Stability is essential to any aircraft in flight. Equally essential is the stability of the various suppliers that maintain the aircraft to ensure it is flight worthy. Having supplied Canadian commuter airlines and private fleets for 45 years, Pacific Avionics & Instruments exemplifies the crucial role a small company plays in the effective flight plans of its customers.
Indeed, Pacific Avionics has been operating from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia since 1964. Originally a family-owned shop, the company was purchased in 1998 by I.M.P Group International, a conglomerate based in Halifax that employs over 3,000 and trades on a global basis in aerospace, charter airline, general aviation, healthcare and commercial services industries. I.M.P. has been named one of Canada’s Top 50 Best Managed Companies, one of the country’s most prestigious business awards. Currently, the Pacific Avionics division employs 35 people, about 40 percent of whom are sales/marketing professionals and the balance mechanics and engineers, based in a 10,000-square-foot hangar facility.
“We do inspections, retrofits and upgrades for commuter airlines, cargo haulers, corporate and privately-owned aircraft throughout the Pacific Northwest, primarily based in Canada but, since we are only five miles from the border, some aircraft based in the United States, as well,” explains Gordon Bott, general manager and director of marketing. “We currently support more than 24 manufacturers of fixed-wing and rotary aircraft equipment through sales and service center agreements. Our capabilities extend to more than just sales, installation and repairs; our technicians excel at diagnosing and locating the source of avionics/instrument problems and correct them in a timely and cost efficient manner. In addition to testing equipment to ensure it is flight-worthy, we also modernize aircraft with new avionics and instruments that make the plane safer and easier to fly.”
The company is essentially a design/installer, relying on service agreements with leading avionics and instrument manufacturers for specific OEM-approved parts. Avionics is a general category encompassing electronics for communications, navigation and the display and management of various aircraft systems. Examples of specific instrument products include airspeed and altimeter indicators, audio panels, clock, compass, headsets, FM transceivers, intercoms, vertical speed indicators and weather/traffic advisory systems. Some of these, such as altimeters and altitude data transmitted to ground control (ATC) transponders must be inspected every two years.
“The biennial inspection involves testing performance and accuracy of the altimeter, altitude encoder and transponder, then checking that data is being transmitted correctly from the aircraft,” Bott says. “A lot of things can go wrong with all of this and aside from mechanical aspects of the altimeter itself, the altitude reporting can display serious errors to air traffic control if the data is faulty. Needless to say, the last thing you want in a crowded airspace is inaccurate position reporting of your aircraft.”
Equally obvious is that it is more cost effective for small airlines and private fleet owners to upgrade and modernize their perfectly flight-worthy aircraft with new avionics and instruments. One example is global positioning systems that have become widespread, but were not part of the options when some of these planes first came into service.
“GPS is the latest game in world-wide navigation and we have procured the latest test equipment to support this service,” Bott notes.
Another example relates to developments in airborne radar (which, in case you ever wondered, stands for RAdio Direction And Ranging). Radar systems transmit pulses that are reflected from the condensation in clouds and bounced back to a receiving antenna. The receiver times the received pulses relative to the transmitted pulses and displays a representation of the condensation density. Most radar systems allow the flight crew to point the antenna down to map the ground allowing the crew to ‘see’ through the clouds to find ground features. Some radar systems can also overlay mapping information, or display beacons for tracking. However, latest generation systems can also map wind shear, which is a major weather factor affecting safety, and can also interface general weather information into a more comprehensive visual display that incorporates flight conditions determined by other systems.
According to Bott, “Today’s multifunctional displays provide what’s called situational awareness so you can literally see where the aircraft is located in terms of both time and space. These displays provide more visualized information in an ergonomically accessible way that is easier to process. Obviously, the more the crew knows and the quicker they can understand it results in a safer and more efficient flight operation.”
THE HEIGHT OF QUALITY
The longstanding reputation of Pacific Avionics, now backed by a larger corporate owner with deep ties in the aerospace industry, provides significant brand recognition. In particular, Bott emphasizes the company’s reputation for quality as its prime competitive differentiator.
“We have all the industry certifications and approvals, of course. We are a Transport Canada Maintenance Organization A) 1-74 and we have EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) approval. But there’s no greater testament to our commitment to quality than that we now have ISO: 9001 certification. That’s a benchmark that not many instrument shops can equal.”
He adds, “Everything we do is guided by the highest quality standards. Sometimes customers want quick turnarounds, and we do everything we can to meet turnover requests. But, we never sacrifice quality just to meet a deadline and our customers know that.”
Quality processes are performed by quality personnel. “Our highly-motivated professional staff is one of the largest and most experienced in Canada for avionics, instrument repairs and installations,” Bott notes, ”with an average of 15 years experience per technician.
Bott observes that in expectation of impending retirements of some of the more experienced technicians, Pacific Avionics & Instruments has instituted an apprenticeship program to ensure it can continue to meet its exacting standards of excellence. “These days, it’s hard to find the level of experience you need in the available labor pool,” he notes. “We’ve even gone so far as to recruit technicians from places like Brazil and Columbia because we can’t find people with the skills sets we need locally. The military used to be a primary source, but lately we’ve found that the military is way too structured to develop the type of talent we’re looking for. The best solution for us is to identify people who demonstrate the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we have here and then train them in the necessary skills. Somehow, it’s not as successful the reverse way to get people with the required skills to think differently than they’re used to.”
As far as the general business future goes, Bott sees clear skies ahead. “What’s going on in the general economy hasn’t seemed to affect our particular niche much. Aircraft avionics require regular inspection and maintenance; nobody is going to scrimp on that as a cost-saving measure. And it is less expensive for our customers to modernize an older but otherwise flight-worthy aircraft than it is to replace it. The demand is there and we at Pacific Avionics & Instruments have the demonstrated track record that make customers confident of our capabilities.”