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Feature

Deere Flies Swiftly to Global Markets

How a flight department adapted as business expanded internationally

In this era of globalization, U.S. companies must enter new international markets in order to remain competitive, and business aircraft are a vital tool for developing and serving new overseas customers. But acquiring a long-range airplane capable of flying to far-flung destinations is just one of many steps flight departments must take in order to go global.

For Moline, IL-based Deere & Company – which produces equipment used worldwide in agriculture, forestry, construction, earthmoving and material handling – having access to business aviation has been a tool for success since 1946. However, as the company expanded its international reach, flying business airplanes became even more important.

Dave Everitt, president of Deere's Agriculture and Turf Division, finds business aviation essential in today's global marketplace. "My territory is the world, and I couldn't get my job done as effectively if I didn't have access to John Deere Aviation.

"In Asia, for example, our business, depending on the country, is growing 25 to 45 percent a year," explained Everitt. "We are making numerous investments in Asia because that is where the future growth is. We have to be there and compete."

The ability to travel to emerging markets quickly is crucial for Deere. During one trip last year, company officials visited three African countries, and then went on to India and Singapore, returning to Moline just seven days later. "You just can't do that on a regular basis and still be sane without business aviation," declared Everitt.

Equipping and Staffing for International Growth

Deere's Gulfstream V, which has been the company's primary aircraft for international missions, enables passengers to get to distant destinations faster and do more in less time, said Larrie Dahl, director of global aviation services. And the recent economic downturn did not reduce Deere's flying. Passenger miles increased 18 percent and hours flown grew 4 percent during 2009 and 2010, in large part because of overseas trips.

"The world is our market," declared Dahl, who noted that his department's 10-year fleet plan has been aligned with Deere's goal of becoming a $50 billion corporation.

As Deere's overseas flying has increased, staffing has remained an important consideration. Dorette Kerr, manager of flight administration, was Deere's only scheduler four years ago. Today, she oversees two schedulers and an aviation coordinator.

It's not only the number of trips that have increased the need for support. When Deere started flying to India and China, the challenges of operating in those countries required more time to plan missions. "Those trips are more complex than flying to Europe," said Kerr. "There's a lot more work and documentation that has to be done.

"Once 9/11 happened, things became even more complex," continued Kerr. "The e-APIS reporting and security issues we have to deal with have added to that workload." Besides in-house staff, Deere relies on an international handler, and Deere's administration team undergoes recurrent training to ensure that they can deal with ever-changing aviation requirements worldwide.

Of course, flying overseas more requires a full complement of pilots. Deere prefers to hire aviators with 3,000 or more hours total time and who will fit into the company's unique corporate culture.

Optimum scheduling and positioning of aviation personnel also has proven essential. "When I first came to Deere, we were not pre-positioning crews," said Dahl. "GV missions sometimes required five pilots, two flight attendants and two maintenance technicians." Today, Deere sends extra crewmembers ahead to meet the airplane at key stops, thus ensuring that trips are not hampered by crew limits.

"We could do a trip to Singapore or India with one crew, but they might have to rest overnight," explained Kerr. "If we have to ask passengers to spend an extra night somewhere because of crew rest requirements, we are not saving the company time or money. By pre-positioning or augmenting crews, we are able to keep the airplane moving."

Worldwide Maintenance Support

A maintenance technician usually travels aboard Deere's Gulfstream when overseas in case any repairs are needed during the trip. Having a technician onboard has sometimes proven invaluable.

For instance, when a boost pump failed while the Gulfstream was in India, a replacement part was ordered and delivered a day later, then quickly installed by the Deere technician and the trip continued on schedule. Chris Behn, Deere's aircraft maintenance supervisor, says it would have been much more difficult to find a local, qualified maintenance person to have done that job.

"You have to think about where you are going," explained Behn. "Central Africa, for example, has limited support. OEM field reps in the region become important to you. Also, let your local field rep know where your airplane is going, so the OEM can track the aircraft. The OEM is key to getting support in country."

Once a Deere airplane returns home, it undergoes a rigorous post-flight maintenance inspection, said Behn. "We need to be proactive about squawks and potential maintenance issues while the airplane is at home base, because a little issue at home can become a big issue when you are in a foreign country."

Ensuring Safety, Security When Abroad

Preparing for an international trip, especially to a new destination, can involve months of planning. "We developed our own in-house international checklist," said Dahl. "That's a really important tool. We use it on every trip."

The first step, said Roger Schoutteet, Deere's manager of safety and security, is to gather information on safety and security concerns involving the destination. Security personnel often travel to the location ahead of other Deere personnel to determine "if it's a place we really want to go to."

Dahl said specialized training for the crews also is important. Deere pilots take courses on international procedures and familiarize themselves with the regulations of the countries they will visit.

"For any international trip, we do a thorough briefing with the crewmembers, including flight attendants and schedulers," said Schoutteet. A large portion of the briefing covers documentation: Are navigation charts and electronic flight bags up to date? Have passports, visas, and slot and overflight permits been secured?

Dahl noted that there are other, more subtle considerations. Crews and passengers "need to remember we are guests in the country. For some places we fly to, we need to have an invitation to even come. It's important to understand their culture."

Schoutteet added, "You have to realize that their way of doing things may be totally different than what you expect or are used to. You just need to be patient."

Once a trip starts, the flight is closely followed. "Flight tracking is an important part of our safety management system," said Schoutteet. "We need to know where the airplane is all the time." If the aircraft is delayed or the itinerary changes, crews are expected to report in immediately.

A Team Effort

After each mission, crewmembers sit down and talk to the schedulers about what happened during the trip. "We have learned so much from experience," said Kerr.

Even before one international trip ends, planning for future missions has already begun. The maintenance department has developed a spreadsheet that forecasts maintenance requirements for the next 24 months, and that data is entered into the flight scheduling software.

"We've got trips already planned for next year, so we have to be very proactive about scheduling maintenance early so the schedulers have time to adjust flight schedules," said Behn. In the end, said Kerr, "It comes down to communication and teamwork. That's what makes things work."

Snapshot:

Aircraft: one Gulfstream V, one Gulfstream 550, two Citation Xs, one King Air 350
Number of people in flight department: 18 pilots (including four managers who fly and two pilots based in Brazil), six maintenance technicians, four scheduling/administrative personnel
Challenge: Support the company's goal of expanding via increasing emphasis on international markets
Solution: Reorient flight department by staffing and equipping to meet global travel needs

Deere's Tips for International Travel

Below are just a few of the items that appear on Deere's international checklist:

  • Check your insurance policy's foreign travel requirements and exclusions before flying overseas.
  • Determine what immunizations are required by the countries to be visited, because some protocols require a series of shots over a period of weeks. Provide personal medical kits to crews.
  • Book a hotel that meets all company travel requirements for security, safety and proximity to the airport. Confirm lodging arrangements directly with the hotel.
  • Check in advance to see if overseas aviation service providers accept credit.
  • Allow for last-minute crew changes. Assign an alternate pilot, copilot and flight attendant to each trip. Get visas for everyone in case someone can't go.
  • When you land at a destination, refuel for the next day's leg to avoid delays.
  • Know what medicines passengers and crew are carrying. Keep prescriptions in their original labeled containers. Take extra medicine in case the trip is extended.
  • Alert passengers if you are flying to a slot-controlled airport so they are aware that itinerary changes may be difficult to accommodate.
  • Be prepared for an inspection by the U.S. Agriculture Department when you return from a foreign country.
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