Selecting the right MRO

Maintenance houses offer a wide range of capabilities. Choice can be difficult but good service relationships are worth the effort.

Stevens Aviation and COTS

For Stevens Aviation, military and government business accounts for roughly 30% of MRO sales, according to Dir Marketing and Program Sales John Rigby. Stevens Aviation's military C12 contract aircraft has proved especially rewarding.

Stevens Aviation Dir of Marketing and Program Sales John Rigby finds that the market for upgrades of aircraft—those that have perhaps been desired but deferred the past few years—is starting to grow.

Says Rigby, "As the economy comes out of its slumber, people are starting to say, "I've had some things on hold for the last 2 years, and I want to install, say, a Raisbeck kit—strakes, lockers.' We're also seeing people consider engine upgrades. As a dealer, we've done a lot of Blackhawk [engine] quotes."

Stevens Aviation notes that its military and government business has been steady throughout the sluggish economy.

Like its private sector business, it's growing. Rigby says, "Our blend is about 70% civilian/ commercial MRO support and about 30% military or government. But that number could change—the C12 work we've received comes to us by way of L3 Communications, and we've been awarded the depot side of their maintenance."

The C12 program—essentially a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) Beech King Air—is a major program for Stevens. "Our GYH (Donaldson Center, Greenville, NC) location is primarily maintenance on military turboprops [C12s].

But we're also doing cockpit modifications—both Universal EFI 890R and Collins Pro Line 21 platforms—for the Army's Cessna Citation 550s [UC35s]."

In addition to military aircraft, Stevens works on the same airframes for US Customs & Border Protection (CBP). The CBP contract involves a camera and sensor package and, according to Rigby, totals 10 aircraft over a 5-year period.

West Star bookings

West Star Aviation Exec VP Maintenance Operations Samuel Haycraft notes that the employment trend at MROs is also a positive sign for the industry.

Discretionary spending has returned to the private sector, reports West Star Aviation Exec VP Maintenance Ops Samuel Haycraft. "The last 8–10 months has been very good for West Star," he says.

"We've seen the discretionary money—the paint, the interior, the avionics—largely return. Our paint shops are sold out until Apr 2012. While we used to book out 2–3 weeks during the downturn, we're now getting bookings out 3–4 months."

Like Landmark's Jacobs, Haycraft has found larger avionics upgrades less common. WAAS, GPS and phone systems appear the most popular. These discretionary upgrades, and additional work, have translated to enormously positive trends at West Star. Says Haycraft "The outlook is not bad—we're employing people and we're hiring people."

Rodney Shannon is the maintenance and avionics sales manager for PTK (Pontiac MI)-based Pentastar Aviation. He has seen a growing number of interior refurbishments, whether by sellers preparing an aircraft for market or new buyers adding upgrades. "We're seeing more pre-buy activity in the industry, driving new interiors, high-speed data or phone system upgrades," he says.

While Shannon reports that 90% of Pentastar's work is Gulfstream-related—interior refurbishments and the cabin management and communications systems that often accompany such upgrades—they have also seen growth in the Falcon, Citation and Hawker lines.

Shannon notes that Pentastar too has seen a return of discretionary work.
Individually, each MRO reports positive trends—not just a good month or a good quarter, but year-over-year growth.

MROs are hiring, and most bookings for future work are again being measured in months, not weeks. Perhaps the strongest indicators are reports of brisk pre-buy activity, which drives complementary maintenance purchases by sellers preparing for divesture of an aircraft, and by buyers adding discretionary purchases to make their preowned aircraft "like new."

MRO businesses are by nature a pragmatic group, but the collective enthusiasm shown by each at NBAA would suggest a forecast of clear weather ahead.

Douglas Wilson started as a lineman at JGG (Williams­burg VA). An active pilot, he now serves as director of business development and marketing for Galvin Flying Services at BFI (Boeing Field, Seattle WA).


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