First Word: 10/05

Mad as Hell
Every couple of months I get some form of the Im-fed-up-and-Im-not-gonna-take-it-anymore wail about poor quality in products of the sort reader Ellis Johnson sent along this month. (Read it in the “Letters” section.) Its not clear to me if Mr. Johnsons letter represents a rising tide of customer dissatisfaction with everything in general aviation or just everything in general.

My view is that while the quality of goods and services has improved, the quality of customer service has declined sharply. I base that opinion on the fact that many of the complaints we hear about or actually intervene in involve minor beefs about the product itself. These complaints spin out of control only when the company refuses to address them with the customer or, worse, simply refuses to even talk to the customer.

I blame much of this on the computer and software industry, oddly enough. Some-although not all-vendors of hardware and software sell stuff that doesnt work right or doesnt work at all. When you call for help, you get routed through Bombay only to learn there’s no fix for your particular problem. The computer industry can also take credit for igniting the trend of burying the contact information on their Web sites, something that sends the hostile message that even though the company peddles this junk, they don’t want you calling with your piddling little problems with it.

Naturally, there are two sides to every story, including anything to do with quality. I was reminded of this at Oshkosh when chatting with the CEO of a major GA manufacturer who explained how one picky customer complained about a nearly invisible paint drip inside the landing light frame. We fixed it, he told me, but I really wanted to say heres your $#@%^ $450,000 back, go buy someone elses airplane. Things do get testy on both sides of the service counter.

In the coming months, we’ll be exploring this issue through detailed surveys of owners of new aircraft. We hope to gain a better understanding of how satisfied owners are with new airplane purchases and to perhaps answer this question: Are manufacturers just not producing quality airplanes or are our expectations of quality unrealistic? If youre an owner of an airplane built since 2000 and want to participate, drop me a line at [email protected].

Ill add your name to the survey list.


Lost Balls
In another life, when I was a cub reporter covering the Maryland State House in Annapolis, a legendary ward-heeler-turned-Senator by the name of Harry J. McGuirk was a force to be reckoned with. Harry was an old-time Baltimore pol who had a clever Marylandism for everything. Harry died in 1992 but hell forgive me for appropriating a favorite phrase he used to describe hopeless political causes: lost balls in high grass.

This month, two merit the Lost Ball in High Grass award. First, Vertex Standard. Now, heres a major player in the electronics industry, pitching VHF radios to pilots, which couldnt muster the effort to return our repeated phone calls seeking answers to technical questions. If they behave that way before the sale, one can rightfully worry about what theyll do once your check clears. In my view, non-response is simply unacceptable. Theyre lost in the grass.

At Oshkosh, I saw a company called Flooring Adventures displaying a nice composite tile material for hangar floors. Theyre based in Richmond and since I was going to be in the neighborhood, I asked if I could stop by and research an article on the product. No, sorry, were too busy, but someone will call back. Fair enough.

Except the call never came. I figure a page of editorial in this magazine is the equivalent of $10,000 in advertising simply because Aviation Consumer readers are buyers, not tire kickers. Lost opportunities are also lost balls.

-Paul Bertorelli