountainous amounts of alternate part numbers. For some reason, manufacturers are in love with both adding new part numbers and superseding old ones when a newer supplier is found. Several programs like Avref make the prospect of cross-referencing parts immensely easier. Avref is a program you must pay for, but it is hands down one of the greatest parts cross-referencing tools available. If you are engaged in buying and selling aircraft parts, I highly recommend that you consider looking at it. I have been paying for Avref services since the mid 1990s, and have always valued Avref as a tool that has saved my company time and money. Many parts listing services also have some sort of cross-referencing capability. Stockmarket.
Once your professional has verified the part number and begrudgingly discovers that they lack the proper part in inventory, then the real fun begins. I am going to make a statement that will most likely resonate well with readers of this magazine: obtaining AOG parts that are in stock with a distributor or another FBO is generally the most reliable and cost-effective way to solve your AOG problem. Parts distributors (such as Chance Aviation) are here to take care of your AOG right away. If you or your distributor has the unpleasant requirement of obtaining AOG parts from a manufacturer, then you are in for a wild ride.
Every sector has some sort of best practices and procedures. For some reason, some airframe and aircraft component manufactures have a wide range of nonresponsive attitudes towards AOG requirements. Those manufacturers would do well to adopt industry-wide AOG response criteria. One muffler manufacturer refuses to ship any parts on Friday. Another battery manufacturer simply wont expedite batteries at all on an AOG. I actually had a state department customer’s aircraft get stranded in Kabul, Afghanistan, for a battery. I called the battery manufacturer and the response I had from customer service was that a lead time was four weeks. Fortunately, I placed a rather lively phone call to someone else in upper management who (thankfully) was a veteran of our armed forces. This person was kind enough to address our customer’s battery need right away.
In addition to navigating the wide range of responses (or lack of response), the ultimate insult to injury is AOG fees. I think it is plain wrong for anyone to assess AOG fees for parts that are already expensive. In some sense, AOG fees are often a smoke screen thrown up to take advantage of people in situations that are beyond their control. We are here to provide parts for our customers when they need them. That is the sole source of our professional existence. Why then are we being charged a fee for buying items that we need?
It is clear that AOG fees need to be discussed with your customer before parts are ordered. Some manufacturers also will not allow you to ship a part AOG unless you use FedEx or UPS overnight services. I have had to explain to several manufacturers that this is silly, especially when you live in an area that has guaranteed one-day ground service.
Again, it is critical that all AOG fees and associated freight costs are listed and billed on your customer’s invoice. Even if your AOG is for an aircraft that your company owns, you still need to account for these AOG fees and extra shipping costs for proper financial reporting.
The importance of a “thank you”
Despite providing an excellent aircraft maintenance response for your AOG client, it is likely that they will still balk at the cost of your efforts. When this occurs, it is important to thank customers for their business. We need to remind our customers of the personal time and effort involved in supporting their AOG request. We love the aviation industry and are happy to keep these birds flying. Most customers are bright enough to appreciate your AOG efforts, even if they do not like your bill. We all need to understand that this is an expensive undertaking. Despite this, the key to our business is safety. Proper care and maintenance is expensive, but we should always render these services with a grateful smile.
Norman Chance is President and CEO of Chance Aviation, an international aircraft parts distributor headquartered in Indianapolis. He graduated with a degree in Aircraft Maintenance from Vincennes University and has a degree in Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle University. Chance holds an FAA A&P certificate.