Lou Seno is the Chief Executive Officer of JSSI, the largest independent provider of hourly cost maintenance programmes for business aircraft and engines. He has just completed a full year overseeing the launch of the European Headquarters, in Farnborough, UK and providing leadership to the JSSI team based there. Jo Murray catches up with him to find out more about JSSI’s gateway to Europe
With over 300 clients and more than 400 contracts, Europe is JSSI’s second largest market after the US. For years, JSSI had outsourced sales in the European region but, in early 2009, the company took a new look at doing business in the region and decided to establish a European headquarter office.
Of course 2009 was the depths of recession so the new location was definitely not about ramping up sales in a difficult market; rather it was to re-focus JSSI’s approach to Europe and to “elevate our level of service here,” says Seno, adding that the US and the European markets show considerable discrepancies.
In the US, he points out, there is a prevalence of FAA Part 91 Flight Departments which buy their own aircraft, hire pilots, take on engineers, rent a hangar and then operate the aircraft as part of the business – with JSSI or another organisation providing the maintenance plan.
By contrast, in Europe, that model is very rare. In Europe there is a plethora of aircraft management companies who undertake the same work as a Flight Department on behalf of a corporation. The different approach means that, when JSSI goes in to negotiate a maintenance plan with a European client, it is probably going to be the aircraft owner, the management company and JSSI round the table. The contract is always signed with the true owner but contract-signing activity may be the only direct contact JSSI has with the owner.
Working with JSSI is simple. Under its maintenance programme, JSSI agrees on an hourly rate with the owner but does not perform any of the work itself. Rather, the airframe, engine or both are dispatched to an OEM-owned or OEM-authorised maintenance facility for overhaul or repair with JSSI Technical Advisors monitoring the entire process.
What is confusing to the uninitiated is that JSSI thereby becomes both a competitor and a client to the OEM – most of which market their own maintenance plans to the business jet fraternity. There are GE’s OnPoint, Pratt & Whitney Canada’s ESP, Williams’ Total Assurance Plan and Rolls-Royce’s Corporate Care programmes, to name a few – JSSI competes with them all. The relationship with the OEM is undoubtedly complicated but, at the same time, it is successful. We know that because JSSI is actively courted as a customer by the OEM, points out Seno.
So why would a customer go to JSSI if the OEM is also well placed to offer its own maintenance programmes? Seno responds: “It’s all about the service.” He points out that JSSI has numerous technical advisors available to the client so that, in effect, JSSI becomes the client’s de facto Director of Maintenance, with all questions answered and all actions undertaken in synch with the owner of the aircraft, his schedule and his expectations.
“If there is a problem with the aircraft, the operator simply pulls out the JSSI card and talks to someone,” says Seno. It is the human touch that makes JSSI successful and this is important now that the pool of business jet owners is so much wider and diverse than the traditional pool of aviators, experts and enthusiasts.
Seno is also quick to point out that JSSI provides a high level of financial security. “The maintenance reserves are deposited into an irrevocable third-party trust,” he says. “These reserves are secure and available to pay for maintenance events when they occur. The Clients’ maintenance reserves are never co-mingled with JSSI corporate funds.”
Not only do JSSI’s maintenance programmes compete with those promulgated by the OEMs, JSSI also competes with Flight Departments who manage their own maintenance reserves and their own maintenance plans. But Seno points out that, in today’s cost-aware environment – especially for corporate travel – there is an imperative to be transparent which puts JSSI ahead of the game. All costs are under the microscope today and companies owning aircraft have to be more fiscally aware. Seno says transparency is a selling point for JSSI as it is founded on values of honesty and integrity and establishes hourly rates that are straightforward and based on actual maintenance costs.
In fact, JSSI has put in place a portal through which customers report their flight hours. JSSI is then in an informed position to call each customer and discuss overhaul actions as flight hours increase. “We start you thinking about the event 90-120 days out. We are proactive,” he says.
Personal relationships are also imperative to JSSI. In the US there is a prevalence of owner-flyers who manage their business schedules through masterminding their own flights. To date, JSSI has done very well with the owner-flown Phenom market and has built up significant personal relationships. Seno points out that a significant proportion of these Phenom owner-flyers have grown out of the piston and turboprop markets. They have never written a large cheque for a turbine engine overhaul and are unlikely to start now. JSSI’s engine maintenance plans have been a hit with this slice of the market because they manage the maintenance, the cost and the owner’s knowledge-base as he moves up into more ambitious aircraft types.
While the Phenom has been great for business development, there are certain assets JSSI will not touch. These assets are basically “old metal” and “oddballs”. Anything aged more than 20 years is unlikely to meet the criteria.
Seno is cautiously optimistic about market growth as we move off the bottom of the economic curve. JSSI had a very strong December and he says he is “pretty happy with enrolments” for Q1 of 2011. There is still a long way to go given that a large proportion of JSSI revenues are derived from US Corporate Flight Departments. He comments that the day after the three senior management teams from the big US car manufacturers flew to Washington in their private jets to ask for financial assistance, corporate flight hours dropped like a stone. There is nothing like bad PR to cause shareholders to crack down on expenditures.
It is a case of “onward and upward” at JSSI. With the European headquarters now in its second year and an Asian office launched in Macau at the beginning of 2011, there is plenty to look forward to as JSSI continues to expand its global presence. Of course Asia is a large-cabin, long-range market and, as Chinese air space opens up, Seno is confident the region offers significant promise.
For now, Seno has plenty to conjure with. Recession brings change in terms of client types, aircraft populations and fiscal attitudes. We may never see another 2008 but we will still see business aviation peaks – it is just not clear yet what they will look like.