While you might think this Canadian company’s name is derived from its capabilities in producing fleets of aircraft; in fact it is named after Reuben Fleet who founded the company in 1930, the dawn of the commercial aircraft industry. During World War II, Fleet was at one point producing over 160 aircraft a month, primarily fighter planes and trainers, for both the Canadian and British air forces, the highest production of any Canadian manufacturer.
Through the years, Fleet Canada evolved to a component subcontractor, constructing rear fuselages, wing spars, wing panels, trailing edges and center wing box assemblies. It also became a major supplier of helicopter parts. While the company maintained its reputation for high quality, cost effective, on-time delivered products, like many manufacturers of late, it ran into problems that threatened continued viability. In 2006, an investment group led by former employee Glenn Stansfield acquired Fleet. While some look to acquire a company to reinvent it, Stansfield’s flight plan was based in grounding the company in its people and history as the way to achieve higher altitudes of success.
The president and CEO, as well as majority shareholder, explains, “The company’s greatest asset was, and continues to be, its people. We did a very careful job to combine people that were already here with 25 to 30 years of experience with about 15 new engineers.”
One area where the experience of Fleet Canada’s 105 employees really pays off is in its unique ability to engineer legacy systems. “The legacy business has really taken off for us,” Stansfield says. “Right now it represents about 40 percent of our contracts. Not a lot of manufacturers are interested in going after the old stuff, so it’s a good niche for us. As an example, we had a customer present us with drawings from 1968 that we were able to reverse engineer to duplicate a process that hadn’t been done for 40 years. Not many companies have the capabilities or desire to do that.”
The legacy niche has proven particularly advantageous in light of a tight economy and rising world oil prices. Stansfield points out, “We’re a key supplier for turboprops. Now, back when the price of oil was $25 to $30 a barrel, everyone was looking at jets. Once oil rose beyond $60 to $70 a barrel, and these days we’ve come to the point where that would seem cheap, airlines got a lot more concerned about greater fuel efficiency. Consequently, turboprops are much more popular and we’re well positioned to supply those needs.”
NEW BORDERS OF OPPORTUNITY
Fleet Canada’s 500,000 square feet of offices and manufacturing/warehouse facilities are located on the Canada/U.S. border city of Fort Erie, Ontario. Some 121,000 square feet is devoted to three large pain shops, metal processing operations and large autoclaves for bonding, computer-assisted design and manufacturing systems. A large number of CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine tools are used for a range of metals, including aluminum. The company maintains a rigorous program of certifications and aerospace approvals, including Intertek AS9100B and ISO 9001:2000 and from the Performance Review Institute (National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program) NADCAP: Chemical Processing.
Current products include inboard and outboard flaps, fuselage panels and structures, wing panels, aircraft doors, access panels, C5 and C6 floor and wing panels and engine nacelles. Customers include leading aerospace companies such as Ball, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Bombardier (De Havilland), Cal, Comtech, General Electric, Sikorsky, Drummond, Hughes, Lockheed, MacDonald Douglas and Viking Aircraft.
Stansfield says, “What I’d really like to do is forge relationships with customers that have the same values as we do. I recently toured Cessna and its facilities, and they are one of the best companies I’ve ever been in. They really value their people the way we do, and I would love to become one of their suppliers.”
Overall, Stansfield feels Fleet Canada is flying right for the immediate future. “I expect to see continued growth for the next three to four years, based both on our existing contracts as well as the anticipation of doing more repair and overhaul work.” For Fleet Canada and its employees, it’s a great time to be in the aerospace industry.