Saturday, May 26, 2018

Gulfstream’s new year: Expansion, new technology ready to fly



From California and Wisconsin to Beijing, Brazil and London, it’s hard to find a corner of the world where Savannah-based Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. doesn’t have a presence.

This year alone the company has announced expansions in Savannah and Appleton, Wisconsin, delivered their 300th G650 jet and extended their operating hours and service capabilities at their Beijing service center.

“I feel good about the market in general for us,” Gulfstream President Mark Burns said in an interview with the Savannah Morning News this week.

“Business aviation has always been a very cyclical business, but right now I think the world economy is moving forward and all in all I feel good about the market. I feel good about our position here in Savannah as well.”

Burns, who has held a variety of positions at Gulfstream, including leader of the company’s product support organization and vice president of company support, said while the company has changed a lot since he first came on board in 1983 their dedication and commitment to their products and customers remains the same.

“When I started here back in the 1980s we worked on about six or seven airplanes a day, today it’s almost 200 per day for our service business somewhere in the world. And every time we build a new airplane and deliver that airplane we’ve created a new customer, so I fully expect that the service business will continue to grow for many, many years to come,” he said.

“From a Gulfstream perspective we’re committed to serving our customers’ needs and I fully expect, while I don’t have anything else to tell you today, I do suspect service business will continue to grow.”

Workforce

When Gulfstream first opened its doors in Savannah in 1967 they employed about 100 people; today that number is around 16,000. The Savannah and Brunswick workforce account for about 10,000 of those jobs.

“In the early 2000s we were about 4,000 employees and we’ve grown to over 16,000 in a short period of time. This is a very young workforce, but a workforce that’s seen a lot in the last 10 years,” Burns said.

When Gulfstream entered into their current growth cycle, Burns said it was important to develop that workforce locally and one of their strongest partners in that endeavor has been Savannah Technical College.

Th college had offered aviation-related courses for many years, but it wasn’t until they opened the Aviation Training Center in 2014 at their Crossroads campus that they were fully able to expand the program into its own division, said Savannah Tech President Kathy Love.

The partnership between Gulfstream is the type of thing that every technical college in Georgia would love to have with their industry partners, Love said. Because of the relationship with the school is able to take any projected hiring needs and make sure they offer enough programs and classes to fulfill their needs along with other aerospace related jobs in our area.

“Because of this, local residents who desire to work at Gulfstream or in aviation in general are able to get the training they need without leaving home,” she said.

“And Gulfstream has a steady stream of skilled workers that they can consider for the openings they may have.”

The college currently offers degrees, diplomas or certificates in Aircraft Technology, Aviation Maintenance and Advance Aviation Maintenance and Burns said the school has put a lot of time and energy into making sure they deliver a highly skilled workforce.

“It’s been a great partnership and we continue to work with them very closely as we grow new job types,” he said.

“As the airplanes continue to evolve they’re more computer oriented, obviously, so the skills are changing of how workers need to be prepared, so Savannah tech is one of those indispensable teams that we have working with us to do that.”

Along with the importance of adding new employees, Burns said the company continues to seek new opportunities and invest in learning for existing employees, as well. The company’s Savannah Research and Development campus currently has about 1,500 employees who are able to work on airplanes before they go on to the production line or service center.

“This evolution of learning is very important to us,” he said.

“Our industry moves at such a rapid pace it’s important that we not only train new employees, but our existing employees as well.”

Expansions

The company announced last month that a new $55 million service center expansion on the grounds of Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport will add at least 200 new jobs to the local economy. The 202,000 square-foot center is expected to open in the second quarter of 2019.

The new facility will sit on 24 acres and include 112,905 square-feet of hangar space, which will be able to accommodate 13 Gulfstream G650s or G650ERs. Last month it was also announced that Gulfstream and Triumph Group, Inc. plan to reallocate assembly services from two of Triumph’s facilities in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Nashville, Tennessee to Gulfstream’s Savannah operations.

The agreement will reallocate G650 wing box and wing completion work from and optimize Triumph’s role in the supply chain. That transition should be completed by the first half of next year.

The company also has plans to expand their service center in Appleton, Wisconsin, where they have been since 1998. In late 2017 they announced construction of a new maintenance facility at Van Nuys Airport near Los Angeles and the establishment of a Field and Airborne Support Teams.

“We announced the growth here in Savannah and our facility in Wisconsin and we’ve got growth in our other areas on the west coast and on the east coast and we’re looking at other places around the world where service might benefit our customer, so it is a focus for us,” Burns said of the recent growth.

In recent months, China’s Ministry of Commerce had announced plans to place a 25 percent tariff on U.S. aircraft with an empty weight of between 15,000 and 45,000 kilograms, which would include the company’s G550 and G650s and Burns acknowledges there are factors that could stunt the company’s growth, but feels confident that the issue will be resolved.

“We’re always concerned about anything that would impede our growth, but I was in China just a couple of weeks ago and most of the clients that would be impacted felt that the issues would be resolved and it would not become an effective tariff on importing airplanes into China,” he said.

“Again, they’re geopolitical issues all around the world. There are things that would obviously be impactful to us, but at this point I think the administration announced in the last two days that they’re making some progress on the tariffs and I think they’ll certainly get resolved and hopefully for the benefit of both sides and free trade will win the day and we’ll be able to compete effectively.”

Products and delivery

Gulfstream began 2018 by delivering its final G450 and officially retiring the airplane, which first entered service in 2005, but with two new products – the G500 and G600 – on track for certification later this year, there hasn’t been much downtime.

The G500, which can fly 5,200 nautical miles at Mach 0.85, is well into its flight-test program and slated to receive U.S. Federal Aviation Administration type certification this summer. The G600, which can fly 6,500 nm at Mach 0.85 is expected to receive certification later this year.

Gulfstream’s fleet currently includes six different models - the G280, G550, G650, G650ER, G500 and G600. Burns said the G550 continues to be an iconic and solid model for Gulfstream with more than 500 in the fleet and interest for the G280 along with the G650 and G650ER continues to be strong.

“The G650 and the G650ER are unprecedented in our industry and continue to be strong entry into service for those airplanes. I believe we’ve built over 300 now and the entry into service continues to go very smoothly, almost on a weekly basis,” he said, adding that the company’s backlog continues to be strong. During the first quarter of this year they delivered 26 new aircraft down from 30 during the first quarter of 2017.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever been as busy as we are today, but it’s exciting as you walk around the plant and talk to people. The morale is fantastic and people are excited about all the opportunities we have,” he said.

The company was delayed in delivering two aircraft – a special mission G550 and G280 – during the first quarter, but the delays were due to customer requests and Burns said such things are not uncommon in the industry.

″... It’s not atypical for us to have customers who ask us to move an airplane a week or two and sometimes if it’s at the end of the quarter and they ask us to move it a week it falls into the next quarter.”

New technology

The G500, which embarked on a world tour earlier this year, will be joined by the G600, making its European debut at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Geneva next week and the pair are already setting records.

Last month the G500 and G600 flew from Shanghai to Honolulu at an average speed of Mach 0.90. The G500 made the flight in 8 hours and 34 minutes, with the G600 arriving just one minute later. The next day, the two aircraft linked Pacific and Atlantic, traveling from Honolulu to Savannah, again at Mach 0.90. The G500 made the flight in 7 hours, 44 minutes, and the G600 clocked in at 7 hours, 49 minutes.

The new sister aircraft also feature technology never before seen in the skies. Burns said the planes are unlike anything the company or any of their competitors have built before.

“The safety features in these airplanes are really state of the art, so we’re excited about getting certification for those airplanes this year and beginning delivery of the G500, so exciting times for us,” he said.

The new design uses active control sidesticks and touch-screen technology, both industry firsts. The sidesticks replace the traditional pedestal mounted yokes and are digitally linked mimicking any movement made by the pilot or co-pilot on each side.

“We’re constantly looking at new technology,” Burns said.

″(The active control sidesticks) allows both the pilot and the co-pilot to understand going on in the cockpit, they’re not independently controlling, so that is a huge step forward and one that we tried to accentuate with the public and the buyers.”

The touchscreen capabilities, Burns said, reduce the amount of work load on the pilots to make it easier to operate the airplane.

The new planes also utilize the Intelligence-by-Wire system, which makes continuous corrections to keep the aircraft in an optimum position, resulting in a smoother flight. The system is about 40 times safer than what the FAA requires, Burns said.

“And I think because of the (research and development center) we have now and the consistent employment of engineers we’ve had over the last 15 years, it’s really become a learning environment for us, so we’re looking at a number of things beyond even the technology that we have in the airplanes today,” he said.

Looking ahead

Recounting the evolution the company has under gone during his more than three decades there; Burns said the way planes are designed today through the help of 3D models and other computer-based programs has been one of the biggest changes in the industry which in turn has led to better quality aircraft.

“When I started, the airplanes were hand built and today the precision in which airplanes are built is incredible,” he said.

“We had a customer come in recently and he wanted to see how we make the wing on the airplane, which is a huge endeavor when you build an airplane, make the fuselage and wing the first time. And the whole making of the wing took 30 minutes where previously it would have taken four or five days.”

Gulfstream’s relationship with its parent company, General Dynamics, which purchased Gulfstream in 1999, has also allowed the company to grow and meet the demands of customers around the world 24-hours a day, Burns said.

“We’re fortunate that we have a parent company in General Dynamics that believes in us and I think the one thing they’ve proven since they purchased us in 1999 is that they’re willing to invest,” Burns said, adding that he expects to see those investments continue.

“We’ve got a very long term view of this market. We design airplanes, we build airplanes and we service airplanes and we’re going to stick to that focus, but I believe you’ll see a lot more new technologies to come from us in the next few years.”

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