"This is the year Cascade Aerospace takes flight." Those are the words of Benjamin Boehm, executive vice president and COO of Cascade Aerospace, a Canada-based aerospace and defense contractor.
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In a conversation with Industry Today, Boehm talks about the work they’ve done to establish the Cascade Aerospace name over the years, some recent projects and achievements they’ve attained, and why 2014 looks to keep them flying sky high. Steve Engelhardt reports.
The history of Cascade Aerospace dates back to 1969, where they began operating under the name Conair Group, a specialty aviation services firm that focused particularly on aerial firefighting. In developing, operating, and maintaining a fleet of some 90 aircraft, the company was able to acquire the expertise required to offer third-party maintenance and modification. Their ambition carried them to 1993, when they pulled the trigger on integrating maintenance services into their capabilities, and later on, in 2001, their success in such market was actualized, as the maintenance division broke off from Conair Group and built a brand-new, 230,000 square-foot facility, functioning under the name Cascade Aerospace.
Over a decade later, the company has transitioned from what started as a maintenance and servicing branch for a larger aerospace firm, to now serving as Canada’s premiere weapons system manager for the country’s C-130 fleet. While a significant portion of their business, 60 percent to be exact, comes from military-related services, the other 40 percent is dedicated toward the servicing and maintenance of commercial aircraft, ranging from manufacturing readiness levels work, to militarizing civilian aircraft and engineering modifications in cargo ships and firefighting aircraft. It appears business has come full circle.
While Cascade’s commercial services continue to increase and excel, the company has recently attained a couple of landmark achievements on the military side of its business.
The first is through a project with the Mexican Air Force, negotiated by the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) and announced at the end of last year, will involve the undertaking of modernization and sustainment activities on two Mexican Air Force C-130K Hercules aircraft. The project signifies Cascade Aerospace’s first international military C-130 assignment and while everything has been agreed up and production is currently underway, Boehm says that getting to that point wasn’t easy. “When we first approached them with a solution for their C-130 aircraft, they were interested in what we had to offer right away,” he says, adding, “however, given the way the country’s bidding system is set up, they were going to have to go through numerous other sales agents’ bids and entertain offers that they weren’t really interested in anyways, which created a bit of an obstacle in getting the deal done in a timely manner.”
In response to this, he says they reached out to the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), a federal business branch of the Canadian government similar to the United States’ Foreign Military Sales (FMS) division, and had them broker the deal through the Mexican government. “Our two governments got involved and drew up a plan that would overcome the need for request through proposals (RFPs),” Boehm says, adding, “and written in the deal it was requested by the Mexican government that the CCC select Cascade Aerospace to head the program.”
Boehm says that while two governments getting together to expedite a deal isn’t unprecedented in the aerospace world, it was certainly the first time he and his company had been a part of something like it. “It was significant for us because it provided us entry into a market we really could impact in a positive and sustainable way,” he says. Boehm says that because of the success displayed in their integration of weapons systems management, what began in two of their aircraft may soon extend to more. “They really like what we’ve done and I see the strong possibility of them asking us to design an entire new plan for the rest of their fleet, something we already have extensive experience doing for the Canadian Air Force.” With the benefits already being witnessed by Mexico, he says he expects Cascade to apply similar models in other countries as well, particularly in South America, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Cascade’s success in their military programs has also generated recent domestic achievements as well. In February, the company was given a ‘C-130J Heavy Maintenance Center’ status by Lockheed Martin, making them only one of two such centers in the world. Boehm says that this appointment is key for Cascade’s identity, as air forces around the world employ a significant number of Lockheed’s C-130J aircraft in their arsenals, and each of these planes require a heavy maintenance center for proper certification. “We have a long history of repair, overhaul, and upgrades with military and commercial C-130J Hercules aircraft,” Boehm says, adding, “and given our extensive history as Canada’s Optimized Weapons System Management resource, we feel we are well-suited to become a global leader in C-130 Hercules support.”
In addition to their work with Lockheed Martin, Cascade also recently announced its collaborative role alongside Bombardier and Marshall Aerospace in producing a multi-mission extended range platform for maritime patrol and surveillance operations for L-3 Mission Integration.
Boehm says that one of the aspects of Cascade Aerospace that differentiates them from others is the strength of relationship they foster throughout the entirety of a partnership. “While the partnerships we forge are businesslike in nature, we really focus on building relationships at a personal level and maintaining flexibility as a company in terms of our adaptability to a changing schedule, or alleviating a need if something sudden comes up.”
Referencing his company’s extensive work with the Canadian Air Force, Boehm talks about one instance where a couple of military aircraft had gone down during a flight mission in the northern, scarce region of Canada, and required assistance in getting back up into the air after a maintenance issue. “The Air Force sent a few repair teams up there to perform an overhaul, but they ran out of resources and next thing I know I’m getting a call from a base commander, asking us if we would be willing to help them out,” he says, adding, “We had a team assembled and in an aircraft heading towards their location within 24 hours, and within another 24 hours, we had the plane serviced and flying again.” Boehm says that while instances like this aren’t common, they represent the depth of partnership individuals and companies experience when entering into a project with Cascade Aerospace.
And that’s where Cascade Aerospace soars above the rest. “We are a company that can take on an entire nose-to-tail lifecycle approach to a fleet management program, including engineering second and third line repair, upgrades and overhauls, and logistical support,” Boehm says, adding, “our capacity is extremely broad and, as a result, so is the kind of project or situation we’re willing to work in.”
While they take on an increasingly expansive global identity, Boehm says they never forget about the aspects of their history and their organizational makeup that have made them who they are today. “We’re a lean, nimble business that does some very high-value work, working on projects that you often would see larger organizations take on,” he says, noting, “however, while we do work with some of the biggest names in aerospace, given our intimate size we still never forget about the needs of smaller customers and projects and because of that, I think we are well-represented across the board in the size and significance of our partnerships.”
If this truly is the year Cascade Aerospace takes flight, as Boehm says, it appears they’re already on the runway with their engines blaring, ready for take off.