Psychology rules!

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The Insider’s column in the November 2010 edition stuck a chord with me, and I would like to make some comments.

I’ve 30+ years designing special vehicles, both inside and outside OEMs, and as it happens have a lot of international experience with airport Ground Support Equipment (GSE) – like the tractor mentioned in that article.

I have tried repeatedly to get operators to consider modified construction equipment – sometimes at half the cost of the conventional gear. The reason they won’t is not technical, or indeed commercial – its psychological!

If that sounds a little crazy, bear with me. Aviation companies like to promote themselves as high-tech, but when you get down to the guy buying GSE, his training was as a diesel fitter, or aircraft mechanic. “Management” doesn’t get involved in equipment selection because it is too complicated for them, so they leave it to their trades-trained person to make key decisions about where to spend their money. I would like to say there are serious discussions about value for money, return on investment, life-cycle costs and so forth, but there never is. Never!

Two things only rule, and they are psychological:

1. Will this thing embarrass me amongst my piers and colleagues?

A: It won’t if I buy the conventional (expensive, purpose-built) gear. It’s a bit like the old saying that nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

2. Does it satisfy my craving for “Big Boys Toys”?

A: It must give the purchaser something brag about. I’ve seen so many heavy towing tractors sold to major airlines because it was bigger/stronger/better than what the other airline bought. And we’ve then sold more bigger/stronger/better machines to the others – sort of like starting an arms race.

Modified construction equipment scares operators because they are not professional engineers and do not understand the technology involved, and it doesn’t give them something to brag about either. So they don’t buy it, and manufacturers don’t make it.

The Aviation industry is notorious for looking at its aircraft closely and paying little attention to all the other things that keep those aircraft in the air. If they ever become professional at managing their overheads and their fleets, you may well seem more modified standard chassis around.

I say “may” because many manufacturers of suitable chassis are becoming shy of supplying partial machines for non-standard applications. Many US companies just won’t because of fears some problem may impact their good name or involve them in litigation. Caterpillar used to have a really good OEM division, but they now are only interested in high volumes and near-complete machines. The last time I tried to buy loaders without the loader arms, they didn’t want to sell because it would require the factory to write new QA test procedures (since they couldn’t use the standard ones because they included tests of the loader arms).

So, psychology rules most of the sales, both from the end-users activities, and the component OEMs – when they all get serious about their overall businesses we might have the opportunity to provide some really interesting and cost-effective equipment.

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